We’re going to let you in on a little secret: The FIRST thing you should improve when you want to change your body is to improve insulin sensitivity.
Insulin sensitivity is SO important for fat loss because when you are insulin resistant, the body is much more likely to store the food you eat as fat. Insulin resistance also produces inflammation in the body, causing a whole bunch of health problems that any sane person wouldn’t want to deal with.
Here are 25 simple actions you can take that improve insulin sensitivity.
#1: Do strength training and other anaerobic activities.
Exercise is absolutely critical for improving insulin sensitivity because your muscles and cells are desperate for fuel during and after your workout.
Training modes that build muscle, such as lifting weights or sprints, are most effective for improving insulin sensitivity because muscle consumes the majority of the energy transported in the blood (as much as 90 percent). For every 10 percent increase in muscle mass, you get an 11 percent reduction in insulin resistance.
#2: Endurance exercise works too, but combined training is better.
Endurance exercise has a very beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, but only in trained muscle. So if you’re a runner, you’ll be fairly insulin sensitive in the leg musculature, but less so in the upper body.
Therefore, it’s important to do some form of total body exercise and strength training is pretty much a no-brainer as your best option because combined aerobic and resistance programs improve insulin sensitivity more than aerobic training alone.
#3: Optimize your carb intake.
If you’re sedentary and overweight, optimizing carb intake may mean to eat a very low-carb (less than 50 grams a day kind of low) diet. For others it means to restrict carbs to 100 to 200 grams a day, or try carb cycling. For recreational trainees, it might mean to eat moderate to high-carb on training days and low-carb on off days.
#4: Go high in protein.
Research consistently shows that higher protein, lower carb diets improve insulin sensitivity because they produce a more moderate increase in blood glucose. This reduces carb cravings and allows people to stay steadier and on an even keel with their eating instead of bingeing on carbs due to blood sugar spikes and valleys.
#5: Avoid sugar.
You probably know sugar spikes blood glucose.
And foods with added sugar? Jacks your glucose up even more because they are almost always refined and very quickly digested. Blood sugar spikes result in too much insulin being released, and then, after the insulin mops up all the sugar, you crave more sugar.
#6: Avoid refined grains and foods with a high glycemic response.
Sugar isn’t the only problem. Refined grains and high-carb foods have the same effect on insulin health. Try choosing vegetables instead of processed foods (including bread, pasta, crackers, etc.) and reduce your intake of grains, even the pseudo healthy “whole” ones because they lead to high insulin as well.
#7: Eat more vegetables.
A 2-year trial showed that one of the most important dietary habits adopted by participants who lost fat with a high-protein diet was to eat more vegetables, favoring leafy greens and cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.
#8: Add vinegar and other acids to carbs.
Vinegar and other acidic foods such as lemon and lime increase insulin sensitivity, improving the body’s ability to store the carbs you eat as muscle glycogen instead of as fat.
#9: Flavor higher carb foods with cinnamon, turmeric, or fenugreek.
These spices are known as nutrient partitioners, meaning they improve insulin signaling to lean tissue cells so that energy is less likely to get stored as fat.
#10: Use pickled foods as condiments to high-carb foods.
Pickled foods such as kim chi, sauerkraut, or pickled ginger boost insulin sensitivity. Add them to higher carb foods like potatoes, rice, or sandwiches.
#11: Drink green tea or yerba mate before carbilicious meals.
The antioxidants in these green beverages improve nutrient partitioning and insulin sensitivity.
#12: Eat glycemic-lowering foods with your carbs.
Two types of foods will reduce the glycemic response: Foods high in naturally-occurring fiber, including most vegetables, and those that are rich in antioxidants, such as berries and leafy greens.
For example, the delicious green vegetable, rainbow chard, is known as an anti-diabetic food in Turkey. Dark-colored berries are often used in Scandinavia to lower the blood sugar response of oatmeal.
#13: Use whey protein.
