Are You Insulin Resistant?
And do you know how to turn it around?
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich
This week we’re going to talk about what I feel is the single largest contributor to disease in adults today - insulin resistance. If you’re new to my column or you don’t know what this means, it refers to that point where the body cannot properly manage blood sugar without changes or medical intervention. This happens because the body has been exposed to too much sugar too frequently and the body’s sugar metabolism mechanisms become fatigued or up-regulated to adapt. When this gets too far gone, it’s diagnosed as type II diabetes. But long before we reach that point there are very clear warning signs we can look out for. Take this week’s quiz to see if any of these apply to you.
Do you have multiple skin tags?
Do you have breast or ovarian cysts?
Do you have thick calluses on your feet?
Do you feel unsatisfied if you don’t have a sweet after a meal?
Do you feel very tired an hour to an hour and a half after lunch?
Do you frequently feel brain fog?
Do you suffer from mood swings?
Do you suffer from memory problems?
If you skip meals do you get shaky and hangry?
Do your limbs fall asleep a lot or get pins and needles?
Do you have shiny patches of bumpy yellow/ brown skin (plaques), often on shins?
Do you have dark, velvety patches of skin around bends/ folds?
Do you have shin spots?
Do you have yellow cholesterol patches on your eyelids?
Do you have thick dry skin in patches or corns/ callouses?
Do you have unexplained burning leg/foot/hand pain?
Is you skin of your hands/ feet shiny and thin?
Are your toenails thick and yellow with fungus under them and dry, cracked skin?
Do you have stiff, swollen joints and tendons?
Do you have thin, red shiny skin on your toes or slow healing of the feet?
Has your vision become noticeably worse or blurry?
Do you wake in the middle of the night frequently and find it hard to return to sleep?
Do you suffer from sleep apnea?
Do you have a muffin top over your pants?
Do you carry fat in your belly?
Do you get ravenously hungry and need snacks between meals?
Do you find it hard to eat only a few cookies or a small bowl of chips?
Do you have chronic inflammation - anywhere in your body?
Have you been diagnosed with the onset of dementia?
Have you been diagnosed with fatty liver disease?
Are you overweight?
Do you frequently drink alcohol? (more than 2 drinks/3x a week)
Do you have adult acne?
Do you crave carbs?
Do you have to get up to urinate a lot at night?
Does your urine have a sweet smell?
Have you been diagnosed with low testosterone?
Have you been diagnosed with high cholesterol?
Have you been diagnosed with high blood pressure?
If you’ve answered yes to 3 or more of these questions it’s likely you are developing insulin resistance - because all of these health conditions are related! It truly is that prevalent! We are even seeing type II diabetes in children now! The good news, however, is that it’s easily reversible and manageable with simple dietary interventions.
Why It’s So Prevalent
The reasons why insulin resistance is so prevalent (about 1/3 of adults in Western society have it) today are complex. In part it’s due to the availability of processed, calorically dense and nutritionally deficient foods. They are ubiquitous and we can’t really get away from them.
In part it’s also likely due to decades of misguided nutrition information. Canada’s Official Food Rules, initially developed in 1942 included fatty dairy, one serving of fruit, one serving of potatoes and two other vegetables, one serving of whole grain cereal and 4-6 servings of Canada approved bread, one serving of meat, fish or poultry each day with heart, kidney or liver at least once a week, and eggs at least 3-4 times a week. Vitamin D in the form of fish liver oils was recommended.
However, by 1949 margarine had crept in and by 1977 fruits and veggies were placed together with no differentiation. At some point vegetable oils replaced more natural fats as ‘healthier’.
In 1982 Canada’s Food Guide emerged with recommendations to limit fat, sugar, salt, and alcohol. Margarine was promoted as heart healthy, as were vegetable oils, and organ meat was a thing of the past. By 1992 the recommendations included 5-12 servings of grains, 5-10 of fruits and vegetables (including juices), and 2-3 of meat or meat substitutes. Vitamin D was not mentioned, as the thinking seems to be that the dairy is fortified with it.
For an in depth look at the documents through the years and the rationale that was used in developing them, go here.
Considering what we now know about the role of grains and modern hybridized fruits and their impact on insulin, it’s a wonder everyone in Canada isn’t insulin resistant. To make matters worse, as the amount of insulin provoking foods went up in our recommendations, the amount of normal daily exercise went down.
