Nutrition has always been a complex topic with many contradicting studies and reports. Culture, preferences, and greed of the food industry have a massive hand in manipulating the information out there. Many of us are unaware of what we consume and want to find changes that can lead to a longer and healthier life. How often do you find yourself following a diet regime just for barely any results? By understanding how we actually process our food, we can independently decide what particularly is good for you.
Carbohydrates and Insulin:
For an average person, carbohydrates compose the majority of their diet. When you eat carbs, the blood glucose rises, your pancreas releases insulin- the glucose regulator to help utilize carbs for energy by storing it as glycogen (linked chains of glucose) in the liver and muscles. When you have too much glycogen, the excess is stored as fat.
Insulin’s job is to help you absorb and store nutrients. After 4-6 hrs after eating, insulin levels go down and the blood glucose starts to decrease, prompting the pancreas to secrete glucagon. Glucagon is just the opposite of insulin i.e. It pulls out the energy from your glycogen and fat stores.
So, if you eat every two hours or get six meals a day, you never let glucagon do its job and your body never starts burning the glycogen/fat stores. With high insulin preventing access to stored energy, you get an increase in appetite to replenish blood glucose
Different foods give different insulin rise- with fats stimulating minimally while fibreless carbs provoking massive rises. Refined carbs are most likely to overshoot the body with insulin secretion so even after all the carbs are processed, you still have a bunch of insulin sitting around making you hungry. E.g. When if you binge eat at night, you wake up starving in the morning.
Insulin also makes you less sensitive to leptin- the satiety hormone, keeping you hungry. Obesity is virtually always accompanied by resistance to both insulin and leptin. So, in order to stay satiated and full of energy rather than be hungry and lethargic, you need to keep your insulin low.
Fats and Proteins:
The other 2 macronutrients our body needs. Protein is essential for helping your body repair cells and make new ones. It is the most important among the three yet most people fail to reach their daily recommended protein intake.
As for fats, we have always been told to opt for plant oils like vegetable, canola, sunflower, etc. since they contain polyunsaturated fats, the healthiest form of fat. However, this overlooks the fact that they oxidize very easily. Oxidation changes the structure and properties of fats for the worse giving out toxic products.
Cheap vegetable oil is in everything from packaged foods to restaurants and kitchens across the world. As consumption of vegetable oils rose, rates of obesity and diabetes exploded. When used for frying, they quickly produce saturated and trans-fat which are very harmful to the body.
What we can do
The easiest and best step is to eat mindfully. As told above, protein should be the priority. The recommended amount is 1g of protein per kg of body weight. For fats, we conventionally know to avoid fried foods. If you must, far more resilient saturated fats like coconut oil or butter produce far less harmful compounds. Foods like nuts are also a great source of both fats and micronutrients.
Since carbohydrates are our primary source of energy, we cannot just minimize them in our diet. We can choose complex carbs from whole wheat, fruits rich in fiber, and get rid of processed foods, especially the biggest culprit of obesity- sugar.
Fasting – Our greatest weapon:
Scared of fasting? The first thing to know is that hunger is not a simple equation- "no food + time=more and more hunger".
In a study by the Medical University of Vienna, subjects underwent a 33 hour fast. They expected to be ravenously hungry but found that their hunger completely disappeared. It’s because hunger is regulated by hormones like ghrelin that come in waves. The levels of ghrelin rose at their normal eating times and fell back down even though they didn’t eat anything.
Another interesting thing about ghrelin is that it may make you hungry to get you to take in more salt. Salt has many very critical functions:
It’s needed by the heart to pump blood properly, and it’s a key component in cell-to-cell communication and the optimal transmission of nerve impulses to and from organs like the heart and brain.
Low salt leads to stunted growth, increased insulin resistance, increased uric acid levels, stimulated oxidative stress in the mitochondria, and weight gain. Despite all this, the standard low sodium guidelines of only 2.3g of sodium per day, drastically underestimate how much salt the body really requires for optimal functioning.
Fasting is the best way to lower insulin. After a hard couple of days, your body and hormones work in your favor making it easier and easier. With enough salt and minerals, eating high fiber and moderate protein, and low carbs, the process becomes even smoother.