Insulin Resistance: Why ’Fashionable Illness’ Doesn't Cut It

Science

Although insulin resistance (IR) is a popular topic nowadays, we still shouldn’t refer to it as a fashionable illness, rather it’s an endemic disease, according to Nóra Galló, a dietician at Dr. Rose Private Hospital. It affects a lot of people, perhaps more than the number of people with diabetes, which itself numbers in the millions. This is why early detection and diagnosis of IR is of paramount importance. 

IR is a metabolic disease, a metabolic condition that can be controlled very well with lifestyle changes and lifestyle therapy, thus preventing the use of medication or even, if left untreated, the high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and its complications later on. 

Don't think that it only affects overweight people! As Nóra Galló highlights, thin people, both men and women, can be affected. The main reason for this is that thin people tend to have less than optimal muscle mass, which means that there are not enough metabolically active cells to help regulate and control blood sugar levels. "This is why exercise plays an extremely important role alongside diet,” points out the dietician, who says it is worth doing more muscle-building exercises to increase muscle mass, accompanied by a proper diet of course. 

Insulin resistance can be diagnosed by a gynecologist, an endocrinologist or an internist, and of course, it is also possible to turn to a dietician first. It is characterized by a variety of symptoms and complaints, including weight loss, fatigue, poor sleep, general malaise, ravenous hunger/sudden hunger pangs and sweet cravings. These suggest the possibility of IR - which it is important to diagnose as soon as possible.

A dietician can help with shaping both diet and lifestyle. "Although setting a daily carbohydrate intake of 160 grams is usually the primary treatment for IR, a set template is not equally good and effective for everyone,” says Dr. Rose Private Hospital’s dietician. Much better results are achieved by individually determining and individually adjusting daily carbohydrate intake and the distribution of carbohydrates throughout the day, whether that means three, four, five, or even six meals.

"We should aim to consume carbohydrates in the least processed form possible. It is not necessary to weigh every ingredient on a kitchen scale if certain principles and rules of thumb are followed. These can help you to create a diet that is easy to manage, and easy to implement and stick to,” says Galló. We can drastically reduce the amount of refined carbohydrates and added sugars, which is one of the important goals in the case of insulin resistance. 

Naturally occurring sugars are not so much to be feared but taken into account when putting together a diet, which Galló goes over in detail with her patients, who need to learn some basics: what types of foods contain carbohydrates, how much do they contain, and of what type.

However, carbohydrates should not be seen as a bogeyman in general, because dietary fibers, for example, is also carbohydrates, but these work in the opposite way, as they can slow carbohydrate absorption while also contributing to a feeling of fullness and satiation. 

In addition to carbohydrates, other macro- and micronutrients need to be addressed. The aim is to have an optimal protein intake, while not overdoing the fat intake. Micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and trace elements can also really help to improve insulin resistance. 

"In grocery stores, there are so many dietary, light and low-calorie foods available that it is overwhelming. It is therefore particularly worthwhile learning how to be selective and how to choose between these products,” suggests Galló, who does not recommend replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners overnight in trying to achieve the same sweet taste. "Rather, it is much more important to curb our sweet cravings. How is this possible? Through diet and lifestyle changes, blood sugar and insulin levels can be stabilized, thereby significantly reducing our cravings for sweets. All this happens in a few weeks, you don't have to wait months for this to happen.”

The question often arises: which sweetener should we use, and are plant-based sweeteners better than artificial sweeteners? According to Dr. Rose Private Hospital’s dietician, whichever sweeteners we choose, the key is to use them in moderation. Overconsumption can often cause digestive symptoms and complaints or can add fuel to the fire if you already have problems. It's worth finding fruits and vegetables (the latter have a natural sugar content too) that can impart a sweet taste, so by choosing and composing our meals properly, we can take advantage of their sweetening power and not necessarily have to reach for the sweeteners.

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