10 tips to improve insulin sensitivity
This article provides tips to optimise insulin sensitivity. The tips will also assist to: help manage blood glucose levels, prevent and/or reverse type 2 diabetes and reduce cardiovascular risk factors, PCOS and other insulin resistant associated conditions.
The article ‘An introduction to insulin, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes’, explained a little about insulin, the master player in determining where sugar (glucose) goes and whether fat is stored. Being insulin sensitive is associated with being in tip top shape – being healthy and having an improved ability to be able to lose weight (although chances are that you probably won’t need to lose much weight if you are already insulin sensitive). Check out these facts and tips to improve your insulin sensitivity!
Reduce your carb intake
Reducing carb intake consistently improves insulin sensitivity and fasting insulin levels (1,2). In addition to low carb being an effective strategy for weight loss (3) which improves insulin sensitivity. Going lower in carbohydrates simply means that you are having less of the macronutrient that causes the greatest glucose and insulin response.
Tip: low carb does not mean no carb or keto! If you haven’t ever tried having less carbs, experiment! Start with one meal a day, replacing a higher carb item like some rice, with some cauliflower rice. Check out the lower carbohydrate recipe section for more meal ideas.
Although the research on this one is mixed, with some studies showing improvements in insulin resistance but others not (4,5), it is consistently shown to have beneficial effects on blood sugar (glucose) levels. It also does improve the insulin resistance that results from sleep loss (6). So that in itself is positive and may potentially have a subsequent effect on insulin resistance/sensitivity.
Tip: start adding cinnamon to the food you eat! It’s always great to add with anything that you are eating with sugar already in it, for example fruit. Next time you’re having your Greek/coconut yoghurt and mixed fruit, or a morning smoothie, sprinkle some cinnamon on top to improve your blood glucose response.
Get adequate sleep
Even sleep restriction for one week reduces insulin sensitivity (7). Sleep restriction leads to elevations in levels of the stress hormone, cortisol and impairs glucose metabolism, affecting insulin sensitivity (7). Also, the hunger and appetite for carb rich food that usually results from sleep-deprived individuals, is not going to help insulin sensitivity levels! Insufficient sleep is associated with increased risk of: obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and early death (I know, not good!).
Tip: assess your sleep status and what needs to be improved. Identify one habit you can change tonight – whether it’s from going to bed 15 mins earlier, or reading a book instead of your Ipad. If it’s stress/worried related, take 5 mins at the end of the day to journal down thoughts to help unload the mind.
Weight loss has a potent effect on insulin sensitivity in overweight individuals (8). In particular belly fat, where there is the type of visceral fat stored around the organs, is associated with insulin resistance. Check out Insulin resistance and weight gain to learn more.
Tip: if you’ve got some excess weight to lose, consider which lever you’ll use to get into a negative energy balance: diet, exercise or both? Although you will need to be in an energy deficit, keep it moderate for an approach that is healthy and long lasting. Consider adding exercise for optimising your overall health and assisting with losing fat rather than muscle.
When individuals with type 2 diabetes / insulin resistance add vinegar to a higher carb meal, it improves their insulin sensitivity (9).
Tip: why not make a tasty vinegar-based dressing and add it to your salad to have before your main meal, or you could try a capful of apple cider vinegar mixed with a little water taken as a shot before a meal.
This significantly improves insulin levels and insulin sensitivity. This is independent of weight loss and also improves the health of the cells that secrete insulin – bonus points for preventing type 2 diabetes or reversing it (10).
Tip: simply watch the clock! Assess the time you have breakfast and the last meal of the day – if it’s over 12 hours, then practice eating within a 12 hour window. So, if you have breakfast at 8, then finish eating your dinner by 8. If you’re already used to doing this, perhaps experiment with reducing it to an 8-10 hour feeding window.
Check magnesium levels
Magnesium is necessary for so many vital and different physiological functions in the body, so you can’t afford to be deficient! Individuals with type 2 diabetes are frequently low in magnesium and when provided with magnesium supplementation, their insulin resistance significantly improves (11).
