Insulin…an Undeserved Bad Reputation

I feel sorry for insulin.  Insulin has been bullied and beaten up.  It has been cast as an evil hormone that should be shunned.  However, insulin doesn't deserve the treatment it has received. 

Insulin: A Primer 

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the levels of sugar in your blood.  When you eat a meal, the carbohydrate in the meal is broken down into glucose (a sugar used as energy by your cells).  The glucose enters your blood.  Your pancreas senses the rising glucose and releases insulin.  Insulin allows the glucose to enter your liver, muscle, and fat cells.  Once your blood glucose starts to come back down, insulin levels come back down too.  This cycle happens throughout the day.  You eat a meal, glucose goes up, insulin goes up, glucose goes down, and insulin goes down.  Insulin levels are typically lowest in the early morning since it's usually been at least 8 hours after your last meal. 

Insulin doesn't just regulate blood sugar.  It has other effects as well.  For example, it stimulates your muscles to build new protein (a process called protein synthesis).  It also inhibits lipolysis (the breakdown of fat) and stimulates lipogenesis (the creation of fat)

It is the latter effect by which insulin has gotten its bad reputation.  Because carbohydrate stimulates your body to release insulin, it has caused some people to argue that a diet high in carbohydrate will cause you to gain fat.  Their reasoning, in a nutshell, goes like this: 

High Carbohydrate Diet -> High Insulin -> Increased Lipogenesis/Decreased Lipolysis -> Increased Body Fat -> Obesity 

Using this same logic, they argue that a low carbohydrate diet is best for fat loss, because insulin levels are kept low.  Their logic chain goes something like this: 

Low Carbohydrate Diet -> Low Insulin -> Decreased Lipogenesis/Increased Lipolysis -> Decreased Body Fat 

However, this logic is based on many myths.  Let's look at many of the myths surrounding insulin. 

MYTH:A High Carbohydrate Diet Leads to Chronically High Insulin Levels 

FACT:Insulin Is Only Elevated During the Time After a Meal In Healthy Individuals 

One misconception regarding a high carbohydrate intake is that it will lead to chronically high insulin levels, meaning you will gain fat because lipogenesis will constantly exceed lipolysis (remember that fat gain can only occur if the rate of lipogenesis exceeds the rate of lipolysis).  However, in healthy people, insulin only goes up in response to meals.  This means that lipogenesis will only exceed lipolysis during the hours after a meal (known as the postprandial period).  During times when you are fasting (such as extended times between meals, or when you are asleep), lipolysis will exceed lipogenesis (meaning you are burning fat).  Over a 24-hour period, it will all balance out (assuming your are not consuming more calories than you are expending), meaning you do not gain weight.  Here's a graph showing how this works: 

After meals, fat is deposited with the help of insulin. However, between meals and during sleep, fat is lost. Fat balance will be zero over a 24-hour period if energy intake matches energy expenditure.

This is just a rough chart that I made, but the green area represents the lipogenesis occuring in response to a meal.  The blue area represents lipolysis occuring in response to fasting between meals and during sleep.  Over a 24-hour period, these will be balanced assuming you are not consuming more calories than you expend.  This is true even if carbohydrate intake is high.  In fact, there are populations that consume high carbohydrate diets and do not have high obesity rates, such as the traditional diet of the Okinawans.  Also, if energy intake is lower than energy expenditure, a high carbohydrate diet will result in weight loss just as any other diet

MYTH:  Carbohydrate Drives Insulin, Which Drives Fat Storage 

FACT:  Your Body Can Synthesize and Store Fat Even When Insulin Is Low 

One of the biggest misconceptions regarding insulin is that it's needed for fat storage.  It isn't.  Your body has ways to store and retain fat even when insulin is low.  For example, there is an enzyme in your fat cells called hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL).  HSL helps break down fat.  Insulin suppresses the activity of HSL, and thus suppresses the breakdown of fat.  This has caused people to point fingers at carbohydrate for causing fat gain.

However, fat will also suppress HSL even when insulin levels are low.  This means you will be unable to lose fat even when carbohydrate intake is low, if you are overeating on calories.  If you ate no carbohydrate but 5,000 calories of fat, you would still be unable to lose fat even though insulin would not be elevated.  This would be because the high fat intake would suppress HSL.  This also means that, if you're on a low carbohydrate diet, you still need to eat less calories than you expend to lose weight.

Now, some people might say, "Just try and consume 5000 calories of olive oil and see how far you get."  Well, 5000 calories of olive oil isn't very palatable so of course I won't get very far.  I wouldn't get very far consuming 5,000 calories of pure table sugar either.

