Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It’s secreted in small amounts throughout the day and in larger amounts after meals. This particular hormone allows your body to use sugar (glucose) from carbohydrates in the food that you eat for energy or storage, depending on what is needed at the time.
Insulin is also the body’s main fat regulating hormone. It tells fat cells to store fat, and also prevents stored fat from being broken down.
When cells become insulin resistant, which is very common in society today, both blood sugar and insulin levels go up significantly and stay elevated.
Chronically elevated insulin, which is termed hyperinsulinemia, is proven to lead to elevated fat storage and weight gain as well as many metabolic health issues, including insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, obesity and yes even heart disease and cancer. (1, 2, 3)
Here are 5 ways to help lower your blood sugar and insulin level
1. Avoid All Forms of Sugar
You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but sugar is just empty calories “meaning” it contains a lot of calories, with no essential nutrients.
There is no protein, essential fats, vitamins, or minerals in sugar. This is why when people eat a large percentage of their diet as sugar it becomes a primary catalyst to insulin resistance and nutrient deficiencies. Therefore, sugar may very well be the most important food additive to stay away from if you’re trying to lower your insulin levels.
In fact, in a study done on the effects of snacking based on fast acting carbohydrates (candy) or fat and protein (peanuts) where people were encouraged to over eat either candy or peanuts, the candy group experienced a 31 percent increase in fasting insulin levels, compared to only a 12 percent increase in the peanut group. (6)
And in another study done on postprandial glucose metabolism, lipid profile, antioxidant status, and satiety, when people consumed jams containing high amounts of sugar, their insulin levels rose significantly more than after consuming low-sugar jams. (7)
Fructose is found in sucrose (table sugar) and high-fructose corn syrup, as well as honey, agave, and syrup (which are all three generally looked at as natural, healthy sweetening alternatives). However, consuming large amounts of any of them will promote insulin resistance, which ultimately drives blood sugar and insulin levels higher. (8, 9)
In fact, in this randomized controlled study done to compare the effects of the chronic consumption of honey, sucrose, and high-fructose corn syrup on circulating glucose, insulin, lipids, inflammatory markers, body weight and blood pressure, the study found that people had similar insulin responses after consuming 50 grams of any one of these sweeteners. (10)
In another study done on the effect of diets high in sucrose versus diets high in artificial sweeteners, overweight people who added sugar sweetened foods to their diet experienced a 22 percent increase in fasting insulin levels while the group who added artificially sweetened foods to their diet actually experienced a 3 percent decrease in fasting insulin levels. (11)
Bottom Line: A high intake of sugar in any form has been shown to increase insulin levels and promote insulin resistance.
2. Stay Clear of Refined Carbs
Today, refined carbs have become a staple food choice in the American diet, which is now making its way around the world.
However, research has now proven that consuming them regularly can lead to major hormonal disruption putting us at high risk for many chronic health problems, which include, but are not limited to, high insulin levels, weight gain and type II diabetes. (12, 13, 14)
Furthermore, refined carbs rank high on the glycemic index.
The glycemic response of a food, otherwise known as the “glycemic index” is the measure of how quickly a food’s ability is to raise ones blood sugar. This, in essence, will also determine how quickly that food can be stored on your body as fat.
Several studies have compared foods with different glycemic response levels to determine their over-all effect on blood sugar and insulin levels.
What these studies found is that eating high glycemic foods raise your blood sugar and insulin level much faster and much higher than eating low glycemic foods of the same portion, even if the carbohydrate contents of the two foods are similar. (15, 16, 17)
In fact, in this study a group of overweight people followed one of two unrestricted calorie diets for a 10 week period. After each meal the subjects were tested. What they found was that the high glycemic group had higher blood sugar and insulin levels than the low glycemic group. (18)
Bottom Line: Replacing refined carbs, which are digested and absorbed very quickly, with slower digesting fibrous whole foods, will help stabilize blood sugar and lower insulin levels.
3. Increase Your Soluble Fiber Intake
Getting enough soluble fiber in your diet is an important component in helping to stabilize and regulate blood sugars, maintain a healthy body weight, and optimize your over-all health. Besides helping regulate and stabilize blood sugars by shielding carbohydrates and delaying the absorption of glucose, it also increases food volume, which helps provide a satiating effect by slowing the emptying of the stomach, helping you feel full longer without increasing calories.
Unlike insoluble fiber, which passes through your body fully intact, soluble fiber actually absorbs water and forms a gel, which slows down the movement of food through the digestive tract. This promotes feelings of fullness and keeps blood sugar and insulin from rising too quickly after a meal. (19, 20, 21)
In this observational study conducted to determine the association between fiber intake and insulin resistance using 264 women found that those who ate the highest amount of soluble fiber were half as likely to be insulin resistant as those who ate the least amount of soluble fiber. (22)
Soluble fiber also helps feed the friendly bacteria that live in your colon, which may improve gut health and reduce insulin resistance.
In this six week controlled study done on dietary interventions that target the gut microbiota of obese older women found that those who took flaxseed experienced greater increases in insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels than women who took a probiotic or placebo. (23)
Overall, what this shows us is that fiber from whole foods appears to be more effective at reducing insulin than fiber in supplement form, although some results were mixed. For instance, this study found that a combination of whole food and supplemental fiber lowered insulin levels the most. Meanwhile, another found that insulin decreased when people consumed black beans but not when they took a fiber supplement. (24, 25)
Bottom Line: Soluble fiber, especially from whole foods, has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels, particularly in people with metabolic issues such as obesity or type II diabetes.
4. Engage in Regular Exercise
Engaging in regular physical activity can have powerful on your health. In fact, it’s been proven that by participating in some sort of physical activity just 3 days per week can increase insulin sensitivity and lower the risk factor of prediabetes, type II diabetes and coronary heart disease. (26, 27, 28)
One study compared two groups. One performed sustained aerobic exercise, and the other performed high-intensity interval training. What they found was that although both groups experienced improvements in fitness, the group that performed sustained aerobic activity experienced a more significantly drop in insulin levels. (29)
In fact, in this study done with 101 breast cancer survivors, those who engaged in a combination of strength training and endurance exercise for 16 weeks experienced a 27 percent reduction in insulin levels. (34)
Bottom Line: Strength training, aerobic exercise and/or a combination of both will increase insulin sensitivity, help stabilize blood sugars and lower insulin levels.
5. Consume More Protein
Protein is the most crucial element in helping to retain a healthy body composition. It’s also vitally important when it comes to maximizing our health. In fact, consuming adequate amounts come meal time can have a major effect on controlling your weight and insulin levels.
However, protein does stimulate insulin production so that your muscles can take up amino acids. Therefore, eating super high amounts can actually lead to higher insulin levels.
In addition, some types of protein appear to cause greater insulin responses than others. One study found that whey concentrate and casein protein, due to the insulinemic effect in dairy products raised insulin levels even higher than bread in metabolically healthy individuals. (35)
Bottom Line: Consuming 15 to 30 grams of protein every 3 to 4 hours from minimally processed sources like, meat, poultry, fish and eggs has been shown to help stabilize blood sugars and lower insulin production.
Take Home Message:
High insulin levels can lead to many chronic and metabolic health consequences. Therefore, taking the steps outlined here to increase your insulin sensitivity, stabilize your blood sugars and decrease your insulin levels may help you lose weight, lower your risk of disease and increase your quality of life.