In Japan, a recent study researched the impact of eating order on Postprandial Glucose (blood sugar levels after eating). The study was focused on learning more to help those with Type II diabetes, but turned up something that could help us all be more effective fat burners. Before we get into the details, let’s take a look at why carbs are essential, and why avoiding insulin spikes can help us burn more fat.
Many fad diets in the last 20 years or so have focused on minimum carb intake, and presented carbs as being the primary component leading to obesity. Research shows the vast majority of people who lost weight through these extreme plans gained back not only the weight they lost, but additional pounds as well, so carb depravation isn’t the long term answer. If you exercise regularly, restricting your carb intake too severely can result in decreased thyroid output, increased cortisol output, decreased testosterone, impaired mood and cognitive function, muscle catabolism and a suppressed immune function (Source-Precision Nutrition). Making sure you have healthy carbs in your food plan will help you enjoy higher energy levels and better balance in your body’s energy systems.
The Japanese study offers us a way to get the carb intake we need for energy, but keep our glycemic indexes and loads down so that we don’t experience high levels on insulin production. Lower insulin levels will allow the body to more readily burn fat reserves and energy sources. In the study, two control groups ate the same foods, and in the same quantity. The only difference was in the order the foods were consumed. In the first group, carbs were consumed first, with protein and vegetables to follow. In the second group, the meal started with leafy green vegetables, then the protein, and the carbohydrates were consumed last. The Postprandial Glucose levels were substantially lower in the group that began their meals with vegetables. The fiber in the vegetables caused the carbohydrates to be digested more slowly, therefore requiring less insulin production.
Insulin, while impacting your ability to burn fat as energy, is also a key player in developing type 2 diabetes. This vital hormone—you can’t survive without it—regulates blood sugar (glucose) in the body, a very complicated process. Here are the high points from the CDC:
- The food you eat is broken down into glucose.
- Glucose enters your bloodstream, which signals the pancreas to release insulin.
- Insulin helps glucose enter the body’s cells so it can be used for energy.
- Insulin also signals the liver to store glucose for later use.
- Glucose enters cells, and glucose levels in the bloodstream decrease, signaling insulin to decrease too.
- Lower insulin levels alert the liver to release stored glucose so energy is always available, even if you haven’t eaten for a while.
That’s when everything works smoothly. But this finely tuned system can quickly get out of whack, as follows:
- A lot of glucose enters the bloodstream.
- The pancreas pumps out more insulin to get glucose into cells.
- Over time, cells stop responding to all that insulin—they’ve become insulin resistant.
- The pancreas keeps making more insulin to try to make cells respond.
- Eventually, the pancreas can’t keep up, and glucose keeps rising.
What we can take away from this research is an adaptation to our eating habits that can allow our bodies to enjoy the energy that carbohydrates create, but keep insulin levels down so that we can see fat burned from our exercise programs and lower our risk for Type II diabetes.