MYTH:  Insulin Makes You Hungry

FACT:  Insulin Suppresses Appetite

It is a well known fact that insulin acutely suppresses appetite.  This has been demonstrated in dozens and dozens of experiments.  This will be important when we talk about the next misconception...

MYTH:  Carbohydrate Is Singularly Responsible for Driving Insulin

FACT:  Protein Is a Potent Stimulator of Insulin Too

This is probably the biggest misconception that is out there.  Carbohydrates get a bad rap because of their effect on insulin, but protein stimulates insulin secretion as well.  In fact, it can be just as potent of a stimulus for insulin as carbohydrate.  One recent study compared the effects of two different meals on insulin.  One meal contained 21 grams of protein and 125 grams of carbohydrate.  The other meal contained 75 grams of protein and 75 grams of carbohydrate.  Both meals contained 675 calories.  Here is a chart of the insulin response:

Comparison of insulin response between low protein, high carb meal and high protein, low carb meal

Now here's a chart of the blood sugar response:

Comparison of blood sugar response to low protein, high carb meal and high protein, low carb meal

Comparison of blood sugar response to low protein, high carb meal and high protein, low carb meal

You can see that, despite the fact that the blood sugar response was much higher in the meal with more carbohydrate, the insulin response wasn't higher.  In fact, the insulin response was somewhat higher after the high protein meal, although this wasn't statistically significant.

Some people might argue that the "low-carb" condition wasn't really low carb because it had 75 grams of carbohydrate.  But that's not the point.  The point is that the high-carb condition had nearly TWICE as much carbohydrate, along with a HIGHER glucose response, yet insulin secretion was slightly LOWER.  The protein was just as powerful at stimulating insulin as the carbohydrate.

I can also hear arguments coming like, "Yeah, but the insulin response is longer and more drawn out with protein."  That wasn't true in this study either.

Insulin response to high protein and high carb meals

You can see in the chart that there was a trend for insulin to peak faster with the high protein condition, with a mean response of 45 uU/mL at 20 minutes after the meal, versus around 30 uU/mL in the high carb condition. 

This tendency for a higher insulin response was associated with a tendency towards more appetite suppression.  The subjects had a tendency towards less hunger and more fullness after the high protein meal:

Comparison of low protein, high carb and high protein, low carb meals and their effects on hunger and fullness

Here's the results of another study that compared the effects of 4 different types of protein on the insulin response to a meal.   This study was interesting because they made milkshakes out of the different proteins (tuna shakes????  YUCK!!!!!  Of course some people may remember the tuna shake recipes from the days).  The shakes contained only 11 grams of carbohydrate, and 51 grams of protein.  Here's the insulin response to the different shakes:

Insulin Response to 4 Different Proteins

You can see that all of these proteins produced an insulin response, despite the fact that the carbohydrate in the shake was low.  There was also different insulin responses between the proteins, with whey producing the highest insulin response.

Now, some might argue that the response is due to gluconeogenesis (a process by which your liver converts protein to glucose).  The thought is that the protein will be converted to glucose, which will then raise insulin levels.  As I mentioned earlier, people will claim that this will result in a much slower, more drawn-out insulin response, since it takes time for your liver to turn protein into glucose.  However, that's not the case, because the insulin response was rapid, peaking within 30 minutes and coming back down quickly at 60 minutes:

Insulin response to different types of protein

This rapid insulin response was not due to changes in blood glucose.  In fact, whey protein, which caused the greatest insulin response, caused a drop in blood glucose:

Glucose response to different types of protein

The insulin response was associated with appetite suppression.  In fact, the whey protein, which had the highest insulin response, caused the greatest suppression of appetite.  Here's a chart showing the calorie intake of the subjects when they ate lunch 4 hours after drinking the shake:

Calorie intake at a lunch consumed 4 hours after consuming various protein

The subjects ate nearly 150 calories less at lunch when they had whey protein, which also caused the greatest insulin response.  In fact, there was an extremely strong inverse correlation between insulin and food intake (a correlation of -0.93).

Here's data from another study that looked at the insulin response to a meal that contained 485 calories, 102 grams of protein, 18 grams of carbohydrate, and almost no fat:

Insulin response to a high protein, low carb meal in lean and obese people

You can see that the insulin response was exaggerated in the obese subjects, probably due to insulin resistance.  Here's a chart of the blood glucose response.  You can see there was no relationship between the glucose response and insulin, which was similar to the study discussed earlier.

Blood glucose response in response to a high protein, low carb meal in lean and obese

The fact is that protein is a potent stimulator of insulin secretion, and this insulin secretion is not related to changes in blood sugar or gluconeogenesis from the protein.  In fact, one study found beef to stimulate just as much insulin secretion as brown rice.  The blood sugar response of 38 different foods could only explain 23% of the variability in insulin secretion in this study.  Thus, there's a lot more that's behind insulin secretion than just carbohydrate.

