You may be more concerned with fine-tuning your six-pack than warding off diabetes, but it’s time to start caring about the latter too. More than 29 million people in the U.S. have the metabolic condition and a whopping 86 million adults are living with pre-diabetes (meaning their blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not to the point of having type 2 diabetes), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Luckily you can have the best of both worlds—uncover your abs and ward off diabetes—all by adopting a low-carb diet. When you consume foods low in carbs your insulin levels drop, so your body starts churning stored body fat, resulting in weight loss. And that’s not all. New research from the University of Michigan found just three low-carb meals in a 24-hour span can lower your post-meal insulin resistance, bolstering your body against high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
In the study, published in PLOS One, researchers recruited 32 healthy women. They were divided into four groups. Two groups engaged in two hours of moderate-intensity exercise before they ate a meal consisting of either 30 or 60 percent carbs; two groups did no exercise before eating the low- or high-carb meal.
The low-carb group, after their third meal, experienced a reduction in insulin resistance of more than 30 percent that lasted up to a day. But the high-carb diet (which, the authors point out, falls in line with the 45-to-60 percent daily carbohydrate intake from the departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services) caused high post-meal insulin in those participants.
Here’s just one reason you should care about insulin: It is absolutely essential to metabolism function. If you have high insulin resistance, your body can’t remove extra glucose from your blood as effectively, so the pancreas pumps out more insulin to help out, which can cause diabetes in the long run.
The study also revealed exercise didn’t lower insulin resistance for the high-carb group (the change in insulin was due to an intestinal response to carbs). So, no, you can’t work off a crappy diet as far as your waistline and health are concerned. Exercise usually lowers insulin resistance and blood sugar levels. It just didn’t have that impact in this study; in fact it had the opposite.
“...exercise before the meals made the subjects more carbohydrate intolerant—that is, it increased evening blood sugar levels,” lead study author Katarina Borer said in a press release.
Other research has found similar results when it comes to high-carb diets.
“At least two other studies where high-carbohydrate meals were fed to volunteers for 5 and for 14 days show that the outcome was worrisome,” Borer said. “These subjects developed increased fasting insulin secretion and insulin resistance, increased glucose release by the liver which produced high blood sugar, and dramatically lowered fat oxidation that contributes to obesity. These then were more persistent effects that could be a path to prediabetes and diabetes.”
So, think twice about carb loading and day—or week-long—carb binges. Not sure if you want to adopt to a full-out low-carb diet? Then, do as the study participants did, and just do it for day-long spurts here and there to act as a sort of reset button.