Insulin response: what is the impact of food on our metabolism?

[Article updated on 19/09/2023]

The insulin response is a physiological process that occurs when blood sugar levels rise after consuming food. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, then acts by facilitating the absorption of glucose (sugar) by cells in order to regulate blood sugar (blood sugar level). However, certain foods impact this response differently, which can influence our health, metabolism and weight. In this article, I will explore how the foods we eat every day can affect our body’s insulin response.

Before reading on

I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.

The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.

The role of insulin in our body

Insulin has several essential functions in our body:

  • It helps regulate blood sugar by allowing cells to absorb glucose from the blood.
  • It promotes the conversion of glucose into glycogen, a form of energy storage available to our body to meet its future energy needs.
  • It also contributes to protein synthesis and the formation of new cells.

However, too high or too frequent an insulin response can lead to health problems such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Foods that cause a high insulin response

Some foods have a greater impact on insulin secretion than others. They are generally characterized by a high glycemic index (GI), which means that they cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels after ingestion.

High GI carbohydrates

Among the carbohydrates with a high GI, we find:

  • Simple sugars such as sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk sugar)
  • Refined grain products such as white bread, white pasta or even white rice
  • Sugary drinks, such as sodas and industrial fruit juices
  • Confectionery, cakes and other sweet desserts

Proteins and fats

Although proteins and fats do not have a direct impact on blood sugar, they can still influence insulin response depending on how they are consumed. For example, a meal high in protein may cause a slight increase in insulin, while a meal high in fat may delay the absorption of carbohydrates and therefore modulate the insulin response.

spoon containing sugar

Foods that cause a moderate or weak insulin response

Conversely, certain foods have a lesser impact on insulin secretion. They are generally characterized by a low to medium glycemic index (GI), meaning they cause a slower, gradual rise in blood sugar levels after ingestion.

Low or moderate GI carbohydrates

Among the carbohydrates with a low or moderate GI, we find:

  • Legumes, such as lentils, chickpeas or beans
  • Whole grains, such as brown rice, whole-wheat bread or whole-wheat pasta
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those high in fiber and low in sugar such as berries, apples or spinach
  • Dairy products, especially cheese and plain yogurt without added sugar

Proteins and fats

As mentioned previously, proteins and fats do not have a direct impact on blood sugar levels, but can modulate the insulin response depending on how they are consumed. It is therefore preferable to favor lean protein sources, such as poultry, fish or legumes, and healthy fat sources, such as olive oil, avocados or nuts.

Adapt your diet to better manage your insulin response

Understanding the impact of foods on the insulin response allows you to make informed choices to preserve your health and maintain a stable weight. Here are some tips for adapting your diet:

  1. Favor low or moderate GI carbohydrates: opt for whole grains, legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables rather than refined or sugary products.
  2. Avoid sugary drinks: replace sodas and industrial juices with water, green tea or herbal teas without added sugar.
  3. Eat lean proteins: choose white meats, fish, eggs or legumes instead of fatty or processed meats.
  4. Consume healthy fats: incorporate foods rich in monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids into your diet, such as avocados, nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil or fatty fish.
  5. Eat mindfully: take the time to savor each bite and listen to your body’s signals of satiety to avoid excesses.

By adopting a healthy and balanced diet, it is possible to better manage your insulin response and thus preserve your health while maintaining a stable weight.