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Glucose in the bloodstream causes insulin to spike. But what about fat?

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  • Glucose in the bloodstream causes insulin to spike. But what about fat?

    After reading this article and watching this video, I now have a better sense of how eating excessive carbs can lead to body fat. When glucose is in the bloodstream, our pancreas secretes insulin so that our cells can use glycogen as fuel. But our muscle and liver cells can only hold a relatively small amount of glycogen, so excess amounts are stored in the fat cells. The cells feed off of this glycogen before using fat as energy. With a high carb diet and limited exercise, the body will spend a lot of time burning glycogen and storing fat. Also, the body can become insulin resistant and lead to various other problems.

    But what happens when someone eats fat (or protein for that matter)? What is the underlying endocrinology? As Mark says in the article:
    Specialized beta cells in your pancreas sense the abundance of glucose in the bloodstream after a meal and secrete insulin, a peptide hormone whose job it is to allow glucose (and fats and amino acids) to gain access to the interior of muscle and liver cells.
    Does the body require less insulin to allow fat into the liver and muscle cells? Or is something else going on here?
    Last edited by econ; 08-11-2013, 04:07 AM.

  • #2
    From an earlier post:

    From Carnivore Health:

    "An enzyme called ASP (Acylation Stimulating Protein). This little jewel has the ability to directly store fat in the fat cells completely bypassing the glucose and insulin pathways.

    If you do the math, it looks like our bodies are in a constant state of flux, consuming, storing and using energy.
    Some of you may die, but that is a risk I'm willing to take.

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    • #4
      Haha, yeah, that's the article I have linked in my original post. That article helps me understand how the body reacts to carbs in the system / glucose in the blood (by causing insulin to spike and storing glycogen in the cells). What it doesn't explain is what happens when you ingest fat (or even protein) without many cabs.

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      • #5
        Originally posted by econ View Post
        Haha, yeah, that's the article I have linked in my original post.
        Sorry 'bout that! Your topic is very difficult to explain. I don't have a good grasp, and not many do, it seems, from google-ing around for a while. Apparently, when you eat protein, your body senses certain amino acids and releases insulin in an attempt to store the amino acids and nutrients in the food you just ate. If this, in turn, causes blood sugar to drop, the liver releases glucagon to drive it up. It's a tightly regulated system. When you eat just fat, there is nothing that causes a stimulation of the pancreas to release insulin.

        The thinking in your original post is a bit flawed, I believe, when you say:

        I now have a better sense of how eating excessive carbs can lead to body fat.
        Eating excessive ANYTHING can lead to body fat. Every time you eat anything, whatever is not needed immediately for energy is stored somehow. If your liver and muscles are low on glycogen, they get filled. What is left goes to fat. All this being done while regulating blood sugar in a narrow band. As stated by Peter at Hyperlipid Hyperlipid :

        Overload is the utterly normal response to eating any meal. ANY meal. As soon as the rate of calorie absorption exceeds the post prandial metabolic requirement, we need to store the excess calories. The development of individual cell insulin resistance is utterly normal under these conditions. Blood glucose, blood lipids and blood insulin rise. Fat is diverted to adipocytes. Glucose is diverted to glycogen stores.
        Eating a ketogenic diet does not guarantee no fat accumulation, it does however, guarantee insulin resistance out of necessity. A ketogenic diet usually leads to long-term energy imbalance resulting in weight stability, but if the user isn't careful and cheats quite a bit, the results can be disastrous in terms of weight gain and health markers like cholesterol and triglycerides. I'm pretty sure that this is the main reason low-carbing gets such a bad rap. Eat 'Atkins' for a couple months and lose a lot of weight, then start splurging on Pizza Hut and Krispy Kremes and the weight will come back in spades.

        If one wanted to successfully pull off a very low carb/ketogenic diet, they would have to do it forever, strictly. To break the cycle without crashing, you'd have to slowly reintroduce carbs and rebalance your energy equations. I'm sure it can be done, but the casual dieter usually lacks knowledge and desire to control their eating and enters a vicious yo-yo cycle.

        As to the exact physiology of protein causing an insulin spike, I think you could study that one for years and still not be able to fully explain it.

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        • #6
          Originally posted by otzi View Post
          If one wanted to successfully pull off a very low carb/ketogenic diet, they would have to do it forever, strictly. To break the cycle without crashing, you'd have to slowly reintroduce carbs and rebalance your energy equations. I'm sure it can be done, but the casual dieter usually lacks knowledge and desire to control their eating and enters a vicious yo-yo cycle.
          This is the problem with all weight loss diets.

