Is Oatmeal Good for Weight Loss? (15 Best Foods for Insulin Resistance)Aug 25, 2021
I used to have oatmeal every morning with a banana, walnuts, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. Then I started learning about the role insulin plays in weight gain and thought, “Is oatmeal even good for weight loss?” Is it really as healthy as I’ve been led to believe?
Or is there a healthier breakfast option that will help me shed the rest of this baby weight?” This episode is going to answer that question, teach you how to reverse insulin resistance with diet, and give you the 15 best foods for insulin resistance.
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Obesity Is Caused by Too Much Insulin, Not Too Many Calories
Before I dive in, I want to quote Dr. Jason Fung when he says in The Obesity Code, “Obesity is a hormonal, not caloric problem.” We don’t have too many calories, we have too much insulin. Insulin is your fat creation and storage hormone and is a major determinant of your body set weight.
But without insulin, your blood sugars would become dangerously high, and your cells would actually starve to death because it’s harder for glucose, or energy, to get into your cells.
That’s why a hallmark sign of type 1 diabetes is wasting away with high blood sugars and a ravenous appetite. They eat and eat but still lose weight because the fuel can’t get into the cells without insulin.
So insulin in and of itself is a good thing. We need it to move energy into our cells. But too much insulin for too long will lead to insulin resistance, which is at ground zero for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and more.
Insulin Versus Calories for Weight Loss
Your food choices play a huge role in your overall health and choosing foods that help keep insulin low is key to living a low insulin lifestyle for long-term weight loss and disease prevention.
Once I stopped worrying about calories, and started learning about how different types of nutrients either increased or decreased my insulin, food choices became a lot clearer.
Foods I once thought to be healthy like my morning bowl of oatmeal and a banana, I learned spiked my insulin and actually weren’t helping me lose weight.
I want you to have crystal clarity about how different foods affect your insulin so that you don’t rely on someone else, or worse, marketing, to tell you if a food is healthy or not, you can decide for yourself based on it’s macronutrient composition and ingredients.
There is so much conflicting and confusing information online about how to lose weight or how to get healthy. And my hope is that you start using, “How will this affect my insulin” as a litmus test for if what you’re reading is true or not. Use that question to filter through all the information online to find information that is based on up-to-date science.
So if you’ve been religiously eating your oatmeal, or Wheaties, or Special K, or whatever other high carb, low fat, low protein breakfast item you like and you’re not seeing the weight loss you want, you’re in the right place.
And if you feel duped after this episode...like, “How is this stuff not taught in high school?” don’t be too hard on yourself.
I studied nutrition and exercise science in undergrad, went through a doctoral level physical therapy education, then completed a geriatric residency and still hadn’t heard of insulin resistance until I started looking into things on my own.
I’d bet most primary care physicians either don’t know about insulin resistance, or know about it, but also know it takes way more work to fix than a pill or 10 minutes of counseling, so don’t bother pushing the topic.
My hope is that by creating videos like this and interviewing experts, we can create a grassroots effort to fundamentally shift the way we think about weight loss and disease prevention in a way that focuses on insulin, not calories.
Millions if not billions of dollars from big food companies have been employed to get you to believe that eating their food will aid your health or waistline in some way to boost their profits.
The repetition alone of the low-calorie, low-fat diet approach to lose weight makes it seem so true. But no matter how many times I say 2 + 2 = 5, it’s still not true. No matter how many times you hear about eating low fat low calorie, or eating less and exercising more to lose weight, it’s still not going to be true.
I believe that knowledge is power, and that when we know better, we can do better. If you’ve been following the typical eat less, exercise more, low fat low calorie advice to lose weight and you’re not, and your doctor isn’t giving you better advice, you’re in the right place.
How Different Macronutrients Affect Insulin
To appreciate the foods I’m going to share with you towards the end of this episode, you need to understand the three primary ways that insulin is released in the first place so that you can reverse engineer your diet to keep insulin low.
The first thing that impacts when insulin is released is eating food. Food is made of various combinations of three different types of macronutrients - carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Below is a picture that shows how each type of macronutrient affects insulin. Fat stimulates the lowest amount of insulin, protein is moderate, and carbohydrates - specifically starches and sugar - are the highest.
As a brief overview, there are three main types of carbohydrates: fiber, starch, and sugar. Fiber doesn’t stimulate an insulin response, actually, it slows down the digestion of your food so slows your insulin response. The more pure and refined the carb (think white flour and sugar), the more it stimulates blood sugars and insulin.
Starch, Sugar, & Insulin
The most common cause of excessive insulin in your blood is eating a diet that’s high in refined starches and sugars. If you’re eating things like pop, dessert, candy, other sugary beverages, bread, pasta, bagels, or you have a diet that’s high in processed foods that contain refined flour and sugar, you’re elevating your blood glucose so much, and so often, that your insulin levels are constantly stimulated.
Artificial Sweeteners & Insulin
The second thing that can stimulate an insulin response are some artificial sweeteners. You may think that diet pop, other diet drinks, or artificial sweeteners don’t contribute to weight gain because they don’t have any calories.
But remember...the calorie model of obesity was wrong in the first place. The research shows that many artificial sweeteners don’t help with weight loss and can actually contribute to weight gain.
