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Insulin Resistance Diet: lose weight, reverse diabetes & manage PCOS

insulin resistance low glycemic diet
insulin resistance diet

The Insulin Resistance diet is based on the idea that people who are overweight tend to have higher than normal levels of insulin in their bloodstream. This causes the body to store fat rather than burn it off. To help control blood sugar levels, the diet focuses on eating foods that lower insulin levels. It includes lots of vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fish, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products.

This is a complete guide to insulin resistance that includes:

  • Key lifestyle factors 
  • Diet & nutrition tips
  • Recipes
  • Natural remedies
  • Supplement recommendations 
  • Exercise recommendations
  • Best books on Insulin Resistance
  • Commonly asked questions


Intro

This diet was developed by Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital. He says it’s the best way to manage blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics and other metabolic health issues.

Well + Easy has created an easy, affordable, and accessible insulin resistance meal plan focusing on low glycemic foods that you can download for free below.

Keep reading to learn more about how the diet and lifestyle changes to make to heal from the inside out. 


Insulin Resistance key factors at play

Insulin resistance is a condition where the body does not respond properly to insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. When the body becomes resistant to insulin, glucose levels rise in the blood stream, causing high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and nerve damage.

Lifestyle factors

Lifestyle factors play a major role in developing insulin resistance. These factors include obesity, lack of physical activity, poor diet, smoking, alcohol consumption, and stress.

  • Obesity causes inflammation in the body, which increases insulin resistance.
  • Lack of exercise decreases muscle mass, which reduces the amount of insulin receptors in the muscles.
  • Poor diet includes eating foods that cause inflammation in the body, including processed meats, refined grains, and fried foods.
  • Smoking causes inflammation in the lungs, which makes breathing difficult and may increase insulin resistance.
  • Alcohol consumption lowers the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections.
  • Stress affects the adrenal glands, which produce hormones that regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Don't worry, you don't have to entirely swear off alcohol. We have great recommendations for how you can still enjoy an alcoholic beverage the low GI way!

Genetics

Genetics also play a big role in developing insulin resistance, especially if someone has a family history of type 2 diabetes. If a person inherits genes that make them prone to insulin resistance, they have a higher chance of developing the condition than someone who doesn't inherit those genes.

Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of risk factors that put people at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. People with metabolic syndrome tend to have high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, and abdominal fat around their waistline.

Treatment options

Treatment options for insulin resistance include medication, dietary changes, and lifestyle modifications. Dietary changes include reducing intake of simple carbs (like white bread) and increasing fiber intake. 

Well + Easy focuses on food as medicine but recognizes that medication for some individuals is necessary and required. Please consult your primary care physician before starting a new diet. 

Diet & lifestyle tips for Insulin Resistance


Eat low glycemic

The low glycemic diet plan is designed to lower blood sugar levels. This type of diet is often recommended for people who have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or metabolic conditions. It also helps women with polycystic ovary syndrome because it reduces insulin resistance.

These foods will help keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the day, which can help control cravings and prevent overeating. 

Recommended read: 30+ foods with a low glycemic index


Eat more fat

 The diet encourages people to eat more fats, such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. These foods contain essential nutrients that help keep blood sugar levels stable.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity is essential for good health. It improves energy levels, reduces stress, strengthens bones, muscles, and joints, and even lowers blood pressure. People who exercise regularly also tend to eat healthier diets.

The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity five days per week. If you want to lose weight, try walking briskly for at least 10 minutes three times a day. You can also use a pedometer to track your steps. Keep reading for our exercise recommendations below!

Increase fiber

In addition to being physically active, eating healthy foods is another key component of a healthy lifestyle. Eating a diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low fat dairy products will help you feel full between meals, reduce cravings, and keep you feeling satisfied.

The American Diabetes Association recommends consuming at least 25 grams of dietary fiber each day. That’s equivalent to three servings of fruit, five servings of vegetables, two servings of whole grain bread, one serving of legumes, and one ounce of nuts or seeds.

Increase protein intake

One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to lose weight is cutting back on calories without increasing protein intake. This leads to hunger and cravings, which makes it harder to stick with a diet. To avoid these pitfalls, try adding more protein to your diet by choosing lean meats, fish, beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, and yogurt.

