By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Weight is governed by so many different processes in our body, and it’s also something that is entirely specific to each and every person. Regardless of who you are though, one chemical process has a profound effect on our weight: insulin and insulin sensitivity.
Insulin is a hormone in our bodies whose main job is to take sugar (glucose) out of our bloodstream and deliver it to our tissues and muscles for fuel. This process should be simple, but unfortunately it can become more complicated if and when our bodies stop recognizing (or become less sensitized) to our insulin, and as a result we have to produce more and more to do the same job. This process is called insulin insensitivity.
Very basically, the more insulin insensitive our bodies become, the more challenging it can become to balance and maintain a healthy weight. One of the key processes to promoting healthy insulin sensitivity is to take part in healthy activities and make healthy eating and living choices to promote balanced blood sugar.
Steady blood sugar is key for maintaining weight and preventing fat storage specifically in the abdominal area. To promote balanced blood sugar, it’s important to practice key healthy living patterns, sleep well, exercise and eat well. Promoting balanced blood sugar can help to maintain insulin sensitivity, weight management, good energy, sleep, mood and more.
8 tips to help promote balanced blood sugar (and help promote weight loss too):
1. Eat more fresh foods: Aim to choose fresher, less processed foods. Fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains contain few to no added sugars, salts or other additives. Aim to keep as much of your total intake from fresh foods as possible.
2. Eat small and frequent meals: Aim to eat every 2 to 3 hours (maximum 4 to 5 hours apart) to promote balanced blood sugar and help keep energy levels elevated.
3. Include lean protein or healthy fat at each meal: Lean protein like chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, quinoa and avocado can help to slow digestion and promote balanced blood sugar as well as promoting satiety as well.
4. Move more: Movement naturally helps to lower blood sugar for most; additionally, more muscle is also a good thing when it comes to burning calories, and keeping metabolism revved. And you don’t have to move a lot; even minimal exercise is beneficial.
5. Hydrate: Water is crucial for keeping blood sugar regulated, keeping appetite at bay, and also for fat burning (it’s directly used in the process of breaking down fat). Aim for about 8, 8-oz glasses (total 64 oz or 2 L) daily.
6. Include magnesium and chromium: Magnesium and chromium are both important nutrients that play a key role in insulin metabolism. Both are minerals found in plants and are naturally occurring in soil. Like many other minerals and nutrients, they are becoming less plentiful in soil and therefore we get less and less of what we need from much of the produce we consume. Aim to include these foods:
Magnesium: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, chard), nuts and seeds (Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, cashews), soy beans (think edamame and tofu), avocado, banana.
Chromium: Broccoli, barley, green beans, oats, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, black pepper.
7. Use key herbs and spices: ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, turmeric: All of these contain nutrients that are beneficial for not only our bodies in general but also for insulin regulation. You can use any of these herbs and spices in juices, smoothies and cooking.
Ginger: May help to improve insulin sensitivity when consumed daily. Use it in juices (fresh through the juicer, dried as garnish), in a salad dressing, in cooking and so much more.
Cinnamon: May help to improve insulin signaling in the body. Use it in your juice, in your hot water, on breakfast cereal, or in a smoothie.\
Turmeric: May help to naturally improve blood sugar levels. Use it in your juice (fresh from the root or dried as a garnish) or add it when cooking.
Cayenne: Has been studied for it’s possible ability to promote absorption of blood sugar (glucose) into muscles and tissues. Cayenne has been found to be potentially beneficial when it comes to promoting insulin sensitivity (which is good for blood sugar control and weight management).
8. Include anti-inflammatory fats: Anti-inflammatory fats like avocado, chia seeds, nuts/nut butters and unrefined (extra virgin) oils may be helpful when it comes to fighting inflammation (the leading cause of disease) in our blood vessels that can promote insulin insensitivity. Fat is also a good thing when it comes to promoting feelings of satiety (or fullness) as well. Choose to add a whole (1/4 cup) or half serving (1/8 cup) of nuts to yogurt or as a snack, add ¼ avocado to a salad, use unrefined oil in a salad dressing (1 serving is 1 tbsp)- the sky is the limit!