Soda. Candy. Crackers. White bread. Fruit juice. These are the usual suspects you’ve been warned about when it comes to managing blood sugar. But when I was going through my functional medicine certification, I learned about a shocking category of food that can cause your pancreas to release insulin: saturated fat. 

I was so surprised to learn about this because I thought that dietary fat had no impact on A1C blood sugar levels. And if there’s no impact on blood sugar level, then there’s no need to worry about insulin resistance. 

Don’t know what insulin resistance is? Here’s a crash course: your pancreas releases insulin, which is a hormone. Insulin is released in order to control blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels, of course, can lead to type 2 diabetes. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include: 

  • Nerve pain
  • Vision problems or blindness 
  • Frequent thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Develop infections more easily/frequently
  • Appetite increase
  • Kidney problems
  • High blood pressure

The more sugar and carbs you eat, the more your pancreas has to release insulin. Over time, your pancreas struggles to make enough insulin and you become insulin resistant. When it comes to managing your blood sugar, the name of the game is to become more insulin sensitive. Having higher insulin sensitivity means your pancreas needs to produce less insulin in order to escort glucose (blood sugar) into the cells for energy and to keep your blood sugar levels steady. 

Why Saturated Fat Can Lead To Insulin Resistance

According to Cindy Cho at the University of Arizona’s College of Pharmacy, for nearly 100 years, scientists have known that fat intake delays the process of glucose entering the cells. What’s the harm in that? Especially if you’re eating a ketogenic diet (ultra low carb), which requires that up to 80% of your calories comes from fat. Well, that means that it will take sugar longer to enter into the cells. In the meantime, the sugar from food you eat will be swimming in your bloodstream. This in turn will raise your blood sugar level. 

But saturated fat, as opposed to unsaturated fat, seems to be the worst type of dietary fat for insulin resistance. So if you’re trying to manage your weight and blood sugar levels, keep your intake of saturated fat to a minimum. 

Some people have a rare genetic variant (PPARG) that causes their fat cells (adipocytes) to be less active. This means that they more easily store body fat and are potentially more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. If you’re interested in knowing if you have this genetic trait, this is one of the services I offer. My Functional Medicine Labs include the DNA Health/Diet plan. This cutting-edge approach to wellness analyzes 28 genes that reveal clues surrounding your body’s “programming.” After analyzing the results, I create an individualized nutrition and exercise plan that’s specific to your genetic traits so you achieve optimal wellness!

Best Fats For Insulin Sensitivity

It must be frustrating to hear that dietary fat can make you become more insulin resistant. You’ve been cutting out your sugars and simple carbs only to hear that now you also need to cut down on your fat intake. But not all dietary fat can lead to insulin resistance. In fact, heart-healthy monounsaturated fat from extra virgin olive oil, olives, nuts and seeds and avocados can encourage insulin sensitivity. So make sure you have a little bit of these foods at every main meal or snacks. Not only do they have healthy fats, they also satiate your appetite. 

Until next time, 

Jenna Witt, NP