So how can protein cause rapid rises in insulin, as shown in the whey protein study earlier?  Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) can directly stimulate your pancreas to produce insulin, without having to be converted to glucose first.  For example, the amino acid leucine directly stimulates pancreas cells to produce insulin, and there's a direct dose-response relationship (i.e., the more leucine, the more insulin is produced).

Some might say, "Well, sure, protein causes insulin secretion, but this won't suppress fat-burning because it also causes glucagon secretion, which counteracts insulin's effects."  I mentioned earlier how insulin will suppress lipolysis.  Well, some people think that glucagon increases lipolysis to cancel this out. 

The thought that glucagon increases lipolysis is based on 3 things:  the fact that human fat tissue has glucagon receptors, the fact that glucagon increases lipolysis in animals, and the fact that glucagon has been shown to increase lipolysis in human fat cells in vitro (in a cell culture).  However, what happens in vitro isn't necessarily what happens in vivo (in your body).  We have a case here where newer data has overturned old thinking.  Research using modern techniques has shown that glucagon does not increase lipolysis in humans.  Other research using the same techniques has shown similar results.  I will also note that this research failed to find any lipolytic effect in vitro.

It should be remembered why glucagon is released in response to protein in the first place.  Since protein stimulates insulin secretion, it would cause a rapid drop in blood glucose if no carbohydrate is consumed with the protein.   Glucagon prevents this rapid drop in blood sugar by stimulating the liver to produce glucose.

Insulin:  Not Such a Villain After All

The fact is that insulin is not this terrible, fat-producing hormone that must be kept as low as possible.  It is an important hormone for appetite and blood sugar regulation.  In fact, if you truly wanted to keep insulin as low as possible, then you wouldn't eat a high protein would eat a low protein, low carbohydrate, high fat diet.  However, I don't see anybody recommending that.

I'm sure some are having some cognitive dissonance reading this article right now.  I know because I experienced the same disbelief years ago when I first discovered this paper and how protein caused large insulin responses.  At the time, I had the same belief that others have...that insulin had to be kept under control and as low as possible, and that spikes in insulin were a bad thing.  I had difficulty reconciling that study and my beliefs regarding insulin.  However, as time went on, and as I read more research, I learned that my beliefs regarding insulin were simply wrong.

Now, you may be wondering why refined carbohydrates can be a problem.  Many people think it's due to the rapid spikes in insulin.  However, it's obviously not the insulin, because protein can cause rapid spikes in insulin as well.  One problem with refined carbohydrate is a problem of energy density.  With refined carbohydrate, it is easier to pack a lot of calories into a small package.  Not only that, but foods with high energy density are often not as satiating as foods with low energy density.  In fact, when it comes to high-carbohydrate foods, energy density is a strong predictor of a food's ability to create satiety (i.e., low-energy density foods create more satiety).  There are other issues with refined carbohydrate as well that are beyond the scope of this article.

The bottom line is that insulin doesn't deserve the bad reputation it's been given.  It's one of the main reasons why protein helps reduce hunger.  You will get insulin spikes even on a low-carb, high-protein diet.  Rather than worrying about insulin, you should worry about whatever diet works the best for you in regards to satiety and sustainability.  As mentioned in last week's issue of Weightology Weekly, individual responses to particular diets are highly variable and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another.  I will be writing a post in the future on the need for individualized approaches to nutrition.

Click here to read part 2 of this series on insulin.

  399 Responses to “Insulin…an Undeserved Bad Reputation”

  1. All dairy gives me uncontrollable heartburn. I also type 2 diabetes so met form doesn’t work for me. Does whey cause acid production? The most common diabetic med. is Metforman which produces lactose. Is it the lactose that produces the acid?


  2. You can’t deny science…… Insulin prevents fat loss. Eating low glycemic index foods and keeping insulin low is key to “unlocking” the locks on the fat stores and allowing them to break down.

    On a low calorie diet high protein all that is irrelevant, calories in calories out, assuming you are not over doing it with protein, you should lose fat. BUT for insulin insensitive people, that’s another issue.

    It is particularly more important for insulin insensitive obese people to combine exercise to low GI dieting to lose fat more so than a lean and fit person.

    Insulin can be your best friend AND your worst enemy.

    For MOST people it is your worst enemy, because of the unhealthy lifestyles and obesity.

    Also you forgot to mention the merits of insulin, it’s anabolic and muscle sparing.

