The insulin-makes-you-fat issue is something I’ve come full circle on. My formal nutrition education came mostly in the mid-90’s when low fat still reigned supreme and low carb was a fad and a potentially dangerous one at that.
Fast forward to 7-8 years ago during the peak of low carb popularity and insulin was the evil hormone responsible for our burgeoning waistlines. The rationale was so simple and seemed so logical. Eat lots of carbs – spike your insulin – insulin promotes fat storage and voila! You get fat. I was buying in.
Low carb gurus have been parroting this message for many years now – but has insulin been misunderstood?
I don’t pretend to know the most intricate biological details of insulin’s effect on the body; however I credit 3 very smart individuals in helping dissect the complicated and oft-misrepresented role on insulin: Alan Aragon, James Krieger and “Carb Sane“. A while back, Krieger wrote a phenomenal 5 part series called Insulin: An Undeserved Bad Reputation.
Here are 4 common myths associated with the “evil” hormone
1. A High Carb Diet Leads to Chronically High Insulin Levels
Eating a high carbohydrate meal only temporarily elevates insulin levels in healthy individuals. This means that any fat loss-suppressing affects of insulin are virtually non-existent as the ability to store fat will not exceed the ability to release it – assuming you are not consuming more calories than you expend.
2. Carbohydrate Drives Insulin Which Drives Fat Storage
The body has the ability to store fat under a variety of insulin levels. Insulin does blunt the effect of a fat-releasing hormone called “hormone sensitive lipase” (HSL). Fat, however does this too in the absence of high insulin levels. Therefore overeating fat will still not allow for fat loss despite low insulin levels.
3. Insulin Make You Hungry
Not only is this a misconception but it turns out the opposite may be true. Appetite is a vastly complex subject anyway and pinpointing a single factor is by default ludicrous.
4. Carbs and Only Carbs Drive Insulin
Many are surprised to learn that protein can also stimulate insulin production. This actually isn’t lost on the ardent low carb crowd – with many of them promoting low carb AND low protein to avert insulin production (shakes head). In this study despite nearly twice the carbohydrate consumption and sharply higher blood sugar response, the insulin response was actually slightly LOWER in the higher carbohydrate group.
What to Make of This
It’s a complicated issue – plain and simple. Anyone who tells you weight gain has a singular cause is lying to your face. Weight management is multivariate and multi-layered. I would suggest taking a detailed look at the entire series and the rebuttals if you have a keen interest.
Image Credit: Skippyjon