Your diet impacts your insulin resistance
In my latest article, I talked about the important role insulin resistance can play in the lives of people with type 1 diabetes. This issue is usually thought of as a type 2 problem, but working to reduce insulin resistance has a wealth of positive effects on people living with T1D. Everything from the risk of complications like heart disease to how much you spend on insulin is tied to how well your body utilizes that hormone.
One huge factor that determines how much you struggle with insulin resistance is your diet. Type 2 diabetics have to focus on their diet if they want to reverse their disease. With type 1, it’s easier to ignore what goes into our bodies because we know there is no cure for our disease. No matter how healthy you eat, how rarely you indulge, you are still going to have T1D when you wake up tomorrow.
But when you look at diet and its effect on T1D, it’s not so much about reversing insulin resistance. It’s more about increasing insulin sensitivity. If you can use the food you eat to fuel an ultra-efficient system that will fully utilize each unit of insulin you inject while reducing your odds of heart, kidney, and nerve complications, why wouldn’t you?
My Take on Diet Trends
There are a lot of varying ideas out there on what makes a diet insulin resistant. As I’m sure many of my type 2 cousins can corroborate, a number of these diets simply fail to produce long-term results. You don’t have to be a scientist or a nutritionist to know it, either. All you have to do is look at the growing number of diagnosed T2Ds around the globe.
If current concepts of the insulin resistance diet were so effective, we would see those with type 2 reverse their disease. And those with prediabetes would avoid a diagnosis altogether. Instead, we see short-term reductions in A1C without changes in the amount of insulin resistance present in the body. And because of that, those living with diabetes still suffer and those predisposed to type 2 still become diabetic.
It is possible to use low-carb diets to reduce your insulin use and improve your A1C. But, without reversing the damage that is already done, you can’t change insulin resistance and you can’t reduce complication risk.
What I Don’t Eat
For me, that last fact plays the most into what I do and don’t eat. T1Ds tend to focus on carbs when it comes to dieting. And why wouldn’t you? That’s what you have to calculate every time you eat. That’s what you have to obsess over so you can memorize the insulin dose for every piece of fruit, plate of pasta, and spoonful of cereal.
But how much of a role do carbs play into the larger picture of diabetes? I’m talking about things like heart disease, neuropathy, and kidney disease. If your blood sugar is well controlled, you might expect you are doing everything you can to reduce these risks. But many of these complications still occur, even with healthy A1Cs.
A growing body of research shows that the traditional diabetes diet isn’t doing much to help.
Study after study is revealing that, while diets low in carbs and high in protein and fats can improve blood sugar metrics, they fall short in reducing complications and reversing type 2 diabetes (meaning, they don’t help insulin resistance).
Meanwhile, diets high in whole plant foods and healthy fats and low in unhealthy fats and refined sugars are starting to gain popularity for their ability to reduce blood sugars and reverse disease, including insulin resistance.
As a type 1 diabetic, this is more important to me than simply lowering my A1C by reducing my carb intake. I want to reduce my insulin to carb ratio (aka increase my insulin sensitivity) while also reducing the inflammation in my body that leads to disease and diabetic complications like neuropathy.
For me, cutting out animal products like meat and dairy, which are high in unhealthy saturated fats, has helped significantly in reaching those goals. Avoiding processed foods plays a huge part as well.
What I Do Eat
Instead of focusing on reducing my insulin use by carb-cutting, I focus on feeding my body healthy foods that will increase insulin sensitivity. This means things like whole fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.
While this diet requires me to use more insulin every day than a high-fat, high-protein diet, it actually requires less insulin for each gram of carbohydrate. And that’s an important thing to keep in mind.
If my body uses insulin more effectively, that’s a sign that inflammation, and by direct association, disease, is being reduced.
How to Calculate Insulin Sensitivity
So how can taking more insulin for more carbs somehow mean less insulin for a single carb?
If that all seems a little too complex to swallow, there is a really easy way to track it. To figure out your insulin sensitivity (and by definition, your insulin resistance) simply divide your daily carb intake by your daily total insulin use (both basal and bolus).
If you have a pump, this is easy to look up. If you’re on MDIs, you’ll have to record these numbers manually. If you can get this magic number to decrease while maintaining or lowering your A1C, you know your insulin resistance is dropping and your sensitivity is increasing.
And if your insulin sensitivity is going up, it means your body is working more effectively. And a healthy, efficient body is less likely to be plagued by disease.
A Healthy Body Stays Healthy
As a T1D, it’s important to remember that insulin resistance plays a vital role in your daily life. Eating to reduce your insulin resistance will improve your overall health. But you also need to keep in mind that the traditional notion of this diet doesn’t do enough to reverse disease and prevent complications.
By focusing on a whole-food, plant-based diet, I avoid the unhealthy fats that increase inflammation and decrease insulin sensitivity. At the same time, these kinds of foods are packed with healthy vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that support my health and recovery. And most importantly, on this diet, I have seen both a significant reduction in my A1C and a reduction in insulin resistance.
On this diet, I can feel confident that I am doing everything possible to stay healthy. I am able to keep my blood sugars steady, increase insulin sensitivity, and avoid disease.
You know, except for that pesky, incurable, autoimmune disease I already have.