    SO for lean fit people, insulin is your best friend.

    For OBESE people with a high BF%, it’s the opposite, you want that insulin low,
    and you want at the same time to increase sensitivity by 1) PROPER exercise 2) Proper nutrition

    Which is why people stall rapidly and don’t lose much weight on low fat normal/high carb diets.
    Whereas the most weight people lose from fat comes from a well controlled low fat high fat + right amount of protein (making sure the fat represents majority of your calories, BUT always doing so on a deficit!) You can’t do these diets and have insulin spikes and all over the place.

    If you are not active ,working out ,exercising regularly + eating on a caloric surplus, then insulin is your worst enemy. It’s just as bad as going on a very low calorie diet low carb diet for too long.
    Just the same as it is bad to be very active, workout, cut calories too much and keep your insulin low……..

    Also genetics plays a role. Some people handle much higher carbs intake, whilst some people grow fat cells by merely starring at food……

    I know people who consistently eat 200-400g carbs daily and are slim, yet they don’t go to the gym or exercise regularly.

    YET I know some people who eat < 100g carb daily, exercise + gym and overweight and struggle to lose weight, even if they don't restrict their calories too much.

    Which is why the best times for those spikes is post workout. Keep the high GI foods
    and insulin spiking foods for post workout when it is your best friend, only.
    and stay away from the POISONS that are vitamin or any supplement out there
    including whey, powders, etc. Not only do they screw up your metabolism and hormone profile they increase your risk of cancer, arthritis and other diseases as you grow older.


    • You speak as if insulin is the only thing that causes weight gain or prevents fat loss and that’s simply not the case. People on high fat diets can still gain weight or fail to lose weight if they’re eating too many calories because even though dietary fat doesn’t require an insulin response, it will still be stored as body fat if eaten in too large a quantity. I don’t put your example down to insulin but rather the different metabolic rates and health that are determined by a variety of factors.

      I am only one example but when I was eating a high fat, low carb, moderate protein diet without counting calories I gained weight. I have PCOS so I clearly have metabolic problems but as far as weight loss goes carbs and insulin are not the determining factors in whether or not I lose weight. I feel physically more well eating high fat, low carb moderate protein but that doesn’t guarantee fat loss. Also, eating low carb for long periods of time makes you less able to respond to carbohydrates if you do eat them again, which is a physiological response and takes a while for your body to adapt to eating carbs again and it’s a very uncomfortable experience. Another problem with eating low carb for long periods of time is its effect on leptin and the thyroid – both of which are going to prevent weight loss if they aren’t working effectively. Another factor is that even if insulin was the only factor in fat loss, unless you’re eating all through the night and not sleeping then you’re still going to have a period of around 12 hours where insulin isn’t raised and your body can burn off its fat stores. And considering I have an inefficient metabolism and problems with insulin and hypoglycemia eating high GI foods, I was still able to lose some weight whilst eating only potatoes on under 1,000 calories a day. It wasn’t a nice experience as far as my hunger and blood sugar went, but it showed me that regular insulin secretion doesn’t prevent weight loss per se, but having constant high then low blood sugar is a problem for reasons related to what you are likely to eat and when.

      So there are many factors at work as far as fat loss goes and to say it’s down to ONE hormone is a very limiting view. What are you going to do if someone does all they can to lower insulin production and still isn’t losing weight? Are you going to tell them to just keep doing it because there’s no other way to lose weight? The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.


    • You can’t deny science

      You are denying science right now. Did you even read the article? It pretty much refutes everything you are claiming here.

      Insulin prevents fat loss.

      False. If that were true, then people who consume large amounts of whey protein would never lose fat.

      Eating low glycemic index foods and keeping insulin low is key to “unlocking” the locks on the fat stores and allowing them to break down.

      There’s no scientific evidence that low glycemic foods enhance fat loss compared to higher glycemic foods. And fructose is low glycemic. So would that mean that you can just ingest large amounts of fructose and have no problem with fat loss?

      If keeping insulin low was so important, why is it that people who consume large amounts of whey protein have no problem staying lean?

      Another flaw in your statement is that it is obvious that you are confusing lipolysis (the breakdown of triglycerides into fatty acids components) with fat oxidation (the burning of fats for energy). Trying to increase lipolysis by reducing insulin does nothing for actual fat loss because those fatty acids still need to be oxidized (i.e., meaning you need to be in a calorie deficit). Otherwise, those fatty acids are simply repackaged back into triglycerides. This is why someone can keep insulin low and still be unable to lose fat.

      For MOST people it is your worst enemy, because of the unhealthy lifestyles and obesity.