The best way to increase protein intake is to eat foods high in protein. Lean meat, fish, beans, and nuts are all excellent sources of protein. You should aim to get at least 10 percent of your daily caloric intake from protein. If you want to add some variety to your meals, try eating one serving of protein with each main course. For example, if you’re having chicken, try having a side salad with two tablespoons of peanut butter instead of dressing. Or, if you’d prefer something savory, try having a bowl of soup with a slice of bread.

Sleep well

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you might find yourself feeling tired throughout the day. In addition, lack of sleep has been linked to increased stress levels, anxiety, and depression.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. However, if you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, try some of these tips from the American Academy of Family Physicians.

  1. Avoid caffeine after noon
  2. Keep your bedroom cool and dark
  3. Limit alcohol intake before bedtime
  4. Avoid watching television right before bedtime
  5. Avoid using electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers right before bedtime

 

7 foods to add into your diet if you’re insulin resistant

  1. Avocados

Avocados are high in monounsaturated fats, fiber, folate, vitamin K, copper, manganese, and omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients help lower cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation throughout the body.

  1. Almonds

Almonds are rich in protein, fiber, iron, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and B vitamins. They have been shown to improve memory and brain function.

  1. Apples

Apples are loaded with antioxidants and dietary fiber. They’re also a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and manganese.

  1. Beans

Beans are packed with protein, fiber, folate (B9), and iron. They’re low in saturated fat and sodium.

  1. Blueberries

Blueberries are full of antioxidants and flavonoids. They’re great for heart health and may even protect against cancer.

  1. Broccoli

Broccoli contains lots of vitamin C, fiber, folate and vitamin K. It’s also a good source of lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoid antioxidants linked to eye health.

  1. Brown Rice

Brown rice is a whole grain that provides plenty of fiber, protein, and complex carbs. It’s a great source of thiamine (vitamin B1) and niacin (vitamin B3).

Recipes: one week of insulin resistance meal ideas

Download our recipe cards for inspiration on making low glycemic insulin resistance-friendly meals based on whole, real foods!

Breakfast

Lunch + Dinner

Snacks

Dessert

Click here to download the full 7-day menu & recipes

 

Holistic and herbal nutrition for insulin resistance 


Cinnamon

Cinnamon is known to have many medicinal qualities including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties. These properties make cinnamon a great addition to any diet plan. Cinnamon is often added to foods and beverages to add flavor and improve their taste. You can use cinnamon in tea, coffee, smoothies, baked goods, sauces, soups, stews, and even salad dressings. Make sure to buy Ceylon Cinnamon.

Ginger

Ginger is a root that grows in tropical climates and is native to India. It is commonly used in Asian cuisine and is known for its spicy flavor. Ginger contains volatile oils that help reduce inflammation and pain. Ginger is also known to increase circulation and aid digestion. Add to tea, smoothies, soups, and more. Shop organic ginger root powder here.

Turmeric

Turmeric is a spice that comes from the roots of a perennial herb called Curcuma longa. It is widely used in Indian cooking and is known for its bright yellow color. Turmeric is believed to have powerful healing properties and is used in traditional medicine to treat arthritis, diabetes, digestive disorders, and skin conditions. Add to meat dishes, rice, tea, soups, and more. Shop organic turmeric powder here.

Garlic

Garlic is a bulbous plant that belongs to the lily family. It is native to central Asia and was originally cultivated for its medicinal properties. Garlic is well known for its pungent odor and is used in many cuisines around the world. Garlic is rich in antioxidants and helps lower cholesterol levels.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is extracted from olives and is considered a monounsaturated fat. Monounsaturated fats are heart healthy and are believed to protect against cardiovascular disease. Olive oil is high in vitamin E and polyphenols. Polyphenols are compounds that give olive oil its red color. Not all olive oil is equal, be sure to shop for an organic brand.

One way to test if it's 100% pure olive oil is to put the bottle in the fridge overnight—real olive oil solidifies in cold temperatures. If it does not solidify it means it's an olive oil blended with other oils. 

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a fermented beverage produced by fermenting apple juice. It is a popular ingredient in many dishes and salads. Apple cider vinegar is high in acetic acid and is believed to boost the immune system.

Make sure it is raw and has the "mother" or culture at the bottom of the bottle. We recommend Bragg's ACV but any will do!

