Insulin, Glucose and Fat: An Analogy
“Carbs Are Evil!”
“If you don’t eat carbs, you won’t get fat!”
“All I did was avoid carbs and I lost weight.”
You may have heard one or all of these statements. The bottom line is that when it comes to carbs, it’s a bit more complicated than these simple statements. For the sake of simplicity though, I’ll list four rules that are true no matter who you are. After that I will discuss how glucose, insulin and fat are all related and give you some tips on figuring out if high glucose is an issue for you.
The follow up article will expand on these four main concepts:
1 – Everyone is different when it comes to their tolerance of carbs. Typically, the less bodyfat you have, the better your body can tolerate carbs.
2 – In general, the more bodyfat you have, the less carbs you need. This means if you’re overweight or obese, the easier it will be for you to lose fat and weight from limiting your carb intake.
3 – “Crappy” carbs suck! High fructose, highly processed, high sugar foods, white breads, pastas and other high glycemic carbs suck for fat loss. Period! If you want to eat in “moderation” and see fat loss, expect to see a “mediocre” body at best. In other words, the healthier your source of carbs, the healthier you will look and act (when combined with the first 11 rules of this list).
4 – Cycling your daily carb intake is a good idea. By doing so, you have a tool at your disposal that can be a great way to maintain the muscle you have, keep appropriate fat burning hormones humming along and allow your workouts to stay intense while continuing to see progress with fat loss. This means you can workout hard and recover around your workouts with carbs, but you don’t eat them when you don’t need the fuel.
With that out of the way, let’s discuss carbs, insulin and the way they interact to effect your body.
Insulin, Glucose and Fat: A Simple Car Story
Insulin is a hormone that’s released by your pancreas in order to help transport glucose into cells. Insulin acts primarily through Glut-4 receptors that act on both muscle and fat. The more the insulin acts on fat, the more that you store extra fat. The more that insulin acts on muscle, the more muscle glycogen you store and the bigger your muscles look.
If you got through that paragraph, I commend you. Let me give you an analogy to help you out if you didn’t though.
You can look at carbs as crude oil. Gasoline starts out as the crude oil and has to be refined in order to be able to be used by your car. Your body does the same thing and takes that “crude oil” (carbs in the form of fruits, pasta, breads, cookies, etc) and converts it to glucose using different digestive enzymes. Although gasoline is good for fueling your car, it’s also a toxic substance. In much the same way that glucose is good at fueling your body, it’s also a toxic substance if left in your blood. In order to ensure that the gas doesn’t influence you negatively, there’s a whole slew of systems in place that allow you to simply pump the gas into your car. In much the same way, there’s a number of processes that are in place that allow you to simply eat carbs and use it as fuel.
When all the systems are running smoothly you have nothing to worry about. Thus far the equation equals:
Crude Oil = Carbs
Gas (usable) = Glucose
Gasoline = Toxic
Glucose in your blood = Toxic
In order to handle the gas that’s toxic, there’s a pump that helps you to put your gas in the car and use it as fuel. To continue with the analogy, insulin is the pump that pumps glucose into the cells where you either use it for energy or store it as glycogen or fat. The bottom line is that insulin’s main purpose is to get glucose out of the blood. When you pump gas, you pump it into your gas tank. From your gas tank, your car then uses that gas, which is taken from the gas tank. Glut-4 receptors are your gas tank. Glut-4 receptors are what receives the insulin in order to take the glucose and transport it to places in your cell that can use that glucose. Therefore, to continue with the equation:
Gas Pump = Insulin
Gas Tank = Glut-4 Receptors
Now say, you have a new electric/gasoline hybrid car. This new car then has two places where you can plug or pump energy into the car. In much the same way, Glut-4 receptors are like that car’s receptors for receiving fuel – they have two places that stimulate insulin into the cell. The regular gas tank is like the regular Glut-4 receptor. The “special” electric plug-in part of the car is the Exercise-induced Glut-4 receptor. These exercise-induced Glut-4 receptors are only activated when you exercise. Therefore:
Gas Tank = Glut-4 Receptors
Electrical Plug-in Receptor = Exercise Induced Glut-4 Receptor
When everything is working well, this system works amazing. You eat carbs (crude oil), which gets broken down into glucose or fructose (gasoline). This is toxic to your blood and so in a smart way your body releases insulin (gas pump) and pumps glucose (gas) into the cells via glut-4 receptors (gas tank). In order to help you when you need extra fuel (when you’re working out), your body has added exercise-induced glut-4 receptors which act like outlets that allow your body to use extra fuel when you need it most. By doing so, your body needs less insulin (less gas pumps because you have more outlets) in order to use the glucose in your blood.
This is what happens when you have a new car and everything is working well.
