In part one, I explained that the key to a healthy weight is controlling your insulin levels. The way to control your insulin level is by focusing on two vital aspects of your lifestyle: exercise and sugar intake.
Let’s first talk about exercise. Exercise has many healthful benefits. Exercise helps your body create natural chemicals called endorphins, which give you euphoric feelings. Exercise helps to reduce stress and depression, it strengthens your heart and body, and fortifies and builds muscle and bone. In addition, exercise helps your body become insulin sensitive, which means your body will need much less insulin to burn carbohydrates and fats when you eat.
Aim for 60 minutes of strenuous daily exercise to help keep insulin and leptin under control. If you can’t find 60 continuous minutes in your day for exercise, you can split the 60 minutes into two or three sessions throughout your day. For great exercise ideas during the cold winter months, see the previous Connect Well blog post: It is Cold Outside! How to Keep Moving This Winter.
Now let’s talk about the second aspect of keeping your insulin levels under control: sugars.
Sugars are found in many foods; some are natural (healthy), and some are added or concentrated (unhealthy). There are three kinds of sugars. The first one is a healthy sugar that is intact and accompanied by fiber. Fiber slows the digestion of this sugar and allows the body to burn it without a sudden increase of insulin. This sugar is found in whole grains, such as whole grain breads, brown rice, whole oats, and whole grain cereals, legumes such as lentils and beans (of any kind), as well as vegetables and whole fruits (not fruit juice). The only healthy sugar that does not come with fiber is in dairy products such as plain milk and plain yogurt. These sugars are the healthiest for the body due to their slow digestive properties and the ability of every organ in the body to metabolize and process them. And most importantly, these sugars keep insulin levels under control, which means no high spikes or low dips.
The second kind of sugar, though it can also be metabolized in every organ of the body, causes a sharp rise in insulin since it lacks fiber. This sugar is found in white flour products, white breads of any kind, white rice, potatoes, and flour tortillas. This sugar should be minimized, and if consumed at all, must be eaten in very small portions and as part of a balanced meal to minimize the rapid spike in insulin.
The third sugar should be avoided as much as possible; it is usually found in high amounts, provides no fiber, and contains fructose. Fructose, like alcohol, can only be metabolized and processed by the liver, causing an imbalance of insulin and leptin and also causing the liver to turn the sugar into fat. This sugar is found in sweetened beverages, such as soda, juice, juice drinks, fruit smoothies, sweetened coffee beverages, flavored milk, energy drinks, sport drinks, and vitamin drinks. It is also found in foods that have high amounts of sucrose (table sugar) or high-fructose corn syrup, such as pastries, candy, baked goods, ice cream, and chocolate. Because these sugars cause the largest spike in insulin, these foods should be avoided as much as possible, and should only be considered a weekly or monthly treat.
If you find that sugary foods are finding their way into your meals, snacks or beverages, you can begin by removing these foods from your diet one at a time over the next few weeks. If you find that you are currently far from achieving your exercise goals, then begin by exercising for 15-20 minutes once a day a few times a week and make steady progress over the next few months. Set realistic goals and work toward achieving a healthy weight over the next year, while building a support group that will help you achieve your goals.
In part three, I’ll provide additional tips for a healthy weight.
About Luis Rodriguez, RD
Luis Rodriguez is a clinical dietitian at University of California, San Francisco Medical Center and a nutritionist at the WATCH (Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health) clinic. He is also an advisor to ConnectWell’s Eating for a Vibrant Life Program.