 

7 supplements to improve insulin sensitivity

  1. Vitamin D

Insulin resistance is a condition where the body does not respond properly to insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels. When the body becomes resistant to insulin, blood sugar levels rise. High blood sugar levels can lead to diabetes.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in foods such as fatty fish, eggs, milk, cheese, butter, and liver. Vitamin D is also synthesized in the skin after exposure to sunlight. In addition to its role in bone formation, vitamin D is involved in regulating immune function, muscle contraction, and cellular differentiation.

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. These fats are found in oily fish, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and hemp seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation, which could potentially lower insulin resistance.

  1. Chromium

Chromium is a trace mineral that is necessary for proper glucose regulation. Glucose is the primary fuel source for cells, and chromium is necessary for the production of insulin. A study published in Diabetes Care showed that people who had higher levels of chromium were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

  1. L-Carnitine

L-carnitine is a natural substance that occurs in the human body. It is a derivative of lysine and is responsible for transporting long chain fatty acids into mitochondria, where they are broken down into usable energy. Carnitine is often taken as a dietary supplement to treat conditions related to insulin resistance.

  1. Coenzyme Q10

CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant that is found in the mitochondria of our cells. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, and coQ10 is critical to their functioning. Studies show that coQ10 supplementation may improve insulin sensitivity. We like this CoQ10 by Thorne.

  1. Green Tea Extract

Green tea extract contains catechins, antioxidants that have been shown to increase insulin sensitivity. Catechins may help prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which is associated with cardiovascular disease. Buy Green tea extract here.

  1. Berberine

Berberine is a bitter alkaloid that is found in many herbs and vegetables. It has been shown to improve insulin signaling and decrease insulin resistance. We recommend this Berberine by Thorne.


Exercises for supporting insulin resistance


Cardio Exercise

Cardio exercise is any physical activity that raises your heart rate. Examples of cardio exercises include running, walking, swimming, biking, elliptical machines, rowing machines, etc. Cardio exercises help increase blood flow throughout the body, which helps flush out toxins and improve cardiovascular function.

Strength Training

Strength training involves using free weights, weight machines, elastic bands, medicine balls, and/or resistance tubing. Strength training builds lean muscle mass, boosts bone density, and improves balance and coordination.

Yoga

Yoga is a series of stretching and strengthening poses that focus on breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation. It is a great workout for beginners and those who want to tone their bodies without losing flexibility.

Pilates

Pilates is a system of exercises designed to strengthen core muscles and improve posture. It focuses on proper alignment and breathing techniques.

HIIT

High intensity interval training is a type of cardio exercise where you perform short bursts of high intensity exercise followed by rest periods. HIIT is great for burning fat and boosting metabolism.

CrossFit

Crossfit is a fitness program that combines elements of gymnastics, calisthenics, weightlifting, and aerobic conditioning. It is a great way to get fit and lose weight.


Further reading on insulin resistance and overall well-being


Glucose Revolution: The Life-Changing Power of Balancing Your Blood Sugar

Improve all areas of your health—your sleep, cravings, mood, energy, skin, weight—and even slow down aging with easy, science-based hacks to manage your blood sugar while still eating the foods you love.

Glucose, or blood sugar, is a tiny molecule in our body that has a huge impact on our health. It enters our bloodstream through the starchy or sweet foods we eat. Ninety percent of us suffer from too much glucose in our system—and most of us don't know it.

The symptoms? Cravings, fatigue, infertility, hormonal issues, acne, wrinkles… And over time, the development of conditions like type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, cancer, dementia, and heart disease.

GET THE BOOK HERE

Mastering Diabetes: The Revolutionary Method to Reverse Insulin Resistance Permanently

Current medical wisdom advises that anyone suffering from diabetes or prediabetes should eat a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. But in this revolutionary book, Cyrus Khambatta, PhD, and Robby Barbaro, MPH, rely on a century of research to show that advice is misguided. While it may improve short-term blood glucose control, such a diet also increases the long-term risk for chronic diseases like cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic kidney disease, and fatty liver disease.

The revolutionary solution is to eat a low-fat plant-based whole-food diet, the most powerful way to reverse insulin resistance in all types of diabetes: type 1, type 1.5, type 2, prediabetes, and gestational diabetes.

GET THE BOOK HERE

 

Fast To Heal: A 5-Step Guide to Achieving Nutritional PEACE and Reversing Insulin Resistance

Registered Dietitian and nutrition expert Shana Hussin was taught many ineffective weight loss concepts through various conventional nutrition authorities. After two decades of modest long-term weight loss and overall progress with clients, she knew there had to be better approaches to help them heal, and lose weight for good. Through her own research, Shana discovered the truth behind obesity, insulin resistance, and hormonal imbalance.