Your Car Gets “Older”
Now imagine, you have an old car and as your car has aged, you’ve been going to cheap gas stations, year after year, since you’ve owned the car. You know that your car runs better on the higher priced gas, but you don’t feel like spending the extra money. The problem is as you keep using these cheap brands of gas, it starts to ruin your engine with fillers and rusting (your mitochondria get damaged or oxidation increases – the topic of another article).
Your engine doesn’t run as smoothly over time. This is what happens to your body with fast-acting carbs. Your one and only body is being beaten up by the “cheap carbs” that allow you to “enjoy” the food now, although you know your body runs better with the “better” carbs. Over time, this system starts to break down and you don’t adequately use the energy you take in as well. Your body doesn’t run as “smoothly” as it once did.
Let’s also say that you have the new electric/gas hybrid car but never use the electrical part of the car. Instead of using the “more efficient,” but just as good form of fuel – the electrical part of your car – you let it sit there. This is what happens when you don’t exercise. You let that equally good and more efficient Exercise-Induced Glut-4 receptor just sit there and don’t utilize it’s potential.
Now, as time goes on, your car’s gas gauge breaks. It can no longer adequately tell you if you have enough gas. When you go to use the gas pump, you start to pump the gas and it starts to spill out of the gas tank. Your gas tank overflows and you spill the gas everywhere. This isn’t good because gas outside of the pump and gas tank is a toxic and dangerous chemical. This is what happens when you start to have blood sugar problems. Your Glut-4 receptors can’t handle the amount of insulin that’s being pumped out and stops taking the glucose in. Glucose then stays in the blood longer and at higher levels, which is toxic to your body. The equation now looks like this:
Electrical part of your car = Exercise Induced Glut-4 receptors = Better Fuel Efficiency
Gas Gauge = Amount of Insulin to Release
Broken Gas Gauge = Too much Insulin Being Released
Over-flowing of Gas = Too much Glucose in Your Blood
Now say you love this car and no matter what’s wrong with it you absolutely refuse to part with it. You will NEVER get rid of this car no matter what. This is your body. No matter what, you will NEVER get rid of it.
Some people won’t notice that the gauge is broken, or maybe it works about half the time, and will develop full blown diabetes. On a side note, Type II Diabetes is the most controllable chronic “disease” there is. The solution, eat far fewer carbs, eat more protein and healthy fats and workout consistently – preferably with weights.
Seeing that it’s a problem and not wanting to have gas spill out every time, you take your car to a mechanic and the mechanic says that it will work fine if you just push the car for 2-10 minutes every day allowing the gauge to work before you start the car. He says if you do that and stop using cheap gas, you will be fine. This is like every fitness professional that says just work out (push the car), eat better (stop using cheap gas) and you’ll be fine. The equation is now:
Push the car to fix the gas gauge = Exercise to correct blood sugar issues
Stop Using Cheap Gas = Stop eating highly processed carbs
Instead of listening to the mechanic, you think this guy is crazy, go to another better educated mechanic and say, “Just fix the problem now.” So instead of fixing the gauge, this mechanic puts in a gas gauge that only moves from the half-way mark to the full sign.
This way, you will still be able to put gas in the car without your gas tank overflowing. This is what happens when you go to a doctor and he prescribes insulin. It doesn’t fix the problem but simply masks the issue so that you can still use the fuel your body takes in. At least temporarily.
After some time you decide you don’t like driving with only a half a tank of gas, because you have to stop and fill up more often. This is what happens to your body when you keep fueling your body with cheap carbs – you’re always hungry and are constantly craving carbs.
Instead of stopping more often, you come up with an ingenious idea – you’ll just store more gas in your trunk. So what you do is build an extra space where you can hold gasoline in your trunk. This gasoline is harder for your car to use, but you feel that it’s worth it. In this analogy, your original gas tank is muscle. This extra gas storage place is fat (Junk in the trunk anyone?).
After a while, your original gas tank gets even more clogged, so you make your storage space in your trunk bigger. Eventually, you no longer fill up the original gas tank, but only the one in your trunk.
This is what happens when you start to gain fat and stop using muscle. Your fat becomes the preferred storage space for your gas (glucose) and your muscle sees less and less of it.
Over time, your “extra” gas tank expands to your back seat. Eventually you take your car to the mechanic and tell him to extend the car just to hold the extra gas. He warns you that if this happens, it’s going to be a big job and is hard to get rid of. You tell him, you don’t care – you want to keep using cheap gas and you don’t want to push your car. So with this the equations equal:
Original 1/2 used Gas Tank (Where fuel/carbs were originally stored) = Muscle Tissue
New Trunk Storage “Gas Tank” = Your Body Fat
Expanded Car = More of Your Body Fat
And that’s what your body does over time with fast-acting carbs (think cakes, cookies, breads, pastas, bagels) and no exercise.