      There is no evidence this is true. Like many people, you confuse the problems of insulin RESISTANCE (and the high insulin levels as a byproduct), with diet-induced short-term swings in insulin production. They are not the same thing.

      Which is why people stall rapidly and don’t lose much weight on low fat normal/high carb diets.

      Actually, the reason people stall rapidly on such diets has nothing to do with insulin, but rather the sustainability/adherence issues in combination with the lack of satiety that comes along without keeping protein and fiber intake high.

      You can’t do these diets and have insulin spikes and all over the place.

      Yes you can. Otherwise, people who consume large amounts of whey protein would never be able to effectively lose fat.

      YET I know some people who eat < 100g carb daily, exercise + gym and overweight and struggle to lose weight, even if they don't restrict their calories too much.

      You have no idea how much these people are eating. Research shows that even professional dietitians can’t accurately track their own food intake. So what makes you think that you are any better at assessing the calorie intakes of other people who you are not with 24/7?

      ncluding whey, powders, etc. Not only do they screw up your metabolism and hormone profile they increase your risk of cancer, arthritis and other diseases as you grow older.

      This is complete nonsense. There is no evidence that whey or other powders “screw up your metabolism and hormone profile”, or that they “increase your risk of cancer…”.


      • FYI.. It is physiologically impossible to burn fat in the presence of insulin.


        • Actually you can when insulin remains high during fasting like over night you release a lot of cortisol adrenalin and glucagon when the brain is getting inadequate glucose and the organs are forced by fat cells to cont to use only fat to spare glucose for the brains exclusive use, high insulin due to resistance I figure the sugar is falling below set point due to some getting in brain while fat cells suck up a lot and insulin still being to high hence adrenalin response which I must say gives me the shakes anxiety and hunger and no sleeping until I eat


        • If that were true, there would be no way for a well-controlled type 1 diabetic to ever lose weight.


      • You don’t back up your science fat ass. Everyone alive even that little troll Dr oz admits low carb is Jesus reincarnated. Grow up and learn some common sense fat fuck while me and my family or friends get fucking shredded eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers without bread and lost 50 lbs in 3 months you sit there losing 10 maturating to the worst hormone to modern humans (insulin)


        • You don’t back up your science fat ass.

          “Fat ass?” LOL. Care to back up your claim that I’m a “fat ass”?

          Everyone alive even that little troll Dr oz admits low carb is Jesus reincarnated.

          Everyone alive? Since when did people like Alan Aragon, Brad Schoenfeld, and other experts in the industry “admit” that “low carb is Jesus reincarnated?” LOLOLOLOL.

          I wouldn’t be using Dr Oz as an example, since he is one of the biggest quacks the medical establishment has ever seen.

          me and my family or friends get fucking shredded eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers

          So you and all of your family and friends are “shredded”? LOLOLOLOLOL. Let’s see the family pic then.

          Grow up and learn some common sense

          You mean like the common sense that without the “worst hormone to modern humans”, you would die?

          Or the common sense that you are a troll?


          • Bahahahh….This article is so rediculous with the “Myth Busters” of the 80’s or anyone whose had their head in the sand about nutrional science. You’re making wildly presumptuous statements and backing them up nonetheless, with articles that don’t even agree necessarily with what you’re saying. One of them actually explained about how much PROTEIN versus carbs curbs your hunger later, therefore protein creates much more satiety. AND- of course Insulin spikes happen with protein too, duh- Insulin spikes with ALL food. And if your using like 10 grams of carbs against 52 grams of protein as example for insulin spike- well hell yeah it will- theres not even an animal that should be injested at that level. This article is full of flaws. And its no wonder, the red flag was the testimonials, the obvious selling point and the fact that your site closed.


  3. Science be dammed Everyone I know on low carb diets lost weight and everyone I know on higher carb diets gained weight. And all my vital blood statistics vastly improve on low carb. Results are what counts. Look at our people in America eating carbs and sugars in everything. It’s terrible


    • Science be dammed

      In other words, you completely reject the best way to gain knowledge in a controlled and systematic fashion.

      Everyone I know on low carb diets lost weight and everyone I know on higher carb diets gained weight.

      “Everyone you know” is not a representative sample. I know plenty of people who lost weight on higher carb diets and gained weight on low carb diets. So why should your anecdote have any more weight than mine? This is why anecdotes are not reliable evidence.

      And all my vital blood statistics vastly improve on low carb.

      I never said that low carb diets don’t work. But the fact that they work has nothing to do with insulin (which is what the blog post was about).

      Results are what counts

      And when you look at the long-term trials comparing low-carb to high-carb, there is either no difference or little meaningful difference. The effectiveness of low carb anyway has little to do with carbohydrate and mostly to do with the satiety effect of additional protein.