The reason is that some artificial sweeteners, especially sucralose and saccharin, raise insulin more than regular sugar. I’d like you to think of artificial sweeteners, no matter what type they are, the same way you think about sugar.
Try to eat just a little at a time and not too often. If you do like artificial sweeteners and you want to include them in your diet, I recommend using stevia, erythritol, monk fruit sweetener, or xylitol because these ones don’t appear to raise insulin.
You may be wondering…”How can artificial sweeteners stimulate insulin when they don’t have any carbs and have a minimal blood sugar response? I thought blood sugar was what caused insulin to be released? So how can insulin be released without an increase in blood sugar?” Great question!
The third factor that can stimulate insulin is something called the cephalic phase insulin response. Cephalic is a fancy term that just refers to your head in anatomy. This occurs when insulin is released in the first few minutes of a meal before your blood sugar levels rise.
The cephalic phase insulin response lasts for about 10 minutes and is caused by the anticipatory sight, smell, and taste of food. It’s enhanced by the chewing and swallowing of food. This insulin response is triggered with some artificial sweeteners even though they have no calories, which is why they don’t help with weight loss.
Incretin Hormones & Insulin Response
Along with the cephalic phase insulin response, the other mechanism that stimulates your body to release insulin, even when it’s digesting things like protein and fat that don’t directly raise your blood sugar levels, are called incretin hormones.
Food in your stomach is going to trigger these two hormones, primarily glucagon-like peptide-1 or GLP-1 and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, also known as gastric inhibitory peptide or GIP, to be released by your stomach and intestines. These hormones will raise insulin levels.
Meal Timing & Insulin Response
Meal timing is a really important and commonly overlooked factor regarding insulin release. In the caloric model of obesity, when you eat doesn’t matter...it’s all about the total number of calories or points you consume in a day.
But this isn’t true. In fact, when you eat, and how often you eat, matters a great deal. The more frequently you eat, the more insulin is released. Even eating something at different times of the day will impact your insulin response.
You’re more sensitive to insulin during the day versus at night. So having a higher starch food like a sweet potato will likely have a lower blood sugar response if you ate it for lunch than for dinner.
That’s why I try to keep my night-time meal to a lower carb, because I know that my body is less sensitive to insulin, meaning more will be required to bring my blood sugar down again after a meal.
With all this information in mind, let’s reassess my morning bowl of oatmeal. I started tracking my macros on Carb Manager. If you’ve never tracked your macros before, I talked about it more in this episode and provide you with step-by-step instructions to get started here.
If I wanted to lose the PT school weight that had crept on, plus the baby weight after I had my son, I knew that the morning oatmeal and banana would have to be replaced with a lower-carb, higher healthy fat and protein option.
Over the years my go-to low-carb breakfast has fluctuated between some form of smoothie, chia seed pudding, or egg scramble. Click here for those breakfast recipes.
Is High-Protein Effective to Reverse Insulin Resistance?
To finish up, let’s talk about the 15 best foods for insulin resistance. These would be foods that are high in fat, protein, and fiber. While you may be thinking, “Hey I thought that protein caused an insulin release.” I want to point out a couple things here.
First, your muscles need protein. Your muscles are a huge place for glucose to be deposited and used for energy. The more muscle you have, the more sensitive to insulin you will be because you have more room to put extra glucose.
Think of your muscle mass like a garage. And your car likes glucose. If you have a little muscle, you have a one car garage. If you have a lot of muscle, you have a three car garage and can fit three cars. The more muscle you have, the more glucose you can tolerate.
But if you don’t fuel your muscles with adequate amounts of protein (that is, about 30 grams per meal), you’ll lose them. Especially as we age, we need to prioritize protein in our meals to slow the muscle loss that comes with declines in hormone and activity levels.
Plus, protein is a very satiety nutrient and will help reduce your carb cravings later in the day. The real question in my mind is not, low-carb high fat or high-fat low-carb, it’s high-fat or high-protein?
We know that low-carb is the healthiest option for insulin resistance and disease prevention, especially for the 85% of adults that are already insulin resistant.
The Best Foods for Insulin Resistance
Starting with fats and oils: avocado oil, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, ghee. For dairy you’ll want to choose the full-fat options. I know this may seem so counterintuitive to what’s popular online or what you’ve grown up believing, but if you’re watching this episode that means the traditional advice wasn’t cutting it for you so full fat dairy it is if you don’t have a dairy sensitivity.
That would include butter, unprocessed cheese, cottage cheese, full-fat greek yogurt, and cream. For protein, you have all meats (grass fed if you can). We do a lot of beef, chicken, and salmon in our house but also like pork and turkey. If you’re vegan or vegetarian tofu and tempeh are good options. Eggs - with the yolk - are also excellent.
For fruits and vegetables, a helpful tip from Dr. Bikman’s Book Why We Get Sick is to eat more vegetables that grow above ground versus below (like potatoes). A few of my favorites are artichokes, asparagus, avocado, olives, and bell peppers.
Now this is not an all-inclusive list, just some of my favorites. And this is also not an all inclusive list of what I actually eat. I just try to eat more foods that keep insulin low, and less foods that spike it. I try to reduce snacking and use moderate intermittent fasting - at least 14 hours a day. Moderation in everything is key to make it sustainable.
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