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          • #7
            Originally posted by eKatherine View Post
            This is the problem with all weight loss diets.
            Which is why I love forums like this one. Without putting any thought into it, it is nearly impossible to lose weight that will remain off. reading about others experiences and asking questions helped me immensely. I was one of the '80s Atkins failures, when you were low-carbing and losing you were on top of the world, but when the weight came back plus 10, you felt like the biggest idiot on the planet for not believing people who said it would happen.

            I think the general public is just so uninformed about healthy eating it makes it impossible for most people to do the right thing. Even though we argue a lot on this forum, we are lightyears ahead of the general population.

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            • #8
              Originally posted by otzi View Post
              Sorry 'bout that! Your topic is very difficult to explain. I don't have a good grasp, and not many do, it seems, from google-ing around for a while.
              Haha, no problem. Thanks for the in depth reply.

              And I agree, it does seem difficult to understand. I've been trying to wrap my head around it for a few days, but haven't found too many resources that explain what is actually going on.

              Originally posted by otzi View Post
              Eating excessive ANYTHING can lead to body fat. Every time you eat anything, whatever is not needed immediately for energy is stored somehow. If your liver and muscles are low on glycogen, they get filled. What is left goes to fat. All this being done while regulating blood sugar in a narrow band.
              Can fat also be converted to glycogen then? Or does fat get converted into something else that the liver and muscle cells can burn for fuel?

              I've been listening to a lot of interviews with Gary Taubes lately. And he explains the endocrinology behind how eating carbs causes your fat cells to get bigger. It's the same explanation from the article you linked to from Mark, about how the effects of insulin spikes and insulin resistance can ultimately lead to weight gain. But I haven't heard him explain what happens on an endocrinology level when fat enters the system. Not being able to compare the two situations is tough when you're trying to understand why eating fat might be more healthy than eating carbs haha.

              It's also interesting because Taubes doesn't seem to think that eating excess calories will necessarily make someone fat (or vice versa). Now, I'm not necessarily saying that he's right, but I do find many of his arguments and data convincing.
              Last edited by econ; 08-12-2013, 01:49 PM.

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              • #9
                Originally posted by econ View Post
                It's also interesting because Taubes doesn't seem to think that eating excess calories will necessarily make someone fat (or vice versa). Now, I'm not necessarily saying that he's right, but I do find many of his arguments and data convincing.
                A major problem in nutrition is short timelines. We tend to agonize over the energy content in 1 meal or 1 day, or read experiments done over 14 days and draw all sorts of conclusions. The truth is that the vast majority of people live in energy equilibrium--occasional feasts balanced by short fasts or bursts of activity. Incidentally the populations with the most stable weight tend to the be the ones with the least access to calorie counts, labels, and dietary advice.

                As I understand it Taubes' main point is that the adipose layer is not a passive dumping ground for stray calories but an organ no less active or reactive than the heart and lungs. Like other organs, it only become abnormally large in the presence of some unnatural influence and--judging from healthy pre-industrial populations--that stimulus is unlikely to be unrefined fats.
                37//6'3"/185

                My peculiar nutrition glossary and shopping list

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                • #10
                  I'm pretty sure that excess fat gets stored as fat directly, or incorporated into cell walls during reconstruction. Excess fat may not be as harmful as excess protein and carbs as it causes some other mechanisms to come into play, but that's just my bro-science.

                  I think the best thing a person can do is to eat and live in a way that promotes insulin sensitivity, then all the other endocronological magic happens all by itself.

                  Eat sugar and starch in appropriate doses for your activity level and metabolism; don't snack; don't drink sugary drinks; exercise; sleep; get your vit D level up to around 40 with sunlight and/or supplements.

                  What did I miss? Anybody?

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                  • #11
                    Originally posted by otzi View Post
                    I'm pretty sure that excess fat gets stored as fat directly, or incorporated into cell walls during reconstruction. Excess fat may not be as harmful as excess protein and carbs as it causes some other mechanisms to come into play, but that's just my bro-science.

                    I think the best thing a person can do is to eat and live in a way that promotes insulin sensitivity, then all the other endocronological magic happens all by itself.

                    Eat sugar and starch in appropriate doses for your activity level and metabolism; don't snack; don't drink sugary drinks; exercise; sleep; get your vit D level up to around 40 with sunlight and/or supplements.

                    What did I miss? Anybody?
                    I think you're absolutely right. That's a very believable explanation in my opinion.

