Question of the Day: “Well cool! Then I have a couple if questions: 1, what are some foods that can help reduce insulin resistance? And 2, what is up with male hormones in females, and how can we help keep them balanced?”
Thanks for the questions! Let’s see what I can knock out! Question one is answered specifically at the end of this post; scroll down now if you want that answer. To answer question two properly would require writing a book. I’m going to use these questions as an opportunity to talk about something that gets brushed under the rug: our dependence on excessive amounts of carbohydrates. Endure as I bring these two questions together with carbohydrate dependence–and answer the question for females: What Does Candy Have to Do With My Facial Hair?
Nothing on my site is intended for medical advice and treatment. You’d be crazy to trust an internet person you’ve never met, including me, but you’re not crazy when you find something interesting and you read on all aspects of it. Hopefully my posts pique your curiosity to learn and read more and more and more.
On hormones: All females should have some male hormones, like testosterone. All males should have some female hormones, like estrogen. But too much of a good, normal thing can go bad. Too much testosterone and women get facial hair and other problems. Today, diet, plastics, pesticides and other chemical exposures, chronic light exposure, and busy lifestyles contribute to alteration of the natural balance of male and female hormones. It is virtually inescapable. The best one can do is to try to modify and minimize the best that they can. The ways that I have personally addressed this issue (because yes, I have been evaluated by my own doctors for symptoms related to altered hormones) are minimizing any plastic food and beverage container use; eating organic for those things on the dirty dozen list; trying to eliminate computer use after 9 pm and dimming lights in the evening; learning to change my perception of stress and life; eliminating processed foods from my diet and observing my intake of starchy carbohydrates.
Here’s where I want to hone in: How do carbohydrates tie together insulin resistance and male hormones in females? Let’s investigate, hopefully in a step-wise fashion.
Carbohydrates increase the production of insulin. Why?
Nearly all carbohydrates are broken down in the gut to make glucose. (Fat and protein are not broken down to glucose; they are broken down to other important things.) Whether it’s a fettuccini noodle or a sweet potato fry, it’s broken down to make glucose. Glucose is what the cells of your body use to make energy and operate—glucose to cells is like gasoline is to a car. But glucose just streaming around in your blood and blood vessels does no good. The glucose has to get inside of your cells somehow, and this is insulin’s job. Insulin drives the glucose into the inside of cells so they can have energy to keep doing their job. Good so far?
Insulin Doesn’t Just Handle Blood Sugars, It Also Stimulates The Ovaries To Make Male Hormones
In some people, cells become less responsive to insulin’s role in glucose regulation. They can still respond to insulin, but it takes more and more to get the same amount of glucose to move into the cell. This is called insulin-resistance. Insulin, although a very good thing, can be a detrimental thing too. Insulin affects the secretion of hormones by other parts of the body, such as the ovaries and also fat stores. In insulin resistance, the high insulin level needed to keep glucose normal overstimulates other parts of the body. The ovaries response to insulin is to make more male hormones, like testosterone. Still tracking?
How can we improve insulin resistance?
If we can lower insulin some, then we should be able to diminish the effect of insulin causing the ovaries to crank out more testosterone. Bar none, bar none, bar none, the most important change any person can make to help restore insulin balance is dietary—not a prescription like Metformin. Lowering the load of carbohydrates on a body with insulin resistance will lower the amount of insulin circulating and potentially help the body “rediscover” its hormonal balance by lowering the workload which stimulates insulin. Does this make sense?
A typical American eats cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and pasta for dinner. That, although a normal diet for today, is a carb-frenzy. Throw a cup of juice or sugared soda pop in there with a snack of crackers or a cookie, and we’re looking at insulin at work full force all day long—banging on the cells, the fats, and the ovaries. I am going to lay it flat. If you don’t eat carbohydrates, you’re not likely to be bothered by insulin resistance. So the “foods” that help most with insulin resistance are the foods you don’t eat: carbohydrates. There is no Band-Aid food—no food that can be added in–that will help counter insulin resistance with a diet high in carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates? Do I eat them?
White sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, candy, candy bars, potato, potato chips, Sun Chips, French fries, sweet potato, bread, toast, bagels, pizza crust, breadsticks, pretzels, crackers, soft flour tortilla shells (wraps), pita bread, pasta, muffins, pancakes, Pop Tarts, breakfast cereal, cookies, cake, fruit, applesauce, pasta, cookies, cake, corn chips, taco shells of flour or corn, oatmeal, quinoa, rice, rice cakes, rice flour, tapioca flour, arrowroot flour, beans, lentils, refried beans, fruit, juice, ice cream laden with sugar, lattes laden with sugar, gluten-free bread, gluten-free cookies, gluten-free cake, gluten-free pizza crust, fruit snacks, Fruit Roll Ups, soda pop and beverages with sweetener
Read that list again. Notice that gluten-free and natural do not equate with low carbohydrate. A useful idea is to write down your carbohydrates each day to see how many and what kinds you are eating. Just simply take note for awhile.
The Carbohydrate Sweet Spot
Eliminating carbohydrates altogether can be dangerous, and for some people can have dramatic effects on their body’s hormonal system too! Too low of carbohydrates and the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, and reproductive system can falter. Geesh. We’re trying to help and not hinder here!
So what to do? An important goal is to keep carbohydrates coming in the form of completely whole foods, not processed foods. Whole food carbohydrates come along with all kinds of fibers we don’t even understand yet, which modulate blood sugars in unique ways. Also, it is very important to make sure that the body is getting plenty of well-rounded protein and natural fats (butter, olive oil, and coconut oil are a few). (If you are not up to speed on the new information that is coming out about fats, then this is very important to learn about. Saturated fats are not bad for you like we were long taught. Don’t throw your hands up in the air and say, “They change what they say every day!” No. Just eat as close to how something was grown or made in nature as you can, and if you eat grains, be careful because they rock a carbohydrate load—not to mention they usually have to have sweetener added to be palatable.) I’ve noticed that I eat enough, but not as many carbohydrates, when I’m required to fix them myself instead of opening a box or bag. Fruits, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes, and plantains make up the bulk of my family’s carbs right now. My family doesn’t eat many grains, but when we do, it revolves around grains truly in a whole fashion–not ground up to allow oxidation and rancidity with a little sugar mixed in.
Foods Which Help Improve Glucose Regulation and Insulin Sensitivity
It is very important for a person to explore what carbohydrate sources they rely on and try to optimize their choices and intake. For most of us, cutting down on carbohydrates will cut down on our need for insulin, and this is probably an appropriate first step. Many foods have been studied for their role in helping insulin resistance. It is about to the point where you roll your eyes with the new research. But it is worthwhile to add these foods in as part of a well-rounded attack on insulin resistance and glucose metabolism—as long as a person accepts that just adding these foods in to an otherwise carbohydrate heavy diet may backfire.
- “Resistant starch”: Resistant starch is found in carbohydrate-rich foods, but it can’t be broken down by us into glucose. Bacteria in our colons break it down to make beneficial chemicals which WE absorb and use. There are different forms or resistant starch, but incorporating foods like green bananas, cold potatoes (as in potato salad), cold rice (as in a rice salad), green plantains, lentils, and beans will increase resistant starch. Resistant starch is also present in whole grains, but again, a person must be careful. Eating whole grains with added sugar probably just gets you back where you started from.
- “Beta-glucans”: Beta-glucans are a special kind of “fiber” found in mushrooms, brewer’s yeast, oats, barley, and seaweed (I love nori and dulse).
- Caffeine: Stick with natural, whole food sources like coffee and green tea.
- Nuts: Particularly pistachios (2 ounces)
- Garlic and onions
- Olive oil
That’s enough for today! Have a great weekend!