What’s the food insulin index?

by | Sep 7, 2018 |

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Most food tracking apps put calorie counting at the center of their strategy, especially for fat loss, but it’s a fatal mistake!

Why? Because chronic caloric restriction has failed miserably as a long-term fat loss strategy for the vast majority of people. It just can’t be done accurately enough in real life to be useful.

Nutrita avoids this mistake. It focuses your efforts on food quality before quantity.

Nutrita does this by selecting foods that can restore healthy hormonal and metabolic responses. To do that, it focuses on 3 key metrics:

  • insulin index
  • keto score
  • dynamic nutrient density range

Use the insulin index to choose delicious meals that partition calories away from your long-term fat stores and restore metabolic flexibility; the ability to burn both carbs and fats well.

The insulin index isn’t only for fat loss.

The fast-growing population of diabetics can use it to stabilize blood sugars by avoiding foods that excessively raise insulin.

The keto score makes shopping for a well-formulated ketogenic diet easy, helping you identify tasty,nutrient-dense foods all the while benefiting from the diet’s anti-inflammatory effects and normalized appetite.

You can save grocery lists or start recipe books and share it all with Nutrita’s community.

Do you know?

Many food tracking apps give you vitamin and mineral scores but the numbers are inaccurate; they don’t take your personal metabolic context into account nor do they adjust scores based on how bioavailable the nutrients are..

Nutrita sets itself apart by providing a dynamic nutrient density range that takes your metabolic context into account as well as the bioavailability of nutrients depending on their plant or animal origin

What is the food insulin index?

The food insulin index ranges from 0 – 100 representing how much insulin your body releases after 2 hours of having eaten a particular food, obtained against a standard reference ‘food’ (glucose) with a score of 100.

The index can help you identify foods that are likely to minimize your lifetime insulin secretion, a great thing for metabolic flexibility, a good thing for overall health and longevity.

Here is how insulin work from cells standpoint. You can see that insulin open blood sugar receptor and allow glucose to feed the cell

How are blood sugar levels and the food insulin index different?

Having about a teaspoon (5g) of sugar in your blood before eating breakfast in the morning is pretty normal, on average, translating to fasting blood sugars of 5.2 mmol/L or 100 mg/dL.

Your blood sugar levels are sensitive to the hormone insulin that lowers them when its released into the blood, a fine balance can be kept, but not if you hypersecrete insulin by eating the wrong foods (e.g. bread).

To ensure your average fasting blood sugar is ‘normal’ you should avoid foods that are high on the insulin index, like pizza, potatoes chips, pasta, bread and fruit juices, (which also happen to be poor in essential micronutrients).

Why controlling your food insulin index helps with diabetes, obesity and overall health?

When the foods you eat are on average lower down on the insulin index, your metabolism doesn’t suffer such a large ‘insulin tax’ when trying to handle the incoming food (e.g. vitamins, minerals, caloric load).

But it’s a bit more complicated than that because a fillet of white fish has an insulin index of 43 and potato chips 45, yet potato chips are unhealthy and fish isn’t – so what gives?

Food with same insulin index but different insulin response

The rise in insulin from the white fish is accompanied by other hormones (e.g. glucagon) that keep that response within normal metabolic bounds, but not so for potato chips that disrupt these counter-regulatory responses.

What’s glucagon?

Glucagon raises blood sugars whereas insulin lowers them. Glucagon is a sort of counterbalance to insulin. So the insulin index is important but it’s not the whole story regarding your metabolic response to the food you eat.

Other things called incretins also modulate blood sugar and insulin levels. But don’t worry, Nutrita lets you know with a simple green or red light whether or not this food fits your goals.

So practically speaking, what does this low insulin index, nutrient dense meal actually looks like? 2 slabs of salmon pan-fried alongside diced mushrooms and tomatoes, topped off with a generous handful of blueberries, some cheese and a couple of squares of 90 – 100% dark chocolate.

Factors other than diet like sleep, exercise and genetics matter a great deal too, but spending as little of your ‘insulin capital’ as is reasonably possible remains an excellent strategy to age well. So much so in fact, that you can avoid or sometimes even reverse diabetes and obesity simply by eating nutrient-dense foods low on the insulin index.

Ketones and blood insulin level are useful to track!

Levels of blood ketones increase in the blood when insulin levels drop, usually because a person isn’t eating or significantly restricting dietary carbs.

Your sensitivity to insulin’s effects changes throughout the day, peaking in the morning and dropping in the evening and night. Avoiding snacking (especially late night snacking) and eating only 2 – 3 times a day is a great way to keep insulin low and thus sensitive to its actions.

Tracking your blood, breath or urine ketone levels when starting a ketogenic diet for the first time is a good way to check whether or not you’re actually in ketosis, also indicative of your insulin levels being low throughout much of the day – a good thing!

If you’re unsure about which foods will keep your insulin low but still provide you with nutritious meals, just scan or search the food with Nutrita to get its insulin index and keto score.

Why it’s important to check the insulin index when buying food?

The food insulin index can provide simple help for users to choose those nutrient dense foods with a low insulin burden.

This is important because many users might be diabetic and don’t yet understand diabetes to be a problem of hyperinsulinemia (excessive insulin secretion), with high blood sugars being just a symptom albeit of severe health consequences.

The insulin index can help them lower their overall insulin burden while maintaining a nutrient-dense diet with a full spectrum of essential amino (protein) and fatty acids (fat).

Which food has the highest insulin response?

Rice flour ranks amongst the most insulinogenic (insulin-secreting) foods with a score of 94 and also happens to be nutrient poor.

There can be a big difference in insulin secretion and blood sugar levels between 2 different foods that both have 100g of carbs, like rice flour and brown rice, say. The boiled brown rice has a score of 45 while the rice flour (‘bubble rice’) reaches 94!

If you’ve scanned or looked up (white) cod fish in our app you might notice that it’s high up on the insulin index – so does that mean it’s bad for you? No, because fish is a food that elevates insulin but with the appropriate counter-regulation of glucagon, unlike another high insulin-secreting foods like biscuits or cake.

Our app will think this through for you and give you a simple green, red or orange light to let you know if, overall, this food is in line with your dietary or health goals or not.

Which food has the lowest insulin response?

Poached chicken eggs have a low insulin score of 23. Food or more specifically condiments like butter and olive oil have a 0 score because they’re nearly exclusively pure fat and fat doesn’t really raise insulin above fasting levels. However, they aren’t nutrient dense condiments so their use should be sparing (or to taste)-

It’s important to keep in mind that the insulin index is best complemented alongside our dynamic nutrient density score to ensure there’s a generous intake of micronutrients to accompany normal insulin responses.

Check out Nutrita’s Food Pyramid for lots of nutrient dense, low insulin index foods

this is the food you need to eat on a keto diet. Starting from healthy animal fars,

For more of the science behind the insulin index check out our dedicated podcast episodes:

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Written by Raphael Sirtoli, MSc Biology

Raphael Sirtoli has an MSc in Molecular Biology and is a PhD candidate in Neuroscience at the Behavioral n’ Molecular Lab in Portugal. His understanding of metabolism, nutrition and clinical medicine is the base upon which Nutrita’s knowledge derives from. He loves open scientific debate, Crossfit, football, hiking and cold water immersion.

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