    • Of course they lose weight. That’s a ton of glycogen they’re no longer receiving in their muscles and glycogen is about 3/4 water that gets stored in the cells and liver (and other locations). I can eat carbs for 2 days after being carb free and gain 10 pounds.. but did I gain 10 pounds of fat? Not possible. When you cut carbs, you will always lose weight.. but that isn’t fat unless you eat less than you consume or exercise it off. This is the same process, rather you eat carbs or not. Too many carbophobes and paleotards in this world with no grasp on how the body works in relation to macronutrients.


      • That’s not true. Glycogen/water does decrease in the first stage (usually a few days), but is not completely depleted. Muscle glycogen only goes down by a third even on the most hard-core keto WOE. A keto-adapted person preserves muscle glycogen much better under heavy load (proven by Dr. Phinney) and so that’s the optimal amount, actually. Liver glcogen (maybe about 1000g including water) is largely depleted per what you mentioned.

        That’s relevant for about a week in most cases. All weight loss after that is “real” and is almost exclusively FAT loss, unlike calorie deprivation which will tend more to cause lean muscle loss in a less favorable mix of the two.


  4. Excellent article, very well researched and educational, Thanks a lot.


  5. Although your information may very well be correct, I think you should consider using more than one paper as the primary source for all your conclusions. Who did the study and for what purpose? When you find a paper that contradicts almost all other findings on the same subject I think it’s important to look closely at it. As a trainer I have had the best collective results using a 33%/33%/33% ratio of Fat/Protein/Carbs which I call an isocaloric diet. I don’t subscribe to any “diet” at all personally. My goal is always to maintain athletic performance while reducing bodyfat. Client’s fight me tooth and nail to either starve themselves, or cheat constantly but expect results. It’s just the nature of the business.


  6. Sorry but I’ve got to say that low carb is the way for me. I’ve lost over 100 pounds (37 male 6-0 started at 295+ now at 180.6), so sorry not just water weight and for me, I am not starving all the time, even though I went 6+ months with no more than 50 g of carbs and 2000 calories (had to track calories to eat 2000, when I didn’t was hitting less), a day with 5 days a week workouts (no energy issues either so stop that excuse, if you have fat it is energy why you stored it). I’ve went up to about 50-100 g of carbs and 2400 calories per day last couple months and I’m still losing. Also reason why insulin goes up with protein, especially whey is because of fat content, higher the fat the less of a response, egg whites spike insulin too because most fat of egg is in yolk (sources all over on web, I read early on and learned about protein and insulin so this was not new). But in normal eating (eating 5 eggs everyday would not be normal) this wouldn’t be problem. And 75 g is far from low carb (know you pointed to this in article on how it was lower, but it remains true study In my view is flawed because of this), most days (even still) I only eat 12 g of carbs per meal. So to truly see how much protein and or carb affect insulin, you can’t have both in meal. All protein and fat then carb only and fat and see then. Of course if you know food, you’ll have little protein in carb meal and you can throw in few carbs (no more that protein g in carb meal) with protein. However, people are going to believe whatever they want. Can you lose fat either way? Sure, but for some, me especially, the more carbs I ate the more I wanted. Eat high carb and get those midnight munchies all the time, especially on caloric deficit (I’ve been there too many times to count). Or you can drop the carbs and feel full 99.99999% of the time unless you are really starving yourself.

    Then another thing to consider. How long does it take to digest food? Calorie is not a calorie. If it takes more energy to burn 100 calories of protein than 100 calories of carb, isn’t net calorie intake less with protein? It does take energy to digest food right? And wouldn’t this be a big reason protein helps with feeling full longer? Not just an insulin spike? Again, for me carbs didn’t feel me up and keep me satisfied for long, gluten did bloat me though so later I would feel “full” I guess. Found out gluten issues after going low carb for about two months then trying to reintroduce bread. Felt bloated and remembered how I always felt that way before.


    • Tony,
      I wanted to write to agree with you and congratulate you on your success.
      I’ve lost 145 pounds in 14 months on a high fat/ low carb diet. I lost the first 100 lbs in 7 months and the other 45 lbs in another 7 months. My appetite is never out of control. I used to live on Aleve because of constant joint pain, but now I’m pain free. My HDL is up, my triglycerides are down and my blood pressure is normal again. I don’t have acid reflux or heartburn anymore. I’m 50 years old and I take NO MEDICATION whatsoever. And best of all, I can run and play with my grandkids.

      Carbohydrates may not be a problem for some people, but reducing carbs and increasing fat have given me back my life.


