It’s been a couple hours since your morning meetings and you’ve been grinding away at your deadlines in the office all day. And that’s when you realize you’re feeling hungry. If you’re like most American adults who work long hours, spend a lot of time sitting at the office and in traffic, and always feel like you’re crunched for time, chances are pretty good you’re going to satisfy your hunger with something quick and easy.
Sound familiar? Millions of cheeseburgers, French fries and gallons of soda are sold every day in the United States. It’s one reason an estimated 68 percent of all adults are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s one reason about 26 million people have type 2 diabetes, and another 79 million have prediabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
When you eat foods loaded with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or made largely from refined carbohydrates (like white bread, white rice, many varieties of pasta, and cookies and pastries), they’re quickly converted to glucose in your body. And that can create a problem for your pancreas that produces insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, which can lead to weight gain and other serious health problems.
Insulin and its Function in the Body
Your pancreas helps regulate your blood sugar levels by secreting insulin. In the perfect world, your pancreas slowly releases insulin over time throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range. But that becomes increasingly difficult for your pancreas if you’re constantly demanding large amounts of insulin to regulate spikes in your blood sugar level. Without adequate insulin, your body looks for other ways to use excess blood sugar levels.
Importance of Insulin Sensitivity
Over time, risk factors like poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and being overweight can further stress your pancreas and limit its ability to produce insulin. A recent study published in the American Society for Clinical Nutrition found that increased consumption of refined carbohydrates raises the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
If you become insulin resistant, your pancreas can no longer keep up with the demands for insulin. And studies show that increased insulin resistance increases abdominal fat, raises triglyceride levels and lowers good cholesterol levels. These are all major risk factors for obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, which are all among the leading causes of death in the United States.
Increase Insulin Sensitivity in Fat Loss
If you want to lose weight, or maintain your current weight, you need to take a closer look at your diet to make sure you’re eating balanced meals that don’t overload your pancreas with a demand for insulin. In a recent study published in the journal of Diabetes Care, researchers found that eating more fiber improved insulin sensitivity, aided in weight loss and helped reduce the risk for diabetes. You can increase your insulin sensitivity by limiting sugar-sweetened drinks and fast foods made from refined carbohydrates, and eating more fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. These foods are high in fiber, take longer to digest, and allow your pancreas to respond with insulin to regulate blood sugar in a healthier way.
But diet isn’t the only way to improve insulin sensitivity. Research also shows that regular exercise helps increase insulin sensitivity. And it’s a no-brainer that fat loss exercises burn more calories than a sedentary lifestyle and serves as an effective weight management strategy. In a study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that exercise can increase insulin sensitivity for up to 16 hours after a workout and increased metabolism to prevent excess glucose from being stored as fat.
Diet, Exercise, and Sleep is the Key
If you want to make the most of your efforts to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, you need to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate by the Harvard School of Public Health or ChooseMyPlate. Gov by the U.S. Department of Agriculture both provide healthy and easy-to-follow guidelines for healthy eating. And the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day for weight management and weight loss. Sleep is also a key component of regulating insulin levels and preventing weight gain, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night for best health.