Insulin resistance. It’s starting to feel like a blanket statement: one of those diagnoses like “chronic fatigue syndrome” or “IBS” that seem like medical jargon for “we don’t know what’s wrong with you.” It sneaks up on us quietly, silently in fact, if we don’t seek it out through regular blood work, and offers a number of symptoms that can be attributed to other diseases.
Insulin resistance is an affliction typically discovered while en route to Type 2 diabetes. Symptoms include that stubborn belly fat we loathe, excessive thirst, increased fatigue, tingling in our hands and feet, and continued hunger even after eating a full meal. Other indicators, like high blood pressure, cholesterol, elevated triglycerides and a fasting glucose level of over 100 mg/dL, can all point to insulin resistance as well. These symptoms are indicative of oh so many other health conditions, so the alarms don’t sound for insulin resistance sometimes until we are well on our way to full blown diabetes. It’s easier to turn the car around when we’re only part way to our destination. Reversing insulin resistance before we develop Type 2 diabetes is much easier than backtracking after a diabetes or even prediabetes diagnosis. It also allows less time for the havoc on our bodies to be wreaked (not to mention less time for pounds to be packed).
Last week, we learned that a lack of salt can create insulin resistance and as we may know, being insulin-resistant is a step on the ladder to developing Type 2 diabetes. What we might not know, is just what it is — and what causes it to happen. About 33 percent of Americans are insulin-resistant, and while it can’t be diagnosed without blood work, one sign is immoveable weight around the middle, which can be a waistline of 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. In addition to the aforementioned high blood pressure, elevated fasting glucose levels are indicators of insulin resistance as well. Low “good” cholesterol (HDL) can be an indicator, as can skin tags. The symptoms span the spectrum, allowing it to often fly under the radar for an extended period of time.
What is insulin?By now, most of us talk about blood sugar levels, insulin and our pancreas as familiar terms. But what, exactly, does this essential secretion do for us and why is it so important? A hormone made in our pancreas, I’ve always thought of it as a something out of the Atari video game “Centipede” where we shoot the centipede down as it grows and changes direction. Our insulin shoots our blood sugar down when it gets high, bringing it back into a normal range. Insulin helps transport glucose to our cells for absorption and while it’s standard to need insulin after meals, we get into trouble when we continue to send our blood sugar out of whack with sugary food and refined carbohydrates. Too many zigs and zags in our blood sugar curve makes our pancreas work overtime. As resilient as we are, our pancreas can only keep up with these elevated demands for so long. To compound the issue, our cells can build up a sort of tolerance to insulin and becoming less and less responsive over time.
At first glance, making our pancreas work overtime may not seem like a problem. While shooting out too much insulin may initially get resistant cells to accept glucose and get it where it needs to go, excess insulin leads to excess glucose. When cells absorb too much glucose, it’s eventually converted into fat. There’s our weight gain.
How to avoid
While this is a complex process that is still being investigated, many risk factors contribute to developing insulin resistance. Though it’s difficult to determine which comes first, insulin resistance has been associated with a concurrence of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and major depressive disorder (MDD). Vascular disease has been connected with it as well, as have the development of dark, velvety patches on skin.
Two main contributors to insulin resistance include a lack of physical activity and excess weight. Because our muscles become more sensitive to insulin after exercise, it’s important to move regularly, whether that means training for a marathon or just walking around the block or office hallways, or taking the stairs.
Focusing on resistant starches and other healthier foods can elevate our blood sugar a lesser degree than higher sugar carbs or other foods, leaving a smaller job for insulin to do after each meal. Non-starchy veggies like our beloved dark leafy greens, broccoli and peppers are great options, as are tomatoes and citrus fruits. Foods high in fiber such as beans and legumes and fish with a high omega-3 fatty acid profile help keep our blood sugar on an even keel as well. Sweet potatoes ironically spike our blood sugar less than their white counterparts. Cook and cool your white potatoes overnight in the fridge to increase their resistant starch content.
As with so many health conditions, more sleep, less stress, an increase in soluble fiber and more fruits (especially berries) and veggies can lead to healthy weight loss. A side effect of eating fewer processed foods and healthy weight loss is the reversal of insulin resistance and even of Type 2 diabetes. Now that’s a side effect I’m willing to deal with!
Simple Salad Niçoise
1 bunch arugula or chopped radicchio
Tuna (sear some Ahi, or find a good quality tuna from the jar – I like the Tonnino brand)
1 bunch green beans (steamed or boiled)
1 cup cherry tomatoes – sliced
3 small red potatoes – sliced (when boiled and cooled for overnight, they become a resistant starch)
3 eggs – hard boiled and sliced in halves
½ cup Kalamata olives
¼ cup capers
For the dressing:
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ medium shallot
1 lemon, juiced (about ¼ cup)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 handful parsley – destemmed
Anchovies (1-2 depending on your taste)
Salt and pepper – to taste
On a platter, lay out a bed of arugula and place tuna on one end.
Proceed laying out ingredients in portions as desired.
Sprinkle olives and capers atop the assortment.
Combine all ingredients for the dressing in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Serve dressing on the side.