  7. Hey James,
    Would it be a good idea to add Leucine to a post workout whey protein shake in order to further spike insulin levels?


  8. Great article! A question I have been wondering about is: does fat intake affect the insulin response? Does it lower the insulin response or does it delay the insulin response?



  9. Great article. I definitely do not believe insulin spikes are the problem in most individuals today. I believe it has more to do with insulin resistance. Another common hormone scapegoat for fat gain is cortisol. Cortisol can create insulin resistance. From what I have studied, excessive insulin (body that is insulin resistant) mixed with excessive cortisol can promote more fat storage. Obviously your article was well researched and very well done for addressing a very specific topic. I would be curious to read a follow up article on cortisol and it’s relationship with insulin. There are obviously a ton of hormones that all interact within the body. Again, purpose for your article – clear and understood. Just curious on if you may be willing to produce one helping people understand when insulin can be “bad” (it’s always just doing it’s job). Or even email me directly. I have elevated levels of cortisol and am seeking more information about this relationship.


  10. Oh boy, expanding my knowledge vastly today. So basically insulin inhibits lipolysis only immediately after the meal and then after insulin levels go down, lipolysis is turned back on. Makes sense.

    But I was thinking, if you eat every other hour and somehow keep insulin high all the time while still maintaining a calorie deficit (if that’s even possible), would lipolysis be inhibited and therefore fat loss stopped? Can you burn fat if your metabolism is constantly in the anabolic phase?

    Also, if insulin stops lipolysis then it must also stop muscle catabolism right? Why wouldn’t you want high insulin while on a diet?

    Thanks James!


  11. Nice read.This make sense, I learn new stuff again.thanks for expanding my knowledge about this Insulin.REALLY Good Post.


  12. Where is the highly powerful appetite suppressant effect of low-carb diets coming from then? The #1 feature of that lifestyle, to me… Thanks!


  13. “you would eat a low protein, low carbohydrate, high fat diet. However, I don’t see anybody recommending that”

    Actually it is called “a ketogenic diet” and many people used it for fat loss, including myself.


    • yep..and its supposed to be very pro inflammatory, pro autoimmune and age accelerator. And, it IS becomming highly promoted from doctors in terms of helping with withdrawal from medications, to decrease bp, HR, overall fitness etc…


  14. A disappointing article. Insulin is made to be a strawman.

    You failed to mention all the things insulin does nor did you mention what also causes elevations in insulin You didn’t mention grehlin or leptin. These hormones are all just players; fats, proteins and carbs are the antagonists. You didn’t clearly state that carbohydrate storage is easy versus the the storage of protein and then fats; and insulin’s job is to store everything, and it will in the presence of carbohydrates once the liver and the muscle tissue cells have reached capacity You should stress how the players react to the antagonists. Your graphs didn’t compare fat and protein only intake, and insulin reaction.

    This is science not mythology, your reference to popular myths suborns the credibility.

    Also, the argument that the balance of energy (intake) is directly related to fat storage. A passe held belief.

    You mentioned glycemic index but not glycemic load.



  15. This article changed my life lol I’m still sitting here thinking about how much more fun life can be than just eating lentils and oatmeal everyday, dear god thank you man.


  16. There are a lot of myths about insulin. This article was interesting and informative to know the truths behind it.


  17. In their response to the report, the Department of Homeland Security said “At this time there is no credible corroborated data that indicates a risk to critical infrastructure entities or a threat to public safety. However in this case–it turned out to be a game winner. Ravines – These are narrow chasms that cut 30 to 50 blocks deep into the earth.


  18. The difference between protein versus glucose/fructose (sometimes known as “carbs”, but this is more precise, as it is what they are in the bloodstream) is that the former (protein) – which incidentally is NOT protein at the relevant time (in the bloodstream) but AMINO ACIDS – triggers BOTH insulin and glucagon release. The latter – glucose/fructose – triggers only insulin (fructose does so after being converted to glucose). Once you leave that out, nothing else you have said means a whole lot. This is critical to understanding how they are different.

    Why do amino acids trigger insulin? Insulin is needed for those AAs to be utilized to build tissue just as it is needed to fully get glucose into cells. Why do they trigger glucagon? Glucagon encourages gluconeogenesis (as do the amino acids themselves) and glucogenolysis or the RELEASE of glucose from the liver, previously stored as glycogen. This why eating protein is generally blood sugar neutral. The added glucose caused by the glucagon which was released prevents the insulin from lowering blood sugar sparing it for its immediate task – facilitating the building of tissue with the amino acids.

