Carbs Force Your Fat Cells To Grow

Insulin 101

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas in response to the presence of blood sugar (glucose) that is released into the blood stream after we eat carbohydrates (sugar and starches).  The higher the blood sugar level, the more insulin is produced.

The insulin signals our muscle and liver to pull the blood sugar out of the blood stream and results in a decline in your blood sugar level.  It also triggers your body to go into a fat building mode on order to save the excess energy that has been consumed.

As the blood sugar levels decline, your pancreas responds by decreasing the production of insulin until the insulin levels decrease to the pre-meal level.  It’s a simple stepwise process as outlined below.

  1. Low Levels of Insulin
  2. Eating Carbohydrates Releases Blood Sugar Into The Blood Stream
  3. Pancreas Produces More Insulin
  4. Muscle and Liver Pull Blood Sugar from the Blood Stream
  5. Blood Sugar Levels Decline
  6. Pancreas Produces Less Insulin

This cycle of insulin production occurs every time we eat carbohydrates.  If you eat carbohydrates 3 times a day, your insulin levels go up 3 times per day.  If you eat carbohydrates 3 times a day and have 2 additional carbohydrate containing snacks, your insulin levels rise 5 times per day.

What you are about to learn in that the frequency and extent of your insulin production throughout the day is the one of the main factors determining the amount of fat stored on your body.

Insulin’s Effect on Fat Cells

Insulin causes a shift in your metabolism to preferentially store energy in your fat cells.  If you eat an excessive amount of food, your body is designed to store all the excess energy in your fat cells.  And the elevation of the insulin is the primary mechanism that shifts your body into an energy-gets-stored-in-the-fat mode.

Evolution designed this mechanism so your Stone Age ancestors could store as much energy in their fat cells as possible when they would eat.  Their food supply was often unstable, they would often gorge when eating and an ample supply of body fat was important to maintain their bodies as they went days or even weeks without food.

Insulin Levels and Fiber Intake

All raw vegetables and whole grains (wheat, oats, etc) contain varying amounts of natural fiber. Fiber is a term given to carbohydrates that cannot be digested by humans.  An example of this is grass.   It is a carbohydrate than humans cannot digest (unlike cows) hence we call it fiber.

Fiber is important because it slows down the release of sugar into the blood stream resulting in a gradual and less intense rise of insulin.  So, the more fiber-containing carbohydrates you eat (fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains), less insulin is required to maintain your blood sugar levels.

A measurement of the amount of insulin your body requires to normalize blood sugar levels after eating certain carbohydrates is known as the Glycemic Index (GI).  Foods with a higher GI require a greater amount of insulin to normalize blood sugar levels than foods with a lower GI rating.  Higher GI foods often are processed carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, potatoes, table sugar and fructose.

Processed carbohydrates are starches and sugars that have had most or all of their natural fiber removed in the processing of the raw form of the food.  For instance, boiled green beans have much less fiber than crunchy, lightly sautéed green beans.  And natural rice loses most of its fiber when its husk is removed in order to turn it into common white rice.

Modern Foods and Elevated Insulin Levels

When you consume frequent portions of processed carbohydrates such as soda, fruit juice, bread, rice and pasta, your body produces high levels of insulin in order to drive down the rapid and excessive spikes in blood sugar these foods cause.

Remember, highly processed foods have very little fiber and consequently lead to a rapid and higher elevation of your blood sugar levels than do raw or unprocessed carbohydrates.  As discussed above, these elevated and often sustained levels of insulin can result in your body shifting to a perpetual state of fat storage.

In addition to eating 2-3 processed carbohydrate-containing meals, you may also be consuming 2-3 snacks or desserts per day.¬†¬† Unfortunately this eating pattern has been reinforced by misguided nutritional advice that encourages people to eat carbohydrates more frequently in order to ‚Äúmaintain steady levels of blood sugar‚ÄĚ.