Ditching standard nutrition recommendations, she implemented newly learned and simple concepts with her clients that led to immediate and sustainable results. Within days her clients were losing weight and turning their health around. To her delight, success was achieved without any special foods, confusing and costly supplements, or counting nutrients of any kind.

GET THE BOOK HERE

Why We Get Sick: The Hidden Epidemic at the Root of Most Chronic Disease--and How to Fight It

A scientist reveals the groundbreaking evidence linking many major diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease, to a common root cause—insulin resistance—and shares an easy, effective plan to reverse and prevent it.

We are sick. Around the world, we struggle with diseases that were once considered rare. Cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes affect millions each year; many people are also struggling with hypertension, weight gain, fatty liver, dementia, low testosterone, menstrual irregularities and infertility, and more. We treat the symptoms, not realizing that all of these diseases and disorders have something in common. 

BUY THE BOOK HERE

How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease 

In How Not to Die, Dr. Michael Greger, the internationally-renowned nutrition expert, physician, and founder of NutritionFacts.org, examines the fifteen top causes of premature death in America--heart disease, various cancers, diabetes, Parkinson's, high blood pressure, and more--and explains how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can sometimes trump prescription pills and other pharmaceutical and surgical approaches to help prevent and reverse these diseases, freeing us to live healthier lives.

The simple truth is that most doctors are good at treating acute illnesses but bad at preventing chronic disease. The fifteen leading causes of death claim the lives of 1.6 million Americans annually. This doesn't have to be the case. By following Dr. Greger's advice, all of it backed up by strong scientific evidence, you will learn which foods to eat and which lifestyle changes to make to live longer.

BUY THE BOOK HERE

The Naturopathic Way: How to Detox, Find Quality Nutrition, and Restore Your Acid-Alkaline Balance

Christopher Vasey, author of the bestselling The Acid-Alkaline Diet for Optimum Health, explains that naturopathic treatments do not attempt to cut off symptoms but instead focus on removing toxic causes. All diseases stem from an unbalanced or dysfunctional biological terrain. This occurs when the body’s internal cellular environment becomes clogged with wastes or when it lacks essential vitamins and mineral nutrients.

In this naturopathic guide to health and healing, Vasey shows how to remove toxins from the body using diets, fasts, and detoxifying cleanses. He points to the key role played by the acid-alkaline balance in maintaining peak energy and explains what natural supplements to take to restore deficient nutrients in the body.

BUY THE BOOK HERE

Looking for more recipes? Get our free Low GI Starter Kit for Insulin Resistance that includes a 7-day meal plan, simple recipes, kitchen staples checklist, and grocery list

Frequently asked questions about the insulin resistance diet & lifestyle 


What should you eat if you are insulin resistant?

Foods that help lower blood sugar levels. These foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products.

What foods trigger insulin?

Insulin resistance occurs when the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. This means that the cells do not respond properly to insulin, which leads to high blood sugar levels. Foods that cause insulin resistance include refined carbohydrates such as white breads, pastas, cereals, white rice, large white potatoes, cookies, cakes, candies, pies, ice cream, candy bars, soda pop, sweetened drinks, and other sweets.

Note: when following a low glycemic diet, it’s actually OK to still eat many of these foods. While specific foods themselves can be high on the glycemic index, how they are cooked and combined with other foods can help reduce the overall impact of these foods on blood sugar levels. 

There are SO many foods on this “no” list that you can actually eat, grab our free Starter Kit to get the full list — you likely have a lot of these foods at home already. 

Does coffee spike insulin?

Coffee contains caffeine, which stimulates the nervous system and increases blood pressure. Caffeine also raises levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, two hormones that increase blood sugar.

This effect may explain why people who drink coffee tend to eat more carbohydrates after drinking it. However, research shows that the amount of caffeine consumed by individuals doesn't affect how much insulin they release into the bloodstream.

Tip: At Well + Easy we recommend sticking to one cup of coffee per day. Try adding a teaspoon of grass-fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil/butter to your coffee along with a dash of cinnamon. This helps slow absorption and boost the healing properties of coffee while providing steady energy without a blood sugar crash. 

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