Insulin Resistance | Causes, Foods + Prevention

Insulin is a hormone that is made by the pancreas. It allows your cells to use glucose (sugar) for energy. In people with insulin resistance, the body’s cells don’t use the insulin effectively – specifically, the cells have trouble absorbing the glucose, leading to a build up of sugar in the blood. Many people confuse Insulin Resistance with Type 2 Diabetes, and, although they have several similar characteristics, they are different conditions.

With Insulin Resistance, the pancreas continues to produce insulin; in fact, it may even begin to produce more and more as it tries to get the muscles and fat cells to accept the excess glucose that is building up in the bloodstream. Type 2 Diabetes occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin, or when production significantly slows after an extended period of high demand (such as occurs with Insulin Resistance). 

What are the causes of Insulin Resistance?

 Insulin Resistance has a very strong genetic factor, with family history of Type 2 Diabetes playing a role, as well as ethnicity. Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders are at greater risk of developing Insulin Resistance. Metabolic syndrome, a disorder that causes the carrying of excess weight (particularly around the middle), high blood pressure, and elevated blood cholesterol, is another common cause of insulin resistance. Other risk factors can include pregnancy, stress, infection, and even sleep apnea. Left untreated, Insulin Resistance can develop first into a condition called Pre-diabetes, and eventually into Type 2 Diabetes, so it is very important to recognize the symptoms and the recommended course of treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

One of the earliest and most noticeable symptoms is weight gain, particularly around the waist. Other symptoms include low energy or feeling tired all the time, persistent hunger (even after eating), difficulty concentrating (sometimes called “brain fog”), and high blood pressure. A lesser-known symptom is a skin condition called “acanthosis nigricans,” where the skin darkens in patches on the back of the neck, groin, and armpits.

My Journey + Recommended Treatment

I lived with insulin resistance and all of its complications for 35 years.  I was always told, like everyone else, to just eat a balanced diet and exercise and I would be fine.  While the statement is true, figuring out the what’s and how’s were a different story.  

Regular exercise (at least 3 times a week with weight resistance) helps to lower your blood sugar, increases your metabolism (which helps you to lose weight), and increases the ability of your cells to accept and process glucose. Exercise doesn’t have to mean training for a marathon. Find an activity that you enjoy, and make some time for it in your day-to-day life.

Any of the following are great ways to increase your activity level:

  • Gardening
  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Swimming
  • Yoga or pilates
  • Light weight lifting

The role of diet is, as we would expect, is huge in controlling the pesky symptoms of Insulin Resistance. Foods that are high in fiber are key – they slowly digest and slowly raise blood sugar levels.

Processed foods, on the other hand, quickly digest and quickly spike blood sugar levels. In my experience, it wasn’t enough to adopt a vegan lifestyle; I had to adopt a low/no sugar anti-inflammatory diet for the symptoms to disappear. Here is a handy list of foods that can be enjoyed:

Foods that can help with Insulin Resistance 

  1. Dark green, leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, collards)
  2. Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts)
  3. Fruits high in fiber (apples, bananas, peaches, berries)
  4. Whole grains (oats, quinoa, farro, wild rice, millet, bulgur)
  5. Beans and legumes (pinto, lima, and lentils)
  6. Healthy fats such as avocadoes, olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds (look for raw unsalted varieties)
  7. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, mackerel, trout), if you’re not a vegetarian.

Foods to avoid

  • Store bought fruit juices (typically low in fiber and high in sugar, these have the effect of soda on the pancreas)
  • Foods high in saturated fats
  • Processed and prepared foods
  • “White” foods – pasta, white flour, rice
  • Foods containing refined sugars

While the above are some general food tips, there are some specific recommendations for treating Insulin Resistance that are specific to an Ayurvedic diet.

The following plants, herbs, and spices have all been deemed beneficial to those suffering from high blood glucose levels:

  • aloe vera gel
  • artichoke, arugula, celery stalk
  • turmeric, cinnamon, orange zest
  • basil, dandelion leaves, tarragon, rosemary, mint
  • cardamom, fenugreek, black cardamom (nigella)
  • cayenne pepper, black pepper, green tea
  • fresh garlic, fresh ginger, dried ginger
  • burdock root, horseradish, bitter melon

Many common properties can be associated with the above-mentioned herbs and spices. First, many possess the ability to cleanse the body of toxins (ie have diuretic qualities), speed up the body’s metabolism (particularly of fat), aid in digestion and absorption of important vitamins and minerals, and also in their healing properties.

And wow, what an amazing variety of diverse and interesting flavours!

My taste buds have perked up just from writing about them.

Thank you so much for visiting! I hope you have found some valuable information, if so, I’d love to hear about it!

Please feel free to share this post with anyone who might benefit, and comments are always welcome!

I look forward to connecting with you next time!

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  1. kay goodnough on April 17, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    great info… just discovered your blog and love it,

  2. CJ Varney on April 24, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    I’m excited to make and eat your vegan bone broth!

  3. Fatema on May 13, 2018 at 9:09 pm

    This article was very helpful. Thank you!