Evolution designed us to function as Stone Age humans who ate very little in the way of carbohydrates and often experienced unstable food supplies.  If we needed to eat carbohydrates consistently everyday we would of not survived as a species.  The concept that you need an intake of carbohydrates throughout the day to maintain your blood sugar level has no scientific basis what so ever.

The only thing frequent consumption of processed carbohydrates does is to cause the frequent production of insulin.  Remember, insulin drives your body to store blood sugar as body fat and prevents your body from burning fat as an energy source.

The persistent, elevated state of insulin production ultimately results in excessive body fat production.  This is the main reasons why it is so hard to burn off fat when your go on low fat diet.  Low fat diets still often contain a relatively high levels carbohydrate and a high carbohydrate intake forces you body to store fat and makes it difficult for the body to burn fat.

No matter what kind of foods you eat, if your diet contains too many carbohydrates overall, your body is going to produce lots of insulin which will cause your body to produce lots of body fat.

Carbs Force Your Fat Cells To Grow

As I’ve previously stated, when you eat a diet with a limited amount of fiber-containing carbohydrates instead of processed carbohydrates, your insulin levels return to healthy levels between meals and at night when you sleep.  The low levels of insulin allows your body to shift back to burning your fat cells as your preferred energy source.   Your energy metabolism should work as follows:

  1. Eat Carbohydrates with Fiber
  2. Insulin Levels Rise Minimally
  3. Insulin Levels Drop to Low Level Between Meals and When Sleeping
  4. Body PREFERS TO BURN FAT as Preferred Energy Source
  5. No Excess Accumulation of Fat

Unfortunately, this is not what is happening if you consume a diet rich in processed carbohydrates such as soda, fruit juice, pasta, rice and bread.  These foods result in a sustained and elevated release of insulin.  Elevated insulin in turn results in your body preferentially storing fat instead of burning it as an energy source between meals.

If you eat too many carbohydrates, your fat storage metabolism is probably functioning more like this:

  1. Eat Processed Carbohydrates Without Fiber
  2. Insulin Levels Rise to Excessively
  3. Insulin Levels are Maintained at Abnormally High Levels
  4. Body PREFERS TO STORE FAT instead of Burning It for Energy
  5. Muscle is Preferred Energy Source Between Meals and While You Sleep
  6. Excessive Fat Accumulation Occurs

The resulting inability to normally burn fat as an energy source is one of the main reasons you see some individuals with very large amounts of fat stored in their buttocks and thighs (often women) or large amounts of fat in their midsection (often men).  Individuals with these excessively large areas of body fat are known to have Ectopic Fat Storage Disease.

Simply stated, the excessive body fat you carry is more due to the fact that you are eating an excessive amount of carbohydrates in your diet than due to eating too many calories.

Lose The Carbohydrates, Lose The Fat

The average American diet now consists of 50-60% (250-350 grams per day) of calories from carbohydrates and many highly processed carbohydrates at that.  Scientific studies suggest that you can normalize your insulin production levels if you reduce your carbohydrate intake to less than 100-125 grams per day.

Start by reducing the larger amounts of carbohydrates from your diet; the frequent servings of potatoes, rice and pasta and eliminating the sugar containing drinks from your diet.

If it seems overwhelming, simply pick one food item at a time.  Eliminate sugar contain drinks such as soda, sport drinks, sweetened tea, fruit juice and flavored coffee drinks.  Focus on drinking mainly water or unsweetened tea and coffee.

Artificially sweetened drinks have their own health concerns but I’d rather have someone temporarily switch to artificially sweetened drinks that continue consuming sugary drinks that consistently spike your insulin levels.  Natural artificial sweeteners are not believed to be any less risky that unnatural forms. 

Once you’ve started making headway in your consistent reduction of carbohydrates, you will slowly begin to notice improvements in how your clothing fits.  The reduction in your body fat can occur without you even trying to reduce your calorie intake.  It may seem surprising but its true.  I call it the sculpting effect of a lower carbohydrate pattern of eating.

Try it, you have nothing to lose but body fat.

Picture of Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

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