Dear readers, I want to address the health issue I feel is the single largest contributor to disease in women today: insulin resistance. If you’re new to my column or you don’t know what this means, it refers to that point where the body cannot properly manage blood sugar without changes or medical intervention. This happens because the body has been exposed to too much sugar too frequently and the body’s sugar metabolism mechanisms become fatigued or down regulated to adapt. When this gets too far gone, it’s diagnosed as type II diabetes. But long before we reach that point there are very clear warning signs we can look out for. Take this week’s quiz to see if any of these apply to you.
Do you have multiple skin tags or cysts?
Do you have thick calluses on your feet?
Do you feel unsatisfied if you don’t have a sweet after a meal?
Do you feel very tired an hour to an hour and a half after lunch?
Do you frequently feel brain fog?
Do you suffer from mood swings?
Do you suffer from memory problems?
If you skip meals do you get shaky and hangry?
Do your limbs fall asleep a lot or get pins and needles?
Do you wake in the middle of the night frequently and find it hard to return to sleep?
Do you suffer from sleep apnea?
Do you have a muffin top over your pants?
Do you carry fat in your belly?
Have you been diagnosed with PCOS or PCBS?
Do you get ravenously hungry and need snacks between meals?
Do you find it hard to eat only a few cookies or a small bowl of chips?
Do you have chronic inflammation - anywhere in your body?
Have you been diagnosed with the onset of dementia?
Have you been diagnosed with fatty liver disease?
Do you frequently drink alcohol? (more than two drinks/three times a week)
Do you have adult acne?
Do you crave carbs?
Do you have to get up to urinate a lot at night?
Does your urine have a sweet smell?
Have you been diagnosed with low testosterone?
Have you been diagnosed with high cholesterol?
Have you been diagnosed with high blood pressure?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions it’s likely you are developing insulin resistance - because all of these health conditions are related! It truly is that prevalent! Many functional physicians and nutritionists feel it’s the health issue of our time. The good news, however, is that it’s easily reversible and manageable with simple dietary interventions. I teach regular classes on this.
Why it’s so prevalent
The reasons why insulin resistance is so prevalent today are complex. In part, it’s due to the availability of processed, calorically dense and nutritionally deficient foods. They are ubiquitous and we can’t really get away from them.
In part, it’s also likely due to decades of misguided nutrition information. Canada’s Official Food Rules, initially developed in 1942 included fatty dairy, one serving of fruit, one serving of potatoes and two other vegetables, one serving of whole-grain cereal and four to six servings of Canada approved bread, one serving of meat, fish or poultry each day with heart, kidney or liver at least once a week, and eggs at least three to four a week. Vitamin D in the form of fish liver oils was recommended.
However, by 1949 margarine had crept in and by 1977 fruits and veggies were placed together with no differentiation. At some point, vegetable oils replaced more natural ones as ‘healthier.’
In 1982 Canada’s Food Guide emerged with recommendations to limit fat, sugar, salt, and alcohol. Margarine was promoted as heart-healthy, as were vegetable oils, and organ meat was a thing of the past. By 1992 the recommendations included five to12 servings of grains, five to10 of fruits and vegetables (including juices), and two to three of meat or meat substitutes. Vitamin D was not mentioned, as the thinking seems to be that the dairy is fortified with it.
For an in-depth look at the documents through the years and the rationale that was used in developing them, go here.
Considering what we now know about the role of grains and modern hybridized fruits and their impact on insulin, it’s a wonder everyone in Canada isn’t insulin resistant. To make matters worse, as the amount of insulin-provoking foods went up in our recommendations, the amount of daily exercise went down.
Even if an adult is able to exercise off 12 servings of grains a day, s/he is going to be seriously full of inflammation without adequate fat-soluble vitamins, which organ meats and natural fatty dairy offer. It really seems like we went backwards in our recommendations over the years!
One solution is a return to a less processed way of eating. This model promotes eating more in line with how our ancestors ate for most of human evolution. That would mean relying more on natural foods and removing the items that are processed and those crops that are unsustainably grown or which need to be heavily manipulated to be made into food or to be digested. This includes wheat and corn as they exist today.
The idea of ancestral eating is not new. By definition, it’s actually very old! Those who think it’s restrictive don’t understand it. 90 per cent of processed foods today are composed mostly of wheat, corn, rice, salt, sugar, and oil. That’s highly restrictive! Ancestral eating, on the other hand, included foraged foods, a variety of dairy where available, a variety of bugs and shoots and sprouts, mushrooms, seafood, land animals, fowl, and fruits - all of which were sustainably grown and hunted/harvested. There are thousands and thousands of food varieties in each region where people have lived for any time. The reason they chose to stay in any place for long was directly related to the abundance of food found naturally in the area. But diets were varied. And eating ancestrally today can be equally varied and interesting. What it lacks is processed foods and the modern grains and salt/sugar that we currently use as staples.
Returning to this way of eating does not have to be boring or restrictive. There are wonderful recipes all over the internet. And it doesn’t need to take a lot of time or effort. After you learn 10 new recipes for any lifestyle you choose, generally you’re able to keep it going. It’s mastering that first 10 and understanding why that’s the big challenge. A little support at the beginning goes a long way.
If you don’t really understand insulin resistance and want to learn how to reverse it in your own life you’re welcome to sign up for a class. My website lists my upcoming classes.
I hope this is helpful and everyone is enjoying the wonderful weather! We’re just starting to plant our cold hardy summer vegetables and enjoying the sun. As always, if you have a question for the column, you can write to me by email. If you want to sign up for a class or know more about what I do, you can find me online.