Friday, May 06, 2005

The Role of Insulin in Controlling Weight

There are three basic units the body uses for energy:

1 Fats
2 Proteins
3 Carbohydrates

All three can be converted to blood glucose. However, while fats and proteins are converted slowly, carbohydrates are converted quickly causing quick spikes in the body's blood sugar levels. These spikes in blood sugar levels cause the pancreas to create and release insulin until the blood sugar level returns to normal.

Meanwhile insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas that lowers our blood's glucose levels, is released into the blood as soon as the body detects that blood sugar has risen above its optimal level.

Insulin is a very efficient hormone that runs the body's fuel storage systems. If there is excess sugar or fat in the blood, insulin will signal the body to store it in the body's fat cells. Insulin also tells these cells not to release their stored fat, making that fat unavailable for use by the body as energy.

Since this stored fat cannot be released for use as energy, insulin very effectively prevents weight loss. The higher the body's insulin level, the more effectively it prevents fat cells from releasing their stores, and the harder it becomes to lose weight. According to many authorities, over the long term high insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance and cause serious health problems like the ones listed below:

1 Raised insulin levels and insulin resistance
2 Lower metabolism leading to weight gain
3 An increase in fatty tissue and reduction in muscle tissue
4 Accelerated aging
5 Increased food allergies and intolerances
6 Overworked immune system
7 Increased risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer

Carbohydrates, especially simple carbs like sugar and starch, are quickly turned into sucrose by the body, entering the blood stream faster and thereby causing the release of large amounts of insulin. The fewer carbs that are eaten, the less insulin is produced by the body, and the fewer calories that are stored as fat. Less fat storage equals less weight gain and fewer carbs eaten equals less insulin in the blood. The result is the body using its fat stores for fuel.

The premise behind every low-carb diet plan is that a body that produces less insulin burns more fat than a body that produces lots of insulin. Some plans encourage a period of extremely low carbohydrate intake so that the body will enter a state of ketosis and more quickly burn fat stores.

These are usually called induction periods. The length of extreme carb control varies from seven days to however long it takes you to reach your ideal weight. After this period of extremely low carb dieting, maintenance levels of carb consumption are followed to prevent weight gain. The amount of carb you can safely eat will depend on your unique body system. And you will probably have to experiment to find out what level of carb intake is best for you.

No matter what your carb intake, it will be lower than the norm and you will still eliminate white flour and white flower products and certain other sugary and starchy foods. This is why these diet plans are known as low-carb lifestyles.

Low carb success requires that you be willing to give up simple carbs for the long-term.

Tomorrow we'll look at the most popular low-carb diet plans and books and give you a summary of their requirements.

Dr Jeff St Paul

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