Control calories or control insulin… or both? Which is more important when it comes to battling extra pounds? Hint… there’s no simple answer.
If you’ve read any diet book released in the past 5-10 years, you are probably convinced that excess calories are off the hook and the insulin is the devil when it comes to packing on the pounds.
Now being that we are hard-wired to like simplicity, the idea that insulin makes us fat; carbs drive insulin and therefore we just quell the insulin by cutting out carbs and voila – The body we’ve always wanted. Here are some snippets regarding insulin and calories and their roles in fat storage.
- Insulin has many roles, including the ability store fat under certain conditions. To label insulin as the “fat storage hormone”, however would be an oversimplification.
- Insulin does not appear to directly cause fat gain under low calorie conditions
- Lower insulin response to a meal surprisingly does not consistently correlate with greater satiety.
- Reasonably cutting calories improves insulin metabolism over a wide range of carbohydrate levels. Also, insulin levels decrease with decreases in body weight regardless of calorie composition.
- Glycemic index studies are conflicting with the Cochrane Collaboration concluding low GI diets to be effective, there are other studies that don’t show any difference in body fat or satiety when calories are equal.
So is cutting calories the answer? Not so fast…
- Calories in vs. calories out doesn’t work out so cleanly for many people.
- Scads of individuals have succeeded by cutting carbs instead of calories. No “metabolic advantage” of lower carb diets has been proven, however in tightly controlled clinical trials.
- Creating a caloric deficit is necessary for long term fat loss, BUT there are smart and not-so-smart strategies as to how to achieve this.
- Cutting calories too low can suppress the metabolism by forcing the body into a “conservation” mode – fluctuating hormones that retain body fat.
Is there a case for both?
- Many people have found success on low glycemic index/load and otherwise carb-controlled diets. Eating lower glycemic index and keeping refined grains to a minimum is a good idea in spite of the inconclusive data relating to their long term effectiveness in controlling weight.
- Even while low carbing, however, calories can and do matter at some point in the weight loss journey.
- Insulin, blood sugar and calories aside, eating foods higher in nutrients is never a bad idea and these are typically found in low glycemic foods.
So instead of being hung up on whether insulin resistance causes overeating or the other way around, just focus on making good choices one meal at a time.
- Bowen J, Noakes M, Clifton PM. Appetite hormones and energy intake in obese men after consumption of fructose, glucose and whey protein beverages. Int J Obes (Lond). 2007 Nov;31(11):1696-703. Epub 2007 Jun 26
- Akhavan T, Anderson GH. Effects of glucose-to-fructose ratios in solutions on subjective satiety, food intake, and satiety hormones in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Nov;86(5):1354-63.
- Friedman MR, et al. Popular Diets: a scientific review. Obes. REs. 2001. Mar; 9 supple.
- McLaughlan T et. al. Differences in insulin resistance do not predict weight loss in response to hypocaloric diets in healthy obese women. J. Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1999.