Whey protein will significantly improve glucose tolerance, which is interesting because whey causes a large spike in insulin that is greater than the expected based on its amino acid composition. Studies consistently show whey improves insulin health and blood sugar management even in those with greater insulin resistance, making scientists suggest it is unique and therapeutic.
#14: Avoid trans-fats like they are the plague.
Trans fats are partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated oils that are often used in baked and processed foods. They cause insulin resistance and are linked to a boatload of health problems from heart disease to depression. The U.S. recently followed the E.U. in banning trans fats, but manufacturers can still sneak them into foods if they get an exemption.
#15: Avoid processed vegetable oils.
Processed vegetable oils are everywhere. They include safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, corn, canola oil and other vegetable blends. People use them for cooking and they are added to just about every single packaged or processed food out there. Too much of these fats and you degrade cellular health, increasing insulin resistance.
#16: Eat reasonable amounts of nuts and seeds.
Nuts and seeds provide an unprocessed source of fat that is beneficial for insulin health as long as it’s supplied in moderation. Avocado and minimally processed, cold press olive oil are also recommended.
#17: Eat oily fish a few days a week.
Fish supplies the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA that are needed for strong, but flexible cells, improving their sensitivity to insulin for easier binding and better blood sugar tolerance.
#18: Get enough magnesium.
Magnesium is the mineral of insulin sensitivity because it acts as a natural “insulin sensitizer,” exerting positive effects on the insulin receptors in each cell of the body.
Magnesium-rich foods include leafy greens, especially Swiss chard, seeds (pumpkin and sesame), nuts (almonds, cashews), and broccoli.
#19: Use resistant starch.
Normally when you eat higher carb foods you get a large, quick elevation in blood sugar. But carbs that are high in something called resistant starch don’t respond to the normal enzymes in our guts that digest them. The blood sugar response to these foods is much lower.
What it comes down to is that foods high in resistant starch lead you to absorb fewer calories and improve insulin sensitivity at the same time—a win-win situation. The easiest way to get resistant starch is to add raw unmodified potato starch to foods—toss some in a protein shake or eat it with yogurt.
#20: Cook, cool, and re-cook your carbs—increase their resistant starch.
You can increase the resistant starch content of other carbohydrate foods by cooking them, letting them cool, and then reheating them. This process changes the structure of the carbs in everything from pasta to bread, reducing the blood glucose response. Try it with potatoes, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, rice and any other high carb foods you like.
#21: Eliminate soda, juice, and any other liquid fructose.
Fructose is sugar from fruit and it’s also found in vegetables like corn. Liquid fructose causes insulin resistance and is linked with belly fat gain when consumed in large quantities. Watch out for sports drinks too because they contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
#22: Avoid high-fructose foods.
Processed foods are often packed with HFCS, and stay away from agave (it has more fructose than corn syrup). You can also opt for lower fructose fruits and vegetables, such as most berries, nectarines, grapefruit, avocado, and tomatoes.
#23: Get enough sleep.
Following just one night of not enough sleep, insulin sensitivity is reduced because the stress hormone cortisol is elevated. This causes us to crave higher carb foods, but when we eat them, but we often feel worse afterward because glucose tolerance is reduced. Anytime you can’t get enough sleep, be especially cautious with food choices and do everything you can to improve insulin sensitivity.
#24: Avoid eating late at night.
The foods people eat late tend to be higher carb foods, elevating insulin, which ends up throwing off our circadian rhythms. High insulin inhibits good sleep because melatonin, the sleep hormone, is only released after insulin falls. Short-term, you get one restless night, but long-term late night eating can completely jack up hormone balance.
#25: Avoid sitting for long periods.
Sitting for long periods reduces insulin sensitivity even if you work out frequently and do everything else on this list right. For example, just 3 days of physical inactivity in young, active people caused insulin sensitivity to plummet and the participants gained belly fat.
You don’t have to run around the block. Just get up and walk around a bit every 30 to 60 minutes and consider getting a standing desk.