Six insulin-sensitizing foods for weight loss

Ensure your body maximizes the energy you consume by keeping yourself as insulin-sensitive as possible.

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Avocado on cutting board
Avocado photo by Getty Images

Insulin is the primary hormone that tells your body to store energy as fat or use it as fuel — so you want to ensure that your diet is designed to keep insulin levels (and in turn, your weight) in check. Food can be as powerful as a drug — it can make you weak and sick or it can make strong and healthy. I picked some of my favourite superfoods, spices and seeds that will not only protect against cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but also help your waistline by boosting your insulin-sensitivity.

1. Stay healthy with horseradish
It may clear your sinuses and more. Horseradish contains a high percentage of glucosinolates (significantly more than broccoli), which act as a natural antibiotic and can also improve your resistance to cancer and environmental toxins. Horseradish is also said to aid digestion, reduce urinary tract infections and fight against certain pathogens in food, such as listeria, E. coli and staphylococcus aureus.

Bottom line: If you prefer prepared horseradish to a homemade recipe, than look for one with no added sugars.

2. Ample dose of avocado
Fats, when eaten in the proper balance with protein and carbohydrates, can help to slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream, which leads to less insulin release. The end result? You stay fuller longer, and your waist gets slimmer, faster. In one study 347 adults (half were females) who consumed an average of half an avocado a day had higher intakes of important nutrients — including dietary fibre, vitamin E, magnesium and potassium — than people who didn’t eat avocados. They also reaped the benefits of being lighter (7.5 pounds on average) with a smaller waist circumference (4cm on average).

Bottom line: Keep in mind that fat does have twice the amount of calories as carbs or protein, so limit your avocado consumption to one-quarter at a time, enjoyed as a healthy fat source with a meal.

3. Fill up on flaxseed
Flaxseed, a must-have in your smoothie-making arsenal, is rich in thiamin, magnesium, copper, phosphorus and manganese. Flaxseed’s high fibre content helps lower blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels and aid weight loss. Flaxseed is also full of lignans — phytoestrogenic compounds that have been proven to help protect us against certain kinds of cancers. Researchers have found that mice fed flaxseed had reduced formation, growth, or spread of prostate cancer, breast cancer, and melanoma.

One pilot study even found that flaxseeds can reduce hot flashes in menopausal women by as much as 50 percent.

Bottom line: Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to your smoothies or salads daily.

4. Opt for olive oil
Olives and olive oil are rich in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, which are known to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer and anticoagulant benefits. But the weight-loss benefits of olive oil could be what’s most exciting.

When we include mono unsaturated fats such as olive oil (and avocados) in our daily diet, they encourage the release of our appetite-suppressing hormone leptin. Olive oil helps you not only lose weight, but also keep it off. In a study published in the July 2007 issue of Diabetes Care, 11 subjects with insulin resistance and increased abdominal fat used three different diets for 28 days. Each diet had equal calories but different compositions – one was a high-saturated-fat diet, the second was high in carbohydrates and the third was rich in monounsaturated fats. Can you guess the results? Of the three diets, the diet rich in olive oil showed the best outcome, preventing not only belly fat accumulation but also insulin resistance.

Need another reason? It can keep you looking younger longer by preventing wrinkles.

5. Gear up for cherry season
Cherries are the new wonder-food, and not just because they taste great and can satisfy your urge for something sweet. This fruit contains red-pigmented antioxidants, is high in soluble fibre and low in calories, all of which can help improve insulin sensitivity. Scientists have identified a group of naturally occurring chemicals called anthocyanins, abundant in cherries and other red fruits, that may help to lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

In early studies published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, anthocyanins were found to reduce insulin production by 50 percent. Anthocyanins are also potent antioxidants, which may protect against heart disease and cancer.

Bottom line: Add frozen cherries to your smoothies or enjoy them fresh when in season.

6. Boost your health with chia seeds
This ancient gluten-free grain can be added to just about any food. On a per gram basis, chia is touted to be the highest source of omega-3s in nature, with 65 percent of its total fat from omega-3 fatty acids. Chia is also a substantial source of fibre, as well as magnesium, potassium, folic acid, iron and calcium. It stabilizes blood sugar, manages the effects of diabetes, improves insulin sensitivity and aids symptoms related to metabolic syndrome, including imbalances in cholesterol, blood pressure and high blood sugar after meals. It is highly anti-inflammatory and reduces high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, a blood marker of inflammation. This wondrous little grain also contains tryptophan, the amino acid precursor of serotonin and melatonin.

Bottom line: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons to your meals, salads or smoothies daily in either ground or seed version.

Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.