6 Essential Nutrients that Improve Insulin Function
When we hear the word insulin, it usually makes us think of the insulin pens we see those with type 1 or type 2 diabetes use to manage their blood sugar levels. However, our insulin levels and function should be something we’re all thinking about – it not only ensures we function properly but can trigger our bodies to hold onto excess fat. For anyone on a weight loss journey, this is a big problem!
So, how do we encourage healthy insulin function in our bodies? There are 6 essential nutrients to keep in mind when planning your meals, which we’ll share with you below.
How does insulin trigger the body to put on fat?
Insulin’s main function in the body is to regulate the amount of glucose (energy) in the blood, also known as blood sugar. Insulin tells our cells that it’s time to absorb the glucose in the blood to use as energy.
This works well when our bodies maintain normal insulin levels, however, it quickly becomes a problem when we overeat (especially on sugary foods) as it stimulates insulin production, even though our body no longer needs that energy to function. This means that though our cells take on that energy, they don’t need it, which triggers the body to convert it into fat to store it for later.
Chromium is essential because it boosts lipolysis, which means it helps your body break down fat. Studies have shown that chromium not only helps the body break down fat but also retain muscle mass and improve body composition. Women can be scared of terms like “muscle mass” because it conjures images of bodybuilding women on stage, but don’t be – you can’t get those body types without a lot of hard training (and often steroids), and your muscles dictate your metabolism. Essentially, the more muscle you have, the more you can eat without putting on extra weight, which is one of the reasons why men can eat more than women, even when they’re the same height.
Chromium has also been proven to improve insulin function, reducing the amount our bodies need to produce. Since insulin tells our body to put on fat, reducing the amount in our bodies helps us to lose fat. Another huge benefit of lower insulin levels in your body is that it won’t develop a tolerance to insulin, which is what can lead to type 2 diabetes.
You can find chromium naturally in many whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as lean meats, eggs, and legumes (beans).
2. Alpha-Lipoic Acid
You may not have heard about alpha-lipoic acid, but it’s a mineral that also boosts metabolic rate, which helps raise your BMR (basal metabolic rate – how many calories you burn at rest).
Alpha-lipoic acid has also been seen to remove fat from muscle cells, which helps reduce insulin resistance and improve its function in the body.
You can find alpha-lipoic acid naturally in foods like spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, beets, and red meat. However, it does occur in very small amounts, so it may be worth taking a supplement if your diet does not often include these foods.
3. Inositol Cystine
Inositol cystine is another little-known essential antioxidant that aids in the production of an antioxidant called glutathione. These antioxidants prevent fat storage by decreasing inflammation in the body and reducing insulin resistance, which reduces insulin production and aids in fat loss.
Inositol cystine also improves insulin sensitivity and function, lowering the body’s insulin secretion.
You can find inositol cystine naturally in protein, such as chicken, beef, lamb, tuna, and pork, as well as lentils, chickpeas, oats, soy, whole wheat, and eggs.
You may have heard of capsicum before because it is a natural appetite suppressant. Capsicum is essentially cayenne pepper extract and reduces appetite and the need for snacking, which helps lower and maintain functional insulin levels. Capsicum also boosts the metabolism and encourages thermogenesis and energy expenditure, which means that your body burns more calories and fat!
Due to capsicum’s ability to lower insulin levels, it not only helps you burn more fat but helps you avoid putting fat back on. You can find capsicum naturally in peppers, which means you need to indulge in spicy and peppery food! Generally, the spicier the better, though of course simply using cayenne pepper in your recipes will be extremely beneficial. There is also some capsicum in paprika. If you’re not a fan of spicy foods, consider taking a supplement to boost your capsicum intake.
5. Green Tea
Green tea and green tea extract has become incredibly popular in recent years due to its ability to increase fat loss from exercise, making any exercise you do that much more beneficial. Green tea boosts thermogenesis and glucose metabolism, which again improves your BMR. Anything that boosts how many calories you burn at rest is always a good thing and makes your weight loss efforts a lot easier, not to mention how much easier it is to maintain a healthy body weight.
The easiest way to increase your green tea intake is to drink it! Matcha is a particularly potent form of green tea, so may be the best option if you’re not naturally a tea drinker. You can also take it as capsules if you aren’t a fan of the taste.
Maintaining healthy insulin function is by far the best way to maintain a healthy weight and stimulate fat loss – and these 5 essential nutrients should be a part of your daily or weekly diet. Once you have a core understanding of how insulin works in the body and what you can do to maintain healthy insulin function, through eating balanced meals, not overeating, and eating these essential nutrients, you’ll be well equipped to avoid putting on fat.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.