Understanding Insulin the Key to Weight Loss
By L. Lee Coyne, Phd
Canada’s obesity epidemic continues to worsen despite efforts by governments at all levels to get Canadians to slim down.
In 2008, about one in five Canadians were considered obese. Our kids are getting heavier, too. The Childhood Obesity Foundation says 26 per cent of Canadian children and youth (1.6 million young people) are considered overweight or obese.
Canada is not alone. The World Health Organization, analyzing obesity rates on a world level, reports there are more than 1 billion overweight adults, at least 300 million of them obese. The key cause has been reported as “an alleged increased consumption of energy-dense foods high in saturated fats and sugars, and reduced physical activity.” This is an oversimplification of the causes and solutions for obesity. I refer to this explanation as the “calorie counting syndrome” that has failed miserably over the last 50 years. It has failed because of an apparent unwillingness to address the physiology of how fat is stored and metabolized for energy. The national emphasis has been on attempts to increase physically activity, with minimal focus on eating habits.
EATING HABITS KEY
But there is no exercise program that will fix silly consumption of the wrong foods in the wrong combinations at the wrong time. The simple arithmetic goes like this: It requires approximately 100 calories to travel one mile and there are 3500 calories in one pound of fat. The math says if you add three miles per day (most people walk at a rate of 3 mph) to your activity habits and change nothing else, you could lose a pound every 12 days. Fat will not dissolve nor evaporate – it must be metabolized – so exercise is important. It is important for metabolizing fat, for cardiovascular health, and for building muscle that loves to burn fat.
The Childhood Obesity Foundation has a list of four simple daily steps to better fitness:
• five fruits and vegetables
• two hours (or less) of screen time
• one hour of physical activity
• zero sugar-sweetened beverages.
Although these recommendations have some merit, there is no mention of protein foods or essential fatty acid food, which is necessary for optimal brain development. There is also a recommendation on foundation’s web page to drink fruit juices that may be bad advice.
FIXING FAT STORAGE
The next part of the equation is eating habits. We’ve been told for years to reduce the fat, saturated fat and cholesterol in our diets. However, we now consume less fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than at any time in history and yet we are doubling the incidence of obesity every five years. It would appear that fat intake is not the problem.
What we really have is a fat storage problem. Insulin, released by the pancreas in response to elevated blood sugar (glucose), has the role of removing sugar from the blood and sending it to the liver and muscles as glycogen, or storing it as fat. Insulin is the “fat storage hormone.” Any food that elevates blood glucose will elevate insulin release. This includes fruits, vegetables, breads, grains, cereals and juices. Responsible eating would control blood glucose by choosing carbohydrates that produce only small fluctuations in our blood sugar and insulin levels, then adding high-quality protein and essential fatty acids." The problem is we live in carbohydrate hell and it is creating insulin disasters.
Chronic high carbohydrate (high sugar) eating plans lead to fat storage and other insulin disasters like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Syndrome X, inflammatory conditions of eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, asthma and migraines. While insulin is elevated, you cannot mobilize and metabolize fat.
There is also the fructose connection, where fructose (fruit sugar and one half of sucrose) does not elevate blood sugar and stimulate insulin release, but rather goes directly to the liver and is converted to fat. Since it does not increase insulin release, it will suppress the release of leptin, the appetite control hormone.
Creating a successful fat reduction strategy means changing our eating habits and reducing the foods that contribute to the chronic elevation of insulin. Eat more foods with a low glycemic index, such as fruits, vegetables and nuts, ensure a good intake of fibre and protein while avoiding high fructose sugar products.
L. Lee Coyne is an exercise physiologist and nutrition consultant.
November/December 2010 Issue