Every once in a while you come across a piece of content that is so impactful that you want to share it with the world. This happened to me the other day as I was listening to Dr. Mike T Nelson’s Flex Diet Podcast with Dr. Tommy Wood. Tommy was on the podcast talking about a talk he recently gave on insulin, and man was the podcast epic! It was so epic that I decided I needed to break it down and share all the knowledge bombs they dropped with the world!
But before I share my favorite pieces of information from the podcast I think it makes sense to talk about why I think this podcast is so impactful.
Over the past few years, as we have searched for reasons as to why much of the western world has become more and more sick, many people have started to make the connection to our diet. If you look at the way most of the western world eats today it is quite high in processed foods. The term processed foods has no real scientific definition, the best way I have heard it described is basically any food that come in a box or package. Think of things like cereals, crackers, breads, cookies, chips, frozen meals, granola bars, etc. These foods generally share many of the same characteristics, they are high calorie, high carbohydrate, and high sugar foods that are low in fat (because fat is thought to be bad), low in protein (especially animal protein), and high in chemicals and bad oils. In summary there is nothing “natural” about them.
When we consume a lot of these types of foods over the course of a long period of time and combine that with a poor lifestyle (lack of sleep, lack of movement and exercise, lack of social connection, lack of time outside) we get sick. We see things like heart attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers, auto-immune disease, etc.
No surpise, right?
Well when we look at all of these diseases we often notice they are connected with chronic high levels of blood sugar. We know this is bad, and can be deadly if not controlled. The next logical thought is to find what causes high levels of blood sugar?
ONE reason why someone might have high levels of blood sugar are the foods they eat. The modern western diet is full of processed foods rich in carbohydrates. When you eat carbohydrates your blood sugar rises. When this happens the body will produce a hormone called insulin who’s job is to lower the blood sugar back to normal ranges (this, as you learn is just one small piece of what insulin does, and is actually not its main job at all).
The predominant theory states that over the course of time, if you keep asking your body to produce more and more insulin due to the constantly elevated levels of blood sugar from your diet, your cells become insulin resistant, meaning they no longer respond to the signal from insulin to “soak up the blood sugar”, and therefore cannot lower blood sugar as efficiently requiring more insulin to be produced. Slowly, over time, your cells become more and more insulin resistant, resulting in more insulin being produced to lower blood sugar. Eventually you get to the point your body cannot keep up with the insulin it needs to produce and the chronically high levels of blood sugar can lead to the various disease states mentioned above.
If you follow this logic, you might be lead to believe that as long as you keep your insulin levels low you can prevent insulin resistance and therefore reduce your chance of ever developing any of these diseases.
The Unintended Consequences
As a result we now have people demonizing insulin and doing everything they can to avoid raising it. We see people following very low carb diets (ketogenic diets), fasting for long and longer periods of time, and avoiding things like protein (because protein can cause insulin to rise as well).
However, it is not insulin that is the problem. Insulin is supposed to rise and fall, it is natural, and necessary for survival. Lowering insulin too much can be just as bad as having high levels of insulin all the time.
The culprits are the foods people are consuming AND the lifestyle they are living that are causing people to run into problems with their health. Insulin is a good thing, we need it to survive, we just need to make sure that we are not asking it to do too much all the time.
The other problem with the demonization of insulin is the context in which these disease states occur. Again, as I said above, insulin is a problem when your food choices and your lifestyle are out line and don’t match. If you are a lean athlete, working out 6 days a week, you have no reason to fear rises in insulin due to consuming natural carbohydrates like fruit, potatoes, squash, white rice, etc. In fact you would probably be better off from a performance point of view.
Now that you have some context for what you are about to listen to, here are some of my key take aways from the podcast with Dr. Nelson and Dr. Wood.
What Is Insulin’s Job?
Insulin’s main job is actually NOT to dispose of glucose from the blood stream.
Insulin’s main job is to be anti-catabolic and stop the break down of tissue
What really is insulin resistance?
What is the deal with insulin and blood sugar? What is insulin doing when you eat carbohydrates?Insulin is telling your liver that we don’t need any more fuel because we just ate some carbohydrates.
In this case the example they are using is Pop Tarts.
Given that insulin’s main job is telling the liver we have enough fuel, is insulin resistance really a problem with cells not responding to the insulin’s signal to store excess blood sugar?
🤯 what a knowledge bomb there dropped by Dr. Wood! It is not the failure of the cells to respond to the signal of insulin to uptake the exccess blood sugar, because that is not insulin’s job. Its the failure of the liver to stop releasing fuel into the blood stream!
Given everything we have talked about and heard from Dr. Wood so far, is elevated insulin at the root of what is causing the explosion of health issues in western society?
No! Insulin is not the root cause of these disease states! Yeah, some of it might be related to the food we are consuming, but there are other lifestyle and environmental factors that play a role as well. Just because insulin goes up, doesn’t mean you are going to be unhealthy!
Context Is King
Having normal insulin fluctuations is healthy, and in fact necessary for survival.
When I followed a long term ketogenic diet, my fasting insulin was unmeasurable in my lab work. If insulin was so bad you would have thought I was healthy as a horse. Actually I never felt worse in my life!
At that point in my life, I had a huge mismatch between my diet and what I was asking my body to do on a day to day basis. I was lean, healthy, and training for obstacle course racing 6 days a week at a high level. On top of that I had a job at which I was required to fly around the world throughout the year, a young infant daughter, a wife, and a bunch of other responsibilites. I could afford to have spikes in my insulin, because I needed the fuel provided by the carbohydrates that my body was not getting. Eventually this all lead to my body pushing back, shutting down hormone production, causing my sleep to suffer, and my performance as an athlete to tank.
This is why context in all aspects of health and wellness is so important. Dr. Mike could not have said it better.
WOW! WHAT A PODCAST!
Can you relate to this? Are you an athlete who has been avoiding carbohydrates due to the potential “health effects” but have seen your health and athletic performance take a nose dive?
Here is my one piece of advice to start turning things around.
Eat some carbz! You can afford to believe me. Take a look at how I am eating and training today. You don’t see a lack of carbs there. I am no longer afraid of carbs or insulin, and neither should you!
If you are an athlete and have fallen into the same context trap I did and are now suffering the consequences in your health, lifestyle, and athletic performance, I can help! Consider applying for my one on one Ancestral Athlete program and we can talk about how we can work together to get you back on track.
Have questions or comments?