Insulin is a very important hormone that’s released by the pancreas and plays a crucial role in many body processes. One of the most important ones is allowing the cells in your body to take in sugar from the bloodstream and then use it as an energy source. However, increased insulin levels can lead to a number of serious health problems. Having high insulin levels, a condition known as hyperinsulinemia has been linked to heart disease, obesity, and cancer (1, 2, 3). High insulin levels in the bloodstream also cause the cells to become desensitized/resistant to its effects. When a person becomes resistant to insulin, the pancreas produces even more of it, leading to vicious self-reinforcing cycle.
Here are 14 ways to decrease your insulin levels and improve your health:
Follow a low-carb diet
Carbohydrates increase blood sugar and insulin levels the most, compared to the other two macro-nutrients: protein and fat. That’s why, low-carb diets can be extremely effective when it comes to losing excess weight and controlling diabetes. Numerous studies have confirmed the ability of the low-carb diet to decrease insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity, compared to other diets. People who have health problems characterized by insulin resistance, such as polycystic ovary syndrome and metabolic syndrome, may experience a dramatic decrease of insulin with carb intake restriction.
There was a study done in which subjects with metabolic syndrome were randomly selected to follow either a low-carb or low-fat diet with a total of 1500 calories. It was found that insulin levels decreased by an average of 50% in the low-carb group, compared to the 20% drop in the low-fat group.
In another study where participants were women with polycystic ovary syndrome, they followed a low-carb diet containing enough calories for weight maintenance. At the end of the study, they experienced greater insulin level decrease than when they followed a high-carb diet.
Low-carb diets have been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin levels in individuals struggling with diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Use apple cider vinegar
Studies have shown that apple cider vinegar can blood sugar and insulin spikes after a meal. It has been shown that this mainly occurs when vinegar is eaten with high-carb foods(4, 5, 6). A small-group study found that people who took around 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with high-carb meal experienced reduced insulin levels and increased feeling of fullness half an hour after the meal. Scientists believed that this is in part due to the vinegar’s ability to delay the emptying of the stomach, which leads to a more gradual sugar absorption into the bloodstream.
Bottom line is that vinegar can help prevent high insulin levels after you eat your meal or any food that is rich in carbs.
Monitor meal sizes
Even though the pancreas produces different quantities of insulin depending on the type of food that you eat, eating too much of any food in one meal can lead to hyperinsulinemia. This fat is especially important for overweight people with insulin resistance. There was a study in which insulin-resistant overweight people ate a 1,300-calorie meal. It was found that their insulin levels increased twice compared to lean people who ate the same meal.(7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
They also experienced almost twice the increase in insulin levels as overweight people who were actually considered to be “metabolically healthy”. Ingesting fewer calories has repeatedly been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin levels in overweight people, regardless of what type of diet they follow.
There was a study done which researched different weight loss diet in 160 people who had metabolic syndrome. The scientists found that by fasting, insulin levels decreased by 15% in the group of subjects that restricted their caloric intake and by 13% in the group that restricted their meal size.
Reducing your daily caloric intake by decreasing your portions or by counting calories can lead to decreased insulin levels in obese or overweight people with metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes.
Eliminate all types of sugar
Sugar might be the single most important food that you should avoid as much as possible if you’re trying to decrease your insulin levels. In one study, where participants were given candy and peanuts, the groups that ate candy had a 30% increase in insulin levels compared to 13% increase the peanut group experienced.
In another study, participants ate jam containing a high amount of sugar. The result was that their insulin levels increased significantly compared to when eating jam with low sugar content. Fructose can be found in honey, table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and agave among many other products. Ingesting large amounts of it can increase insulin resistance, which will ultimately lead to increased insulin levels.
A study found that subjects had similar insulin responses after ingesting 50 grams of honey, table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup every day for two weeks. In a different study, obese people who added foods with high sugar content to their diet had a 20% increase in fasting insulin levels. On the other hand, the group that added artificially sweetened foods to their diet experienced a 3% decrease in their fasting insulin levels.
It’s been decisively shown that a high consumption of sugar in any form increases insulin levels as well as insulin resistance.
Working out regularly can have a tremendously positive impact on your insulin levels. Aerobic training seems to be extremely effective at raising insulin sensitivity in individuals who are overweight or have type II diabetes(12, 13, 14, 15).
A study compared two groups of subjects. The first group did aerobic training and the second did high-intensity interval training. The results showed that even though both groups experienced fitness improvements, only the first group which performed sustained aerobic activity experienced drastically lower insulin levels. There has also been research into how resistance training can help reduce insulin levels in sedentary and older adults.
