What if a person secretes too much insulin in response to a glucose load? What if, for whatever reason (and there are dozens of possible culprits), a person’s cells are resistant to the effects of insulin? What if, to remove the same amount of glucose from the blood, a person secretes twice or thrice the amount of insulin? What happens when insulin stays elevated? Lipolysis is inhibited to an even greater degree. Body fat becomes even harder to burn. Susceptible brain, artery, and pancreatic cells are exposed to higher levels of blood sugar for longer. Muscle protein synthesis falls off a cliff. Glycogen is replenished at a diminished rate. And if cells are already full of glycogen and there’s nowhere else to put the glucose, it converts to fat for storage.
Obviously, we don’t want to be insulin resistant. We want to be insulin sensitive. Here are 10 nutrition-based actions.
1. Eat Cinnamon
Although cinnamon isn’t always effective against insulin resistance, it can reliably attenuate the insulin resistance resulting from sleep loss. Plus, cinnamon is delicious, so there’s that.
2. Sprinkle Some Vinegar On Your Food
Next time you plan on eating a high-carb meal, have a salad with a vinegar-based dressing beforehand. Vinegar has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in response to a carb-rich meal in type 2 diabetics.
3. Get More Magnesium
Magnesium figures into hundreds of physiological processes, many of which concern glucose disposal and insulin sensitivity. My favorite sources are leafy greens like spinach, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, and halibut. If you hate spinach, nuts, fish, chocolate (what’s wrong with you?), and other magnesium-rich foods, oral supplementation of magnesium also works pretty well.
4. Drink Mineral Water
Mineral water—good, high-mineral content water—is rich in minerals commonly associated with insulin sensitivity, like magnesium. So it’s no surprise that high sodium-bicarbonate mineral waters have been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in postmenopausal women and post-surgery breast cancer patients.
5. Drink Tea
Green tea lowers insulin resistance in subjects with type 2 diabetes. Pu-erh tea, a fermented black tea with a distinct and strong taste, also ameliorates insulin resistance. Gallic acid, an antioxidant compound found in tea leaves, also improves insulin sensitivity. Across the board, tea improves insulin sensitivity.
6. Eat Colorful and Bitter Plant Foods
Color and bitterness imply phytonutrients, the intangible plant compounds that don’t show up in standard nutrient databases but play huge roles in human health. Many, perhaps most, rich food sources of phytonutrients improve insulin sensitivity, like blueberries, strawberries, purple sweet potatoes, broccoli sprouts, and dark chocolate (even in healthy folks).
7. Eat Pungent Fermented Food From Asian Cuisines
I’ve been telling you guys to get on this stuff for awhile now. No more messing around, yeah? A natto (sticky stinky fermented soybeans) breakfast improves insulin sensitivity. Long-fermented kimchi also improves it; fresh kimchi does, too, but not as much as the sour stuff.
8. Use Turmeric
I love turmeric for its taste and pharmacoogical profile. I’ve outlined turmeric’s effects in the past, so it should come as no surprise to learn that it is a potent insulin-sensitizer. Be sure to include some black pepper when you cook with it to increase the bioavailability.
9. Get Some Vitamin K2 Through Food or Supplements
In a 2011 controlled trial, vitamin K2 supplementation improved insulin sensitivity. Maybe that’s partly why natto improved it in the breakfast study mentioned previously — it’s the richest source of vitamin K2 around. Other likely sources of vitamin K2 include goose and chicken liver, aged cheeses (especially gouda), grass-fed butter, pastured eggs, and fermented milk.
10. Eat Liver and Oysters Once a Week
Ruminant liver and oysters are some of the best sources of copper and zinc, two minerals that play essential roles in maintenance of insulin sensitivity. Serum zinc and copper have inverse relationships to insulin resistance, and increases in zinc status match up well with improvements to insulin sensitivity. If you absolutely hate these foods, you can certainly find zinc and copper elsewhere. These are just the quickest way to obtain them (plus other important nutrients).
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