What’s The Big Deal If My Insulin Spikes?

Insulin is the pancreatic hormone responsible for distributing the carbohydrates you eat in the form of glucose, whose job is to get inside each cell to provide the fuel you need for energy. If the glucose inside a cell is not burned because of inactivity, that which is floating around has no place to go, so it gets into trouble. If it then creates advanced glycation end products*, cells get crystallized like the topping of a crème brulee. That can make cell membranes brittle. If that happens, blood vessels and organs lose resilience and cause problems, such as high blood pressure. Even heart failure can result if the left ventricle stiffens. If carbs don’t get burned, they can get stored as fat because insulin likes to store things. Just like a squirrel, eh? The more insulin you have, the more storage goes on and the more fat builds up. After a while, cells get tired of being teased by insulin, expecting glucose to be escorted in, but frustrated in their anticipation because the old glucose still hasn’t been burned. Now the cells ignore the insulin and become resistant to its serenade. That is the start of type 2 diabetes. A big belly promises big problems. How do you feel about sticking yourself with a needle every day?

*Advanced glycation endproducts—AGE’s—are made when sugars react with proteins or amino acids, without the control of an enzyme, in a process called glycation. This is the equivalent of browning food in a sauté pan or in the oven, and is equally irreversible. When proteins accumulate AGE’s, they do, in fact, turn brown. Because they are cross-linked, the body cannot break them down. As a result, tissues lose tone and resiliency, and destruction begins.

How did this ever happen to me? Probably from simple carbohydrates. You know what they are—foods made from one or two sugars, having very little nutritional value. They’re digested faster than the blink of an eye, and demand immediate burning or they get stored as…well, you know. One-sugar carbs include fructose, galactose and glucose. Two-sugar carbs are lactose, maltose and sucrose (table sugar). Got white flour, honey, milk, candy, chocolate, fruit juice, fruit, jam/jelly, soda, packaged cereal, biscuits or molasses in the pantry?  You’ve got simple carbohydrates. That includes cakes, cookies, doughnuts, pies, and the Pillsbury Doughboy. The fibers, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients in real, honest-to-goodness fruits bail them out…mostly. But the same can’t be said about juices, especially apple.

How about moderation? How about it? Try giving up wheat—that’s white flour—for a week and see what happens. Replacing white sugar with artificial sweeteners, by the way, might be upsetting the apple cart from another angle. If the brain is fooled into thinking something sweet has been eaten, it’ll still signal insulin to start flowing. At this point, insulin really has nothing to do, so it makes you hungry in order to get some glucose to carry. Now, what? You just took in more calories than you need. They get stored as…well, you know.

Carbohydrates include sugar, starch and fiber, the last not able to be broken apart into simple sugars, so it passes through without being digested. Fibers, both soluble and insoluble, provide no nourishment, but they do promote health. There isn’t much fiber in breads and sweets, but there is in vegetables, legumes and whole grains, the latter associated with increased insulin sensitivity (Liese, 2003) (de Munter, 2007). Restricting carbohydrates in favor of fats and proteins will not only help to control insulin spikes, but also to make your trousers bigger (Foster, 2003) (Samaha, 2003). If you’ve heard about drinking vinegar after a carb-studded repast, you might be interested to know that it seems to help control spikes (Ostman, 2005) (Leeman, 2005), but that’s a topic for another time.

Jeroen S L de Munter, Frank B Hu, Donna Spiegelman, Mary Franz, Rob M van Dam Whole Grain, Bran, and Germ Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Cohort Study and Systematic Review PLoS Med 4(8): e261. 2007

Foster GD, Wyatt HR, Hill JO, McGuckin BG, Brill C, Mohammed BS, Szapary PO, Rader DJ, Edman JS, Klein S. A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. N Engl J Med. 2003 May 22;348(21):2082-90.

Foster-Powell K, Holt SH, Brand-Miller JC. International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Jul;76(1):5-56.

Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, Manson JE, Albert CM, Rexrode K, Hu FB. Low-carbohydrate-diet score and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med. 2006 Nov 9;355(19):1991-2002.

Johnson LW, Weinstock RS. The metabolic syndrome: concepts and controversy. Mayo Clin Proc. 2006 Dec;81(12):1615-20.

Leeman M, Ostman E, Björck I. Vinegar dressing and cold storage of potatoes lowers postprandial glycaemic and insulinaemic responses in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005 Nov;59(11):1266-71.

Liese AD, Roach AK, Sparks KC, Marquart L, D'Agostino RB Jr, Mayer-Davis EJ. Whole-grain intake and insulin sensitivity: the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Nov;78(5):965-71.

Maki KC, Rains TM, Kaden VN, Raneri KR, Davidson MH. Effects of a reduced-glycemic-load diet on body weight, body composition, and cardiovascular disease risk markers in overweight and obese adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Mar;85(3):724-34.

Ostman E, Granfeldt Y, Persson L, Björck I. Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increases satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005 Sep;59(9):983-8.

Samaha FF, Iqbal N, Seshadri P, Chicano KL, Daily DA, McGrory J, Williams T, Williams M, Gracely EJ, Stern L. A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity. N Engl J Med. 2003 May 22;348(21):2074-81.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.