Two weeks ago I wrote about how sugary beverages are increasingly regarded as the reason our waistlines are expanding at alarming rates. I mentioned in that column how cases of insulin resistance are on the rise and touched briefly on the health consequences of this syndrome.
Ladies, pay attention here. Although it’s estimated that 25 percent of Americans suffer from insulin resistance, us gals are far more likely to suffer than guys, especially if we’re peri-menopausal. And it can greatly increase our risk of heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes. It is, in fact, a pre-diabetic syndrome. So, if you’re one of those folks who, despite being sure you’re doing all the right things with your diet, still can’t shift that paunch, take note of what I’m about to share.
Insulin resistance is a metabolic condition in which your body’s natural insulin loses its effectiveness, resulting in increased blood sugar levels. Because insulin is a hormone, it must be in balance for other hormones to regulate properly, as well (the endocrine system is a very coordinated team – when one member is down, others rush to do extra work, upsetting natural hormone balance).
With women, the shifts in insulin disrupt the work of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, resulting in myriad unpleasant symptoms. Fatigue and weight gain are common in women nearing menopause and often continue if hormonal balance is not achieved.
If you are overweight or you or a close family member has type II diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, you are a likely candidate for insulin resistance. Women who have had gestational diabetes are also at risk.
Latinos, blacks, Native Americans and Asian-Americans have the highest risk. Along with fatigue and weight gain, symptoms may include skin tags or skin discoloration and reproductive abnormalities in women of child-bearing age.
So how does it happen? Our body stores glucose from the carbohydrates that we consume, and insulin regulates the delivery of that glucose for energy. One problem is that our modern diet is very heavy in “simple carbohydrates” that require higher insulin levels to be produced for longer periods. Not only does the body become less and less tolerant of these carbs, but cravings for simple carbs and sugars increase, making the situation cyclical.
The good news is, you can manage it and reduce your risk for greater health problems. And the dietary advice is pretty standard.
Reducing your intake of simple carbs and refined sugars is an absolute must. That means refined foods and also potato and corn-based foods that have a higher glycemic profile. These are the hardest changes, because the condition puts cravings for these very products in our way, but eliminating the foods that cause the cravings is the first step toward kicking them to the curb.
Lean meats are easy, but cooking methods often sabotage our effort. Grilling, roasting and baking without a lot of heavy fats or sauces are the way to go. You’d be surprised how good a grilled chicken breast lightly seasoned with salt and pepper can be.
Push aside starchy vegetables in favor of those lower on the glycemic index. Green and colorful vegetables are not only filling, but also they increase production of leptin – the hormone that signals to your body that you are full and satisfied.
These vegetables are high in fiber, as well, as are whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and oats. Opting for these over pastas and breads, regardless of how “whole grain” they are, can help your body better regulate insulin levels.
Exercise can’t be ignored. Even a 20 minute walk three to four days a week makes a difference. Work up from there. Busy as we are, we should always be able to give ourselves 20 minutes for better health.
Insulin resistance can be controlled by diet and exercise. If you have the risk factors, now is the time to pay attention and make the modifications to your lifestyle, instead of waiting until things get worse.
Mary Porter is a nutrition counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. You can email her at email@example.com