Losing weight isn't just about reducing your calorie intake. It's also about changing the kinds of foods you eat — and that, in turn, can alter your insulin levels.
You may have heard that eating fewer carbohydrates is important to a healthy diet. That's not just because carb-rich foods such as breads, pastas and desserts are often high in calories. Carbohydrates have a complex effect on the body's blood sugar and insulin levels — and understanding that carb-glucose-insulin link can be key to adopting a successful weight-loss strategy.
Carbs, Blood Sugar and Insulin
The body breaks down carbohydrates into a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose, also known as blood sugar, is the body's primary source of energy. It circulates in the bloodstream to reach and fuel all the organs of the body.
Certain carbohydrates (such as sodas, juices and candies) are known as "simple carbohydrates"; they're converted into glucose very quickly, temporarily raising blood sugar levels beyond a healthy level. But the body has a method to correct this.
Insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells, thereby lowering blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels are high, the body releases more insulin. However, high levels of insulin also prompt the body to store extra glucose as fat instead of removing it through urine, according to the Mayo Clinic 1.**
- The body breaks down carbohydrates into a type of sugar called glucose.
- However, high levels of insulin also prompt the body to store extra glucose as fat instead of removing it through urine, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Diabetes and Insulin
Can Your Body Really Learn to Burn Fat Instead of Carbs?
Controlling blood sugar levels through diet and exercise is usually the first step in managing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, according to the Cleveland Clinic 6.** These conditions occur when the body becomes insulin-resistant, meaning the cells are less sensitive to the insulin's blood-sugar-regulating effects. This results in high blood sugar, which in turn triggers the pancreas to produce even more insulin. Eventually, the pancreas can't keep up with the demand, leading to chronic high blood sugar.
People with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes can reduce blood sugar levels by following a carbohydrate-controlled diet. Lower blood sugar means the body needs less insulin. Low-carb diets can even increase the body's insulin sensitivity, according to Diabetes.co.uk 7.
- Controlling blood sugar levels through diet and exercise is usually the first step in managing prediabetes.
- Low-carb diets can even increase the body's insulin sensitivity, according to Diabetes.co.uk.
Can Your Body Really Learn to Burn Fat Instead of Carbs?
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Is Glucose Stored in the Human Body?
How Does Glucose Move into a Cell?
How to Lose Weight Without Getting Bulky
The Glucose Free Diet
Can Carbs and Sugar Cause Acid Reflux?
Shakes & Sweating With a Drop in Blood Sugar
How Much Weight Can You Lose on No Carbs?
- Mayo Clinic: "Insulin and weight gain: Keep the pounds off"
- Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: "Exercise Dose and Insulin Sensitivity: Relevance for Diabetes Prevention"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Simple carbohydrates"
- USDA: 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines
- American Diabetes Association: Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes: 2016 Position Statement
- Cleveland Clinic: "Do You Worry About Getting Insulin Shots for Type 2 Diabetes?"
- Diabetes.co.uk: "How Does Low Carb Work?"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar"
- American Diabetes Association: "What Can I Eat?"
- Diabetes Care: "Food Order Has a Significant Impact on Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Levels"
- Ebbeling, Cara, Leidig, Michael, Feldman, Henry, et al. Effects of a Low–Glycemic Load vs Low-Fat Diet in Obese Young Adults. Journal of the American Medical Association. 297.19 (2007):2092-2102.
- Fields, H., Ruddy, B., Wallace, M. R., Shah, A., & Millstine, D. (2016). Are Low-Carbohydrate Diets Safe and Effective? The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 116(12), 788. doi:10.7556/jaoa.2016.154
- Nielsen, J. V., & Joensson, E. A. (2008). Low-carbohydrate diet in type 2 diabetes: stable improvement of bodyweight and glycemic control during 44 months follow-up. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5(1). doi:10.1186/1743-7075-5-14
- Rush, Ilene Raymond. Is Low-Carb Eating Really Better for Blood Sugar? On Track Diabetes. July 12, 2018
- Selwin, Elizabeth, Coresh, Joseph, et al. Glycemic Control and Coronary Heart Disease Risk in Persons With and Without Diabetes. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2005. 165/16.
- Yancy, W. S., Foy, M., Chalecki, A. M., Vernon, M. C., & Westman, E. C. (2005). A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2, 34. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-2-34
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Insulin resistance and diabetes. Last reviewed August 12, 2019.
- Wilcox G. Insulin and insulin resistance. Clin Biochem Rev. 2005;26(2):19–39.
- Ritchie RH, Zerenturk EJ, Prakoso D, Calkin AC. Lipid metabolism and its implications for type 1 diabetes-associated cardiomyopathy. J Mol Endocrinol. 2017 May;58(4):R225-R240. doi:10.1530/JME-16-0249
- Volpi, E. and Dickinson, J.M. (2015). Protein metabolism in health and diabetes. In International Textbook of Diabetes Mellitus (eds R.A. DeFronzo, E. Ferrannini, P. Zimmet and K.G.M.M. Alberti). doi:10.1002/9781118387658.ch16
- Colorado State University. Pathophysiology of the Endocrine System. Physiologic effects of insulin.
- University of Berkley, California. Endocrine Pancreas.