Tip: incorporate tasty sources of magnesium into your diet, such as dark leafy greens, (spinach), nuts, seeds, avocado, dark chocolate, tofu and fatty fish like halibut. Oral supplementation, Epsom salt baths and magnesium oils are all ways that you can increase your magnesium levels. If assessing magnesium in the body, then be sure to use red blood cell magnesium as this is a more accurate assessment of magnesium status rather than the more standard serum magnesium marker.
The research on the benefits just keeps on increasing! Some benefits include reduced perceived stress, reduced anxiety, reduced depressive symptoms, better quality of life, decreased sleep disturbance, improved cognition (12). Long term meditation practise is associated with improved brain health, offsetting typical age-related decline. And, it importantly improves insulin resistance and glucose intolerance – as well as reducing blood pressure, oxidative stress and inflammation (12).
Tip: it’s got so many benefits you can’t not give it a go! And it’s free! Start off small and commit to just 5-10 mins a day for the next 30 days. There are loads of great apps that can guide you through a 10 min switch off, like Headspace, Waking Up, or Calm. You can even try short 2-3min meditations before a meal to help you tune into what you are eating and help with digestion and appetite control. Why not check out a short meal time meditation by our Mindfulness Therapist David Behrens.
Incorporate ginger and garlic: quite a few studies suggest that ginger improves insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes individuals (13). And there is some experimental evidence to suggest that garlic reduces insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes in animal models (14).
Tip: Why not try some recipes that incorporate the use of garlic and ginger. Garlic is extremely versatile and can be added to so many foods and ginger is something you can include in mains, desserts and drinks. Here are a few ideas for you.
Curcumin, the major part of turmeric, has multiple effects, some of which include: reducing blood glucose levels, stimulating insulin secretion and improving the function of the cells that secrete insulin (15).
Tip: just start adding it! Delicious in a curry, scrambled eggs, baked tofu or a carrot, tropical fruit and turmeric protein smoothie! You can even fully commit and try our turmeric milk drink which also contains ginger and cinnamon as well for added glucose and insulin sensitising benefits.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy the following related articles:
- An introduction to insulin, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes
- Improve insulin sensitivity with these exercise tips
- Insulin resistance and weight gain
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- Gower et al. (2015). A lower-carb, high fat diet reduces abdominal and intermuscular fat and increases insulin sensitivity in adults at risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Bhanpuri et al. (2018). Cardiovascular disease risk factor responses to a type 2 diabetes care model including nutritional ketosis induced by sustained carbohydrate restriction at 1 year: an open label, non-randomised controlled study.
- Volek et al (2004). Comparison of energy-restricted very low-carb and low-fat diets on weight loss and body composition in overweight men and women
- Namazi et al (2019). The impact if cinnamon on anthropometric indices and glycaemic status in patients with type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials.
- Deyno et al. (2019). Efficacy and safety of cinnamon in type 2 diabetes mellitus and pre-diabetes patients: a meta-analysis and meta-regression.
- Jitmoir et al (2009). Cassia cinnamon for the attenuation of glucose intolerance and insulin resistance resulting from sleep loss.
- Buxton et al. (2010). Sleep restriction for 1 week reduces insulin sensitivity in healthy men.
- Goodpaster et al (1999). Effects of weight loss on regional fat distribution and insulin sensitivity in obesity
- Johnston et al. (2004). Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high carb meal in subjects with insulin resistance to type 2 diabetes.
- Sutton et al. (2018). Early time-restricted feeding improves insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and oxidative stress without even weight loss in men with prediabetes.
- Rodrigues-Moran (2003). Oral magnesium supplementation improves insulin sensitivity and metabolic control in type 2 diabetic subjects: a randomised double-blind controlled trial.
- Innes (2014). Meditation as a therapeutic intervention for adults at risk for Alzheimer’s disease – potential benefits and underlying mechanisms.
- Mahluji (2013). Effects of ginger on plasma glucose levels, HbA1c and insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetic patients.
- Padiya et al. (2011). Garlic improves insulin sensitivity and associated metabolic syndromes in fructose fed rats.
- Ghorbani et al. (2014). Anti-hyperglycaemic and insulin sensitising effects of turmeric and its principle constituent curcumin.