Even if an adult is able to exercise off 12 servings of grains a day, s/he is going to be seriously full of inflammation without adequate fat soluble vitamins, which organ meats and natural fatty dairy offer. We went backwards in our recommendations over the years!
One solution is a a return to a less processed way of eating. This model promotes eating more in line with how our ancestors ate for most of human evolution. That would mean relying more on natural foods and removing the items that are processed and those crops that are unsustainably grown or which need to be heavily manipulated to be made into food or to be digested. This includes wheat and corn as they exist today. It can also be extended to most grains. Think about it - they all need to be processed in factories to be edible. The same is not true for food that is hunted and veggies or fruits. You can consume these foods with minimal processing and often just cooking.
Yet we see an abundance of advertising for diets that rely on highly processed and inflammatory grains as staples. This is great for fattening pigs. But it isn’t healthy for humans.
The idea of ancestral eating is not new. By definition, it’s actually very old! Those who think it’s restrictive don’t understand it. 90% of processed foods today are composed mostly of wheat, corn, rice, salt, sugar, and oil. That’s highly restrictive!
Think about the common childhood staples now: Kraft Dinner, pizza or pizza pockets, cereals, noodles, and weiners. They are all filled with wheat, dairy, and sugars and salt - but none are particularly nutrient dense. Eating this way primes the body for craving these foods from a young age. Whereas children who are fed more traditional homemade foods are far healthier. Eggs and natural bacon have far more nutrients than cereals do. And are far lower glycemic. Remember, the glycemic index measures how much foods move our blood sugar. Focusing on foods that don’t helps rest our bodies from insulin spikes and normalize our blood sugar over time.
Ancestral eating includes an abundance of foods: foraged, seasonal items, a variety of dairy where available (ancestral peoples ate dairy when it was available), a variety of bugs and shoots and sprouts, mushrooms, seafood, land animals, including bone marrow and organ meat, fowl, vegetables, berries, and fruits - all of which were sustainably grown and hunted/harvested in times past. There are hundreds of food varieties in each region where people have lived for any time. The reason they chose to stay in any place for long was directly related to the abundance of food found naturally in the area. But diets were varied according to what was available. And eating ancestrally today can be equally varied and interesting. What it lacks is processed foods and the modern grains and processed sugars that we currently consume as staples.
Returning to this way of eating does not have to be boring or restrictive! There are wonderful recipes all over the internet. Spices can be made of dried herbs with sea salt and various peppers to keep foods tasty. Sauces can be made of dairy or healthy oils and seasonings, or of blended nuts or lentils. And it doesn’t need to take a lot of time or effort. After you learn 10 new recipes for any lifestyle you choose, generally you’re able to keep it going. It’s mastering that first 10 and understanding the diet you choose that’s the big challenge. A little support at the beginning goes a long way! If you want to make a change - I urge you before trying a restrictive diet - contact me to learn about ancestral eating and how it can transform your life. The point is to replace processed, high glycemic, and nutrient deficient foods with the most nutrient dense, natural, and low glycemic foods possible.
The reason we use low glycemic, ancestral foods at the onset is to balance the blood sugar while nourishing the body to a state of good health. Once we are no longer insulin resistant we can increase the (natural, unprocessed) starchy foods on occasion - like sweet potatoes, squash, quinoa, or wild rice. A balanced body can handle them. However, a person who is insulin resistant will often crash or have mood swings very shortly after eating them. It will feel like all foods go to the waist! And they truly do! Balancing the blood sugar and ensuring that the body has nutrients to fuel good health will turn chronic health conditions around and help you understand why food really is medicine!
If you feel you are insulin resistant and want to learn how to reverse it you’re welcome to reach out for an appointment. I place clients in dietary programs that meet their specific needs to help them learn about food in a way that empowers them to make healthy changes. And all of my programs focus on ancestral foods. The amount of carbs just depends on your specific health situation. I can direct you according to your specific needs.
I hope this is helpful and everyone is enjoying the wonderful weather! We’re just starting to plant our cold hardy summer vegetables and enjoying the return of birdsong in our neck of the woods. As always, if you have a question for the column, you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to book an appointment or know more about what I do, you can find me online at hopenotdope.ca.