Nutritional Tips for Insulin Resistance from Dietitian Maya Feller
Written by: the Editors of goop
Published on: January 12, 2023
Reviewed by: Denise John, PhD
Registered dietitian Maya Feller takes an inspiring approach to food, combining nutritional science with the art of cooking to create nourishing meals without forfeiting flavor or cultural flair. You can find her finest recipes in her new cookbook, Eating from Our Roots, which she developed with seven chef friends from around the world.
In her nutrition practice, Feller and her team help people meet their nutritional needs and reduce their risk of major chronic diseases without depriving themselves of the joy of food. One condition she’s become adept at helping people manage is insulin resistance, which requires balancing your blood sugar levels.
For more from Feller, join her live conversation and AMA with Gwyneth on February 16.
Understanding Insulin Resistance and Balancing Blood Sugar Levels
The official definition of insulin resistance comes from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: a condition “when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t easily take up glucose from your blood.” I elaborate on this description with my clients, telling them that with insulin resistance, their body is no longer recognizing that it’s secreting insulin (a hormone that allows glucose to move from the blood into the cells and be used as energy). So there’s an excess of glucose in their blood. It’s like mail piling up outside your house without someone carrying it inside so it can be allocated as needed.
No one’s certain what causes insulin resistance—there are genetic and lifestyle factors that contribute—but the outcome is clear: Blood sugar levels are too high.
When our bodies need help balancing our blood sugar levels, it requires lifestyle modifications—monitoring your glucose levels, modifying your pattern of eating, incorporating intentional movement, potential medication, etc. What works for one person may not be effective for another. Working with a qualified health care provider (when possible) to help integrate the timing and frequency of your meals, the quantity of carbohydrates, the pairing of foods, and how your body responds to what you eat (for example, solid versus liquid carbohydrates or starchy vegetables versus nonstarchy ones) is critical to creating healthy glucose levels. If they’re not balanced appropriately, high blood sugar levels can lead to a host of complications, ranging from cardiovascular risks, like heart attack and stroke, to neuropathy.
But none of this is about perfection. It’s about making small incremental changes—nutrition and lifestyle behaviors—that are pleasurable and sustainable.
BALANCE YOUR FOODS
Balancing the ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in each meal will help slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Work with a professional to help determine the right balance for you, but generally think about how protein shows up on your plate. Protein can be a great stabilizer, so if you’re having a carbohydrate-rich meal, be sure to pair it with a protein. And be mindful of liquid carbs—they create a rapid spike in blood sugar levels because they’re easily absorbed.
Eating plant-based foods—fruits, nonstarchy vegetables, leafy greens—that are rich in antioxidants is particularly important if you have the systemic inflammation that’s commonly seen with insulin resistance. Choose foods that are culturally relevant for you and that your body can tolerate: You don’t want to consume something that your body doesn’t respond well to (for example, something that triggers an allergy, bloating, etc.). And it’s important to be mindful of your animal-based saturated fats, as too much can disrupt your blood sugar levels. Lean into plant-based mono- and polyunsaturated fats, like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives, for balance.
EAT WITH TIMING IN MIND
For timing of meals, you want enough time in between eating to allow your food to digest and metabolize—too little and your blood sugar levels can get too high, but too much time and they can become too low. Skipping meals can cause blood sugar imbalance, too, so try to eat as consistently as possible while listening to your internal hunger and satiety cues.
SPICE IT UP
A low-sodium pattern of eating is recommended with insulin resistance. (Sodium can impact hormone levels because the endocrine system and cardiovascular system are connected.) So ramp up the herbs, spices, and acidic flavors that you love—so you’re still able to experience robust flavor and enjoy your meals.
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.
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