Nutrition is a science. Understanding how hormones can affect your ability to store and burn fat is extremely important for anyone looking to shed or maintain weight. Remember: Knowledge = Power!
Glucose comes from the carbohydrates and sugars we eat. These foods are broken down into blood sugar (glucose) in our stomachs, and then absorbed into the bloodstream and used as energy by all the cells and organs of our bodies.
What is Insulin and how does it work? Insulin is a small hormone secreted by the pancreas responsible for reducing blood sugar levels. Once glucose is in the blood (after you eat) insulin is sent into the bloodstream to keep your blood glucose stable by delivering any surplus to the liver, muscle and fat cells. This is the way the cells can get access to glucose to use as energy and your blood glucose can stay within a normal range.
Eating too many simple carbs causes blood sugar to spike too high, which then can cause blood sugar peaks and valleys. When there is a large spike in blood sugar, your body tends to “overreact” and produce too much insulin. The insulin clears the glucose from your bloodstream leading to a sharp drop in blood sugar, which then is accompanied by cravings, hunger, weakness, mood swings and decreased energy.
High Blood Sugar= High Insulin= Fat Storage: The over secretion of insulin activates fat storage enzymes and promotes the movement of triglycerides (fat) in the blood stream into fat cells for storage.
Insulin is not the bad guy, it’s just when there is TOO MUCH of insulin that we promote fat storage (which is why portion control with any food is so important)! You are in fat storage mode when you are eating TOO MANY simple and refined carbohydrates, because your blood sugar and insulin levels are too high.
The problem with the Western diet is that the amount of carbohydrates consumed is so high compared to what our ancestors were used to that our insulin is chronically high. This then triggers a chain of reaction that we call the metabolic syndrome and weight gain is often one of the first signs.
The muscles and the liver can only store a certain amount of glycogen (stored glucose) at any given time. Once those stores are full, the remaining glucose gets stored in the fat cells as triglycerides as mentioned above. This is the basics of how you store fat.
More hormone disruption: The story doesn’t end there though. Chronically elevated insulin also disrupts another hormone called leptin. Leptin is a hormone that talks with the hypothalamus (the part of the brain that controls hunger) to signal hunger and energy reserves. Leptin – the “weight regulator” normally tells your body “ok, stop eating now”- so it suppresses appetite. So when insulin is high all the time and Leptin is disrupted, you get hungry and eat even more sugar because you continue to feel hungry even if your cells are overfed and don’t need more energy from food.
Not so excited about that donut now are you! A key point in avoiding weight gain is managing your insulin levels! You can manage your insulin by eating appropriate portions of complex carbohydrate (high fiber), or having a simple carbohydrate with protein or a healthy fat to stabilize blood sugar.