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You may have heard a lot of people blaming insulin and carbohydrates for fat gain. They go on and on about insulin making you fat. Blaming carbs to be the culprit. Saying things like do not eat carbs or you will get fat, etc. 

Insulin has always got a bad rap for being the cause of obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and a bunch of other lifestyle disorders.

Does it make sense?

For that, let’s look at what insulin is and what role does insulin play in your body.

Insulin is a hormone whose primary function is to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels. It does this when it is present in the blood, through the following means:

  • Increasing uptake of blood glucose into the liver and muscles and storing them in the form of glycogen, a complex molecule synthesized from glucose. [glycogenesis]
  • Increasing uptake of blood glucose into fat cells (adipocytes) and storing them in the form of fat. [lipogenesis]

Basically, insulin helps us in storing nutrients in our body for later use.

 

This is why whenever foods that raise blood sugar are consumed, like carbs and protein, insulin increases in response to it.

Now that we know the presence of insulin promotes storage, let’s understand what absence of insulin does:

  • Breakdown glycogen in the liver to release glucose in the blood, to increase blood glucose levels.
  • Breakdown fat in fat cells into smaller molecules which are released in the blood.

Now some misinformed, self-proclaimed gurus have taken these functions of insulin out of context to formulate a “carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis”.

This carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis directly blamed carbohydrates and insulin’s response to their consumption to be the cause of gaining weight.

 

Hence for fat loss, these gurus recommend low to very low carbohydrate diets, their explanation being that when you have very few carbohydrates, your insulin levels will be low, and hence you will metabolise more fat.

On paper and by simple logic, it sounds sensible. But, human physiology isn’t that simple. Let’s understand where did they go wrong?

 

As I mentioned before, this hypothesis was formulated after taking the functions of insulin out of context. Context is very important when it comes to science. What context did this hypothesis not take into account?

Energy balance.

 

Yes, it is definitely true that a chronically raised insulin level as a result of having a lot of food will lead to weight (fat) gain.

But it’s neither insulin nor carbohydrate (nor protein, nor fat), which actually lead to this fat gain.

It is eating large amounts of food, containing large amounts of calories, leading large amounts of energy storage in the body (in the form of fat) over time.

Insulin is just like your bank cashier. It directs the energy from the food consumed (income/salary) to the appropriate storage destinations like liver, muscle and fat tissues (various bank accounts).

You wouldn’t blame (or rather, thank; although you should be thanking him/her for helping you) the cashier for having too many funds in your bank accounts when you’re the one earning in billions, would you?

Image from: https://weightology.net/insulin-an-undeserved-bad-reputation/

So if carbohydrates are not the culprits, what should you do to lose fat?

  • Be in an energy deficit: eat lesser food than you used to while you were maintaining or gaining weight. This will reduce your energy input. Use a calorie tracking tool to help you with this, if needed.
  • Or you could also increase your activity level to increase your energy output. This is usually not feasible. 

What’s the best? To do a combination of both.

  • Have adequate protein: aim for 1.6 – 2.2 gram/kilogram of your body weight of protein. Your calorie tracking tool will help you with this as well.
  • Perform resistance training to prevent losing muscle in weight instead of fat. Lift weights, do bodyweight exercises, etc. to make your muscles work and prevent them from wasting away as you reduce weight.

Author: Dr Harshad Ramineni

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