    Where does gluconeogenesis fit in? Eating protein triggers GNG. Circulating amino acids tell the alpha cells in the pancreas to release glucagon. Glucagon instructs the liver to begin creating glucose from non-carbohydrate sources (i.e., GNG). Amino acids, which started the whole chain are present in abundance and they are one of the major substrates for gluconeogenesis. So, whatever amount of amino acids from ingested protein wasn’t needed for cell building and repair will be converted to glucose in the liver and mostly stored as glycogen. Some amino acids (about half) are not glucogenic (can’t be converted to glucose). These will be destroyed by the kidneys resulting in uric acid and some other waste.

    Bottom line: Best idea for metabolic health is to eat no more carbohydrates OR protein than what you really need. Carbohydrates above what you really need for immediate energy production get converted to the worst kinds of fat in the liver and then either 1) fatty-up the liver, 2) circulate (high carb ALWAYS = high triglycerides 24 hour) or 3) go to storage (weight gain). Protein above what is REALLY needed for cell building just gets turned into glucose, so loops back through everything in the previous sentence.

    Fats don’t have this kind of dose-related problems and can be eaten at will without harm to complete a satisfying diet.


  19. After 19 years as a vegetarian (non-meat orthorexic) ending 7 years ago, I’d been paleo (low-carb orthorexic) for the past year or so, refusing to eat the rice at the schools I’ve been teaching English at. (I’m in Japan, BTW.) That ended just recently when I nearly ran out of money and found out that carbs aren’t so fattening after all. Even though I was eating carbs quite a lot over this past week, I still have to wear a belt with these jeans I’m wearing that would otherwise dangle loosely off my hips. (Had I tried putting on this same pair of jeans 7 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to get them zipped much less buttoned!) That was enough to convince me that carbs weren’t as bad as I thought. It really is all about calories in and out.

    I just had curry and rice for dinner tonight. I sure won’t miss orthorexia! ^_^


  20. James thanks for your informative article! Lots of anecdotal evidence being thrown around in the comments by zealots.


  21. Hi James, great article.

    I was wondering does this information go against the idea that a high fat, moderate protein, low carb (under 10 g) breakfast is more beneficial for fat oxidation throughout the start of the day? Scientists such as Jacob Wilson suggest this approach. However your statements that fat will also suppress HSL even when insulin levels are low would contradict this?

    I tend to go with the low carb breakfast (red meat, nuts) simply for its hormonal benefits and how it makes me feel but it would be nice to know if these other benefits had real practical implications or just statistically significant.


  22. This study is just another bunch of bullshit. Protein doesn’t rise any insulin, anyway Montignac and Atkins were just two stupids persons. Really bad disinformation this article.


  23. Yo what up G. Just be macking my Froot Loops and wonderin wazzz up?


  24. this article so useful for me. c’mon make a good article anymore, thank you


  25. I think your post is excellent. I found it from Carb Sane’s blog.

    Years ago I started an Atkins diet and lost NO weight. I got sick. I found a ‘naturopath’ who put me on a Peter Adamo’s diet and I got fatter and then I got sick again!! I found Paul Jaminet’s diet and started that and it worked for a while until I realised that the fat was too high and the protein was too high. The carbs were making me feel better but still woefully low and I was always hungry. (I developed a fear of carbs and I would eat a tsp fat if I got hungry – go figure!)

    So I decided to look for how all the people around the world ate before the internet and who had been known to be historically healthy, lean and active. I found Whole Health Source which led me to finding real academic papers that completely refuted the guru science we’re bombarded with nowadays.

    I found that all of these traditional long lived/healthy people had common denominators: high carb, very low animal protein, low but natural fat, legumes, fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. I recently started my own version of good nutrition and have re-instated legumes and starchy vegetables into my diet, and much much less cheese and milk. My fat for cooking is down to about 3 tsp per day and my protein intake to about 100 gms per day (not easy because I still have high protein mindset to clear)

    Anyway I sleep much better, my weight has not continued to increase and I don’t feel nervy or hungry like I used to. My mornings are slowly coming back to normal (I used to have massive brain fog and a sense of dread each morning and made it worse eating fried eggs and bacon)

    I’m glad you’ve written this series.



  26. It’s really a great and helpful piece of info. I’m satisfied that you just shared this useful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.


  27. James, I really appreciate these articles. I genuinely feel bad for you with all of the quackery going on in these threads even after you just loaded so much detail in to this and made it so easy to understand. It’s a shame, but you simply cannot fix stupid. These guys won’t let any amount of evidence prove them wrong. Keep up the good work!


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  34. How carbs speed things up took some time to figure out.
    Fibrous carbs examples are brocolli, asparagus, cabbage, spinach, etc.
    I prefer to do these on a pull-up bar, but you can use hanging arm straps as well.


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