Mixing resistance training with aerobic exercise seems to be the most effective and it’s also been shown to have the greatest positive impact on insulin sensitivity and levels. In one study of 100 breast cancer survivors, the ones who did a combination of resistance training and endurance training for 4 months experienced a 26% reduction in insulin levels.
The general conclusion is that strength training, aerobic exercise or a combination of both might help raise insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin levels.
Add cinnamon to foods and drinks
Cinnamon is a very delicious spice filled with lots of antioxidants beneficial for your health. Numerous studies were done on healthy people and those who experience insulin resistance suggest that consuming cinnamon may increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin levels. In a study where healthy people consumed around one a half teaspoons of cinnamon in rice pudding, it was found that they had significantly lower insulin responses compared to when they ate the rice pudding with no cinnamon added. In another study, you men who drank a high-sugar beverage after consuming cinnamon for two weeks experienced lower insulin levels compared to when they drank the beverage after taking a placebo for the same amount of time. (16, 17, 18).
It’s worth noting that not all of these studies have found that consuming cinnamon decreases your insulin levels or increases insulin sensitivity. Its effects may vary in each individual. However, it’s been shown that consuming up to one teaspoon (2 grams) a day may have other health benefits, even though it may not significantly decrease your insulin levels.
The main takeaway point is that adding cinnamon to foods or drink can decrease insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
Avoid refined carbs
Refined carbs comprise the biggest part of many people’s diets. It has been repeatedly shown in numerous studies done on both humans and animals alike that consuming them on a regular basis can lead to a multitude of health problems, among them high insulin levels and increased weight gain.
Additionally, refined carbs have a high glycemic index. This is a scale which measures a certain food’s ability to increase blood sugar levels. Glycemic load takes into account a specific food’s glycemic index, plus the number of digestible carbohydrates in one serving. Studies have compared foods that have different glycemic loads to find out if they had a different effect on insulin levels. It was found that eating a food with a high-glycemic load increases your insulin levels more than eating the same portion of a food with a low-glycemic load, even if two foods have a similar carb content.(19, 20, 21).
In one study, obese people were put on two diets with unrestricted caloric intake for 10 weeks. The first diet consisted of high glycemic index foods and the second of low glycemic. After a test meal, the first group had higher insulin levels than the second group. The general conclusion is to replace processed carbs, which your body easily digests and absorbs, with complex low-glycemic carbs which are digested slowly and may help lower your insulin levels.
Avoid sitting for long periods of time
If you want to maintain low insulin levels, it is of utmost importance to lead a physically active lifestyle. One study consisting of 1,500 subjects found that those who led a sedentary lifestyle were almost twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome as those who practiced some kind of physical activity at least two and a half hours a week.
Other studies have found out that getting up and simply walking around, instead of spending numerous hours on your couch, can help prevent insulin spikes after consuming a meal. A 3-month study in middle-aged sedentary women has shown that the women who took 20-minute strolls after a big meal had increased insulin sensitivity, compared to the women who did not walk at all after the meal (22, 23).
Additionally, the group that took short walks became fitter and lost some body fat. Another study included 110 obese men who were at risk of developing type II diabetes. The group that took the most steps a day experienced the greatest decrease in insulin levels and lost the greatest amount of abdominal fat, compared to the group that took a significantly lower number of steps a day.
The main conclusion here is that you should avoid sitting for prolonged periods of time and spend some time walking or performing any type of physical activity at a moderate intensity which in the end will result in reduced insulin levels.
Do intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting has gained a lot of popularity as a weight loss method in recent years. Studies have shown that it may help decrease insulin levels with the same efficiency as a daily caloric restriction. One study, in particular, found that overweight women lost weight and experienced other health benefits following intermittent fasting diet with restricted caloric intake using either solid or liquid meals.
However, it was the liquid diet that decreased fasting insulin levels significantly (24). Fasting on alternate days involves fasting or significantly restricting your caloric intake one day and then eating normally the next day. Several studies have found that this approach effectively decreases insulin levels. In one study, 26 people were instructed to fast every other day for 22 days straight. It was found that on average they experienced a significant decrease of 56% in fasting insulin levels.
Even though many people find this diet approach enjoyable and quite beneficial, unfortunately, it does not work for everyone and may even cause health issues in some people. In any case, you can give it a try and see if you experience any of its purported benefits. However, research results are mixed, and it’s possible that it may not suit you.
