More than 100 million Americans are living with insulin resistance, characterized by prediabetes or diabetes, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insulin resistance increases the risk of a number of serious health problems, including heart attacks, stroke, and cancer.

In addition to this, insulin resistance can make weight loss HARD – but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Let’s learn more about insulin resistance and how we can be strategic with managing it.

What Is Insulin Resistance?

To appreciate the role of insulin, we have to understand how the body takes in and uses energy first.

When we eat, our body will absorb nutrients from our foods, including carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down into blood glucose, which our body relies on as a primary source of fuel for energy.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps glucose from your bloodstream enter your cells. Glucose will be either used as fuel or stored – in the form of fat tissue.

Think of insulin as a key and your cells as a lock on the house. The glucose is the people going into the house. When insulin resistance occurs, the key is not working well with the lock. This causes the people outside the house to “build up” – or the sugar in the blood to increase.

Your pancreas tries to compensate by producing more insulin, in an attempt to lower your blood sugar levels. You are now left with high circulating insulin levels and high blood sugar. Over time, this stresses the pancreas out and can lead to it becoming damaged, resulting in decreased insulin production. This can increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

How Insulin Resistance Leads to Weight Gain

Insulin has many functions in the body. As we discussed, one role is to remove glucose from the blood and get it into the muscles to be used for energy. Another role it has is to promote fat storage and manage the release of fat from (fat) storage.

As the glucose builds up in your blood (because it can’t enter muscle cells), insulin comes in to manage this by turning it into fat tissue, which is a form of energy storage. However, the increase in energy storage as fat doesn’t impact our hunger, like it normally would.

Instead, you will also likely notice increased cravings for sweets or starches, because your body needs these for fuel – but the fuel is not getting into the cells to be used for energy. This can result in an excess of calorie consumption, leading to weight gain.

Knowing all of this, it’s no wonder that insulin resistance can make weight loss difficult!

What Causes Insulin Resistance

We don’t know what exactly causes insulin resistance, but we do know that the following play a role:

Genetic predisposition: you may be been born with cells that don’t respond well to insulin. If you have people in your family with diabetes, you’re at higher risk for having cells that don’t respond to insulin as well.

Excess weight, especially around the abdomen: fat storage around the abdomen results in a higher amount of visceral fat (the deep abdominal fat that surrounds several vital organs)
Low levels of physical activity: typically the more active a person is, the more sensitive their cells are to insulin
A diet high in processed or refined carbohydrates: Certain health conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine disorders. Women with PCOS struggle with irregular periods, excess body weight, insulin resistance, acne, high blood pressure, and infertility.
Normal aging and menopause: as you grow older, your body’s ability to use insulin does gradually decline.

Over time, insulin resistance can result in excess blood sugar damaging blood vessels and vital organs, leading to severe and life-threatening complications.

How Can We Eat To Reverse Insulin Resistance

1. Don’t Fear Fats

While carbohydrate consumption triggers a spike in blood sugar, fat consumption does not. Focus on adding whole, plant-based fat sources to your diet at each meal. Increasing nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and other healthful high-fat foods. The Plant-Based Ketogenic Diet from the Beet is a great resource for healthy, keto, and plant-based meal plans!

2. Focus on Smart, Slow Burning Carbohydrates

We don’t need to fear carbohydrates – it’s the type of carbohydrate we want to focus on.
Have you heard of the glycemic index? It’s a scale that ranks a carb's ability to raise blood sugar on a scale of 0-100. Low GI foods normalize blood sugars, balance insulin levels, and also balance our cravings (insulin is an appetite stimulate).

How do you follow a low glycemic index diet? Choose high fiber carbs and always pair those carbs with protein or fat. Low GI foods include berries, apples, spinach, beans, quinoa, and oats. When consuming grain products, choose whole kernel or traditionally processed alternatives (whole barley, quinoa, traditionally fermented sourdough made from stone-ground flour)

As well, reduce refined grains, potato products, and added sugars—high glycemic load carbohydrates with low overall nutritional quality.

3. Limit Inflammatory Ingredients

Insulin resistance and inflammatory markers seem to have a link. Although we don’t fully understand this relationship, focusing on foods with anti-inflammatory properties and limiting foods that have been shown to increase inflammation, is a good idea.

Foods with natural anti-inflammatory properties include:

  • Healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, avocados, walnuts, and flaxseed
  • Most fruits and veggies, like oranges, tomatoes, and leafy greens

Foods that tend to increase inflammation in the body include unhealthy fats, such as:

  • Trans-fatty acids
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Margarine
  • Red meat (beef and pork)
  • Cheese, cream, and other full-fat dairies

The Key Takeaways

In summary, insulin resistance can result in stubborn weight loss efforts and increase our risk for various health concerns. Genetics or lifestyle factors promote the development of insulin resistance. It is possible to manage IR and reverse it through diet! Adding healthy, plant-based fats at each meal, sticking with whole, high fiber, plant-based carbohydrate sources, and anti-inflammatory ingredients are keys to squashing that insulin resistance once and for all!

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