Instead of your muscles using and storing the “gas” or carbs, you start to store the “gas” in different places. In this case, your “trunk”. Since you’re not using your muscles, you start to store that extra gas or carbs in the fat cells you currently have. The fat just acts as storage space. Eventually though your body can’t just hold any more “gas” in the size car you have – your body has to create extra fat cells.
This is what happens, slowly and imperceptibly, year after year by eating an over-abundance of carbs and in particular crappy carbs (cheap gas). One day your gas gauge breaks and instead of following the original solution – push the car and use clean gas (exercise and eat right), you continue with a broken gas gauge.
Now that you’ve expanded your car, you decide you don’t like the way it looks any longer. Since you vowed to never get rid of your car, you decide to put some new paint on it (get a haircut or a “make-over”). The problem is, you still don’t like the way that expansion on the car looks. You decide to go back to the mechanic and get rid of that extra storage space.
When you go to the mechanic, he tells you this:
1 – He can’t simply take off the extra part of the car, because it’s now integrated into the car’s wiring and gas system. If you want to use less gas, you’re going to have to start using the electrical part of the car (Exercise-Induced Glut-4 Receptors). In other words, the only way to get your body primed to get rid of the extra storage is by utilizing your blood sugar better by activating the exercise-induced Glut-4 receptors.
2 – The original problem is that the gas gauge is still broken. If you want it to work correctly, and therefore, fix most of the problems you’re having, you’re going to have to:
A – Stop beating the car up with cheap gas. You’re going to have to fuel it correctly. This means only high-premium unleaded gas. In much the same way, if you want the original problem of poor blood sugar to be corrected, you’re going to have to feed it correctly. You’re going to have to eat only natural, whole foods that give your body the nutrients it needs.
B – You’re really going to have to start pushing the car. This is despite that now it’s going to be harder because the car is bigger. In other words, your body is still either releasing too much insulin or not using it efficiently and the best way to get it under control is to exercise.
So the final equation, if you want to lose fat and are having “gas storage” issues is:
Use the Electrical part of the Car = Exercise and use the Exercise-induced Glut-4 receptors
Fix the gas gauge = Control Insulin
Stop using Cheap Gas = Eat Healthy in the form of more natural, whole foods
Start Pushing the Car = Exercise
This is the solution to blood sugar issues, insulin issues, about 75% of the population’s cause of excess body fat and a slew of other health issues that stem from these problems. This slew of other health issues includes heart disease, macular degeneration, fatty liver disease/cirrhosis, mitochondrial cancer, premature aging and cancer. In fact, since insulin is a growth hormone and cancer is an over-growth of cells, it’s a deadly combination.
Now that I’ve explained how your car “breaks down,” how do you know if your gas gauge is broken to begin with? Go to your “mechanic” (aka, doctor) and get these tests done:
1 – Fasting Blood Sugar – This should be your Primary test. If you’re only going to run one test, for blood sugar, this is the one. This test is done after 12 hours of no food and helps to show what your body is doing to break down glycogen over night.
Fasting Insulin – If you’re insulin resistance, do these two tests together and you will be able to tell a lot about the proportion of blood sugar to insulin. There isn’t a normal number for Fasting Insulin and therefore the ratio is more indicative. For example, you shouldn’t be making a lot of glucose at night, which means your insulin should be low.
The “norms” for Fasting Blood Sugar is 99mg/dL. “Normal” though is too high by at least 20%. Optimal is 70 mg/dL.
If it’s lower than that your brain won’t function too well.
If you have “normal” blood sugar, aka, if you’re number is 99 and is within the “normal” range, but optimal is 70, your risk of a heart attack goes up by 30%. The ratio of risk to increase in mg/dL is 1 to 1. Every increase in blood sugar increases your risk of a heart attack by 1%.
2 – Hemoglobin A1C (HA1C) – When you have high blood sugar, the sugar attaches to hemoglobin instead of oxygen and this process is called glycation. This test gives you a 3 month average of your blood sugar (glycation occurs everywhere and is especially relevant for the brain’s diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s). Normal for this test is 5.7 – if it’s over that, you already have signs of insulin resistance.
3 – Glucose Tolerance Test – For this test, they give you a high load of pure sugar (high glucose load) and then measure what happens to your blood sugar over the next 3 hours. You will get different results from Fasting Blood Sugar and you should do both tests. This test determines how high your blood sugar goes and how effective insulin is in clearing that sugar from your blood. The “normal” glucose tolerance test goes up to 140, when it really should be 110. Another 30 point difference and now the odds of a heart attack are 2 to 1. That means that there’s an increased risk of a heart attack of 60% from the “normal” number and the “optimal” number. This test can tell you a lot about how your body handles blood sugar.
With all of that said, this has been a mammoth of an article. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.