Beef and Fish – The Surprising Insulin Spikers

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Eat me and I’ll give you an insulin spike.

What Foods Really Cause Insulin Spikes in the Bloodstream?

Many low-carb fad diets blame carbs for causing high insulin levels. They are short sited; they need to examine the evidence. For background, let me say that high levels of insulin are associated with cancer, weight gain, hyperlipidemia, non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). So, insulin level is a concern. The question of interest is, “What is the blood insulin response when various foods are consumed?”

Researchers Scored Foods for Insulin Responses

It is generally agreed that most vegetables produce negligible insulin response. On the other hand, cereals and sweets have been reported to have the greatest insulin response.

However, the “Insulin Index of Foods” study shows that, surprisingly, the breakfast cereals group has the lowest insulin score (57%), and the snacks and confectionery group has the highest insulin score (89%). This 1997 study by Holt et al was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

How the Researchers Did It

The researchers scientifically measured the insulin responses for two hours after subjects ate 38 different foods. Subjects were given 240 kcal portions of common foods. Scientists finger pricked subjects every 15 minutes during the two hours after eating. The area under the resulting insulin response curve was tabulated to compare the actual insulin responses of various foods. This area was then compared to white bread to create an insulin score.

The public assumes that a high carbohydrate diet turns those carbs into sugar, which elicits an insulin spike. The data show otherwise: that the insulin spike is vastly different for different types of carbohydrates. Also, the data reveal how even non-carb foods can produce a powerful insulin spike.

Beef and Fish Had Higher Insulin Spikes Than Pasta!

Beef, which has no carbs, had a surprising insulin score of 51%. That is higher than either white or brown pasta (40%)! Fish had 59%, and that is higher than the carbohydrate-rich grain bread (56%). The protein-rich group mean insulin score was 61%, and was higher than the breakfast cereal group mean (57%). These results are probably not what any readers would have guessed.

The point is, you can’t accurately generalize that by avoiding carbs you will reduce insulin response in the blood.

Of course, some results would not be a surprise: Potatoes’ insulin score is 121%, only surpassed by the Mars candy bar and the jelly beans. As stated above, the snacks and confectionery group mean was the highest group at 89%. But, when you compare that with the protein-rich group at 61%, that is only a small difference.

You can read the research report and examine the results for yourself here.

In summary, you can’t scientifically stereotype carbs as an insulin-producing group. You really need to look at individual foods.


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