If metabolic syndrome, formerly known as syndrome X, is indeed a disease of insulin resistance—as it almost surely is—that’s good news for Atkins followers. Here’s why:
• High blood sugar (glucose) levels are a signal that the body may be having trouble processing carbs.
• High insulin levels usually go hand in hand with high fasting blood sugar.
• Eating too many carbs, particularly high-glycemic carbs, stimulates the secretion of insulin.
• The best way to control both blood sugar and insulin levels is to control carb intake.
Could it really be that simple? Yes, it is. The insulin resistance of metabolic syndrome is characterized by intolerance to carbohydrate. If you have lactose intolerance, you avoid lactose. If you have gluten intolerance, you avoid gluten. You get the idea.
Backed by Research
Not surprising, many studies of low-carb diets have shown that glucose levels improve significantly in subjects who follow them(1). Insulin levels also decrease, regardless of whether or not a person has a glucose metabolism disorder and even whether he has lost any weight(2). Reducing insulin levels throughout the day, even after meals, is crucial to enable fat burning. In this way, controlling carbs has an important effect on the way the body handles fat, and in turn positively affects cholesterol and triglyceride levels. (For a quick tutorial on insulin, see Insulin Made Simple.
Control Carbs to Burn Fat
Controlling carb intake and the resultant decline in insulin levels permits your body to use fat almost exclusively for energy, even when you’re exercising(3). Here’s how:
• During Phase 1, Induction, and Phase 2, Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), body fat provides a large share of that energy.
• During Phase 3, Pre-Maintenance, and Phase 4, Lifetime Maintenance, your diet provides most of the needed fuel.
• Either way, keeping carb intake at or just below your individual carb threshold maximizes the metabolism of both dietary and body fat.
Many of the beneficial effects of the Atkins Diet on risk factors for metabolic syndrome and heart disease are extensions of burning primarily fat for energy. Physical activity compounds these benefits.
1. Boden, G., Sargrad, K., Homko, C., Mozzoli, M., and Stein, T.P., “Effect of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Appetite, Blood Glucose Levels, and Insulin Resistance in Obese Patients with type 2 Diabetes,” Annals of Internal Medicine 142 (2005), 403–411.
2. Volek, J.S., Sharman, M.J., Love, D.M., Avery, N.G., Gomez, A.L., Scheett, T.P., et al., “Body Composition and Hormonal Responses to a Carbohydrate-Restricted Diet,”Metabolism 51 (2002), 864–870.
3. Phinney, S.D., Bistrian, B.R., Wolfe, R.R., and Blackburn, G.L., “The Human Metabolic Response to Chronic Ketosis without Caloric Restriction: Physical and Biochemical Adaptation,” Metabolism 32 (1983), 757–768.