                    I was doing some more research on Taubes and trying to understand exactly what his view is on fat (since he usually only talks about the endocrinological reaction that's induced by carbs). I found a really interesting discussion of the topic from 9:38 to 16:00 of the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfXzRbzUpoQ#t=9m38s

                    He argues that it's very difficult to gain weight by eating fat because it's hard to consume large enough quantities. Apparently, there was an old study with inmates where they tried to make them gain 20% body weight by feeding them additional fats (on top of their ordinary diets). I guess they couldn't do it because at some point the inmates would refuse to eat any more fat during the meal. They were simply too stuffed to eat another pork chop or steak. Then the researchers tried getting them to eat additional carbs and were eventually able to get them up to 10,000 calories per day. (I think the subjects originally started at around 3,000 calories per day.) With fat, the best they were able to do was get the inmates to eat an additional 800 calories per day in the form of butter.

                    So I guess the argument is that fat is much more satiating. But with excessive carb consumption you often feel unsatisfied a few hours later and want to eat a bunch of carbs again. (I'm not sure whether that's caused by insulin spikes themselves or just insulin resistance in general.) I've definitely noticed something along these lines with myself. A few years ago, I would sometimes eat a bunch of pasta or fried rice before bed. And I'd wake up extremely hungry. In fact, I'd be so hungry that my stomach would actually hurt and be growling. If I eat a large quantity of bacon before bed, I wake up feeling fine.
                    Last edited by econ; 08-13-2013, 03:13 AM.

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                    • #12
                      It really is all about balance and ratios. What primal and paleo people talk about is not a zero carb diet. The only way to effectively do that is to eat only meat. Atkins for example banned foods with both a high glycemic index (wheat, bread, pasta) and a low glycemic index (black rice, fruits, vegetables). Banning low glycemic index foods was the inherent problem. In primal eating, you'll consume a lot of meat (i.e. protein), but you also consume complex soluble fiber, carbohydrates, etc in veges and fruit. The idea is to avoid the superconcentrated refined sugars and carbs that are in breads, pasta, pastries, etc.

                      Essentially, foods with high glycemic indexes that are readily accessible (which does not include fruit and vegetables) to the GI tract like breads and pastas cause insulin spikes. These insulin spikes above and beyond the norm causes your muscles to take in the glucose. In addition, it promotes glucose being converted into fat as was said. Constant high levels of insulin caused by standard american diets cause a lot of cells that have insulin receptors to down regulate them...in essence you get insulin resistance.

                      Your body is perfectly capable of interchanging fat and glucose and does so pretty readily. It can interconvert between the two if needed to store glycogen in the liver (fat to sugar via metabolism and gluconeogenesis) or sugar to glycogen.

                      I'd stay away from this folly of an idea of low-carb or zero carb. We live in a world where a lot of our food is has insane levels of high glycemic carbohydrates. Any diet that cuts out a lot of refined sugars for example would suddenly be "low carb." It's just low carb relative to what we typically eat.

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                      • #13
                        Dear OP: To answer your question, it is this: "Fats have no relationship to insulin levels."

                        There, wasn't that simple?

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                        • #14
                          Originally posted by OnTheBayou View Post
                          Dear OP: To answer your question, it is this: "Fats have no relationship to insulin levels."

                          There, wasn't that simple?
                          Haha, yep. Thanks.

                          Here are a couple of related quotes:

                          Originally posted by Margaret Floyd
                          Here’s something really important to know about fat: it does not trigger the hormonal dance that creates fat storage the way that sugar and other starchy carbohydrates do.

                          When you eat something sweet, your blood sugar levels increase too quickly, and your pancreas secretes the hormone insulin to take the excess sugar out of your blood. Insulin is a fat storage hormone. It stores that extra sugar first as glycogen, and then as triglycerides (fat) once glycogen stores are full.
                          Originally posted by Mark Sisson
                          Eventually, the insulin helps the glucose finds it way into your fat cells, where it is stored as fat. Again – because it bears repeating – it’s not fat that gets stored in your fat cells – it’s sugar.
                          If fat is not getting stored in the fat cells, then where is it going? Is it just flowing through the bloodstream until it is used for energy? Or are the muscle and liver cells just able to store more fat as energy (therefore relieving the need to store the fat in the fat cells)? Or can excess fat be converted into triglycerides and then stored in fat cells?
                          Last edited by econ; 08-14-2013, 04:39 AM.

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                          • #15
                            Originally posted by econ View Post
                            If fat is not getting stored in the fat cells, then where is it going? Is it just flowing through the bloodstream until it is used for energy? Or are the muscle and liver cells just able to store more fat as energy (therefore relieving the need to store the fat in the fat cells)? Or can excess fat be converted into triglycerides and then stored in fat cells?
                            Here is a very clear explanation that may answer your question Though it's a little detailed, it lays out the storage cycle of fat and explains the role insulin plays in directing how fat storage or usage occurs.

                            How to make a fat cell less not thin: the lessons of fat flux The Eating Academy | Peter Attia, M.D. The Eating Academy | Peter Attia, M.D.

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