Increase your intake of soluble fiber
Soluble fiber consumption has numerous benefits to your health, including decreasing blood sugar levels, as well as helping with fat loss. Once digested, it absorbs the water in the intestines and forms a gel-like substance, which slows down food movement through the digestive tract. This will make you feel full and keeps the blood sugar and insulin levels from rising too rapidly after eating a meal (25, 26, 27, 28).
One study found that women who consumed high amounts of soluble fiber were half as likely to be insulin resistant as those who consumed the least amount of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber also aids in feeding the so-called friendly bacteria that live in the colon, which can improve gut health and decrease insulin resistance.
In a 6-week study of overweight older women, the ones who consumed flaxseed had a greater increase in insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels compared to the women who took a probiotic or placebo. Generally, fiber coming from whole foods seems to be more effective at decreasing insulin levels than fiber found in supplements, even though the results are mixed. One study found that a combination of fiber from both whole foods and supplements reduced insulin the most. At the same time, another study found that insulin levels decreased when individuals ate black beans, but not when they took fiber in supplement form.
The bottom line is that soluble fiber, particularly the one contained in whole foods, has been shown to raise insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin levels, especially in people with type II diabetes or obesity.
Lose belly fat
The accumulation of belly fat (or more commonly known as abdominal fat) and sometimes visceral fat is linked to lots of health issues. Having too much of it around the abdomen causes insulin resistance, which in turn is the main trigger for hyperinsulinemia(29, 30, 31).
Research has shown that belly fat reduction leads to increased insulin sensitivity and decreased insulin levels.(32, 33, 34).
Even more interesting, one study found that individuals who lost belly fat retained their insulin sensitivity, even after they regained part of the fat back. However, people who have high insulin levels often find it very hard to get rid of the excess weight. One study found that those who had the highest insulin levels not only lost weight very slowly but also regained the most weight after a while.
There are several methods you can try to lose abdominal fat effectively, which in the end should help in lowering your insulin levels. The bottom line is that losing abdominal fat can increase your insulin sensitivity and help decrease your insulin levels.
Drink green tea
Green tea is a beverage that is packed with nutrients beneficial to your health. It has a high content of an antioxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Numerous studies have found that it might help combat insulin resistance.
One study, in particular, found that people who had high insulin levels and drank green tea extract, experienced a small reduction in insulin levels over the course of one year, while the ones that took a placebo experienced an increase.
In a detailed analysis of 17 studies, scientists discovered that green tea had the ability to drastically lower fasting insulin levels. However, not all high-quality studies have concluded that green tea decreases insulin levels or increases insulin sensitivity, which means that so far, the results are mixed. Either way, you should try it out for yourself and see if your body responds well to it.
Eat fatty fish
There are lots of reasons to eat fatty fish like sardines, salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and herring. They are filled with high-quality protein and are the without a contest the best sources of long-chained omega-3 fatty, which offer tremendous health benefits. Research has shown the fatty fish consumption can also help decrease insulin resistance in overweight people and those who have gestational diabetes.(35, 36, 37, 38).
A study in women with polycystic ovary syndrome found a significant 8% decrease in insulin levels in a group that took fish oil, compared to a group that only took a placebo. Another study in overweight children and adolescents found that taking fish oil supplements drastically decreased insulin resistance and triglyceride levels.
Long-chained omega-3 fatty acids contained in fatty fish might help decrease insulin resistance, as well as insulin levels.
Eat an optimal amount of protein
Getting an adequate amount of protein at every meal can be very beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight and insulin levels. One study which followed obese older women found that their insulin levels had decreased after eating a breakfast rich in protein compared to a low-protein breakfast.
They also felt satiated and consumed fewer calories during lunchtime. However, consuming protein stimulates insulin production which also allows the muscles to take up more amino acids. This means that eating high amounts of protein will lead to increased insulin levels.
Additionally, some protein types seem to trigger greater insulin responses than others. A study found that casein and whey protein in dairy products increased insulin levels even higher than ordinary bread in people with no health issues. However, the insulin response to protein coming from dairy products may vary from individual to individual.
A recent study showed that insulin levels increased in a similar manner in obese women and men after consuming meals containing dairy or beef. Another study in overweight adults found that a diet high in dairy products led to increased insulin levels compared to a high-beef one.
The bottom line is that avoiding consuming too much protein, especially the one coming from dairy products, can help prevent the excessive increase of insulin levels after meal consumption. High insulin levels can be the cause of numerous health problems.
Following the steps above can increase your insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin levels, which will help you lose the excess weight, lower the risk of disease and improve your quality of life.