Thanks to our society's blind addiction to the avoidance of fat (fat from pastured animals is not the same as fat from a Twinkie), calories (calories from an organic avocado are not the same as calories from a Twinkie) and cholesterol (don't even get me started on the cholesterol myth; egg white omelets are not healthy, sorry), we haven't paid as much attention as necessary to the role that proper insulin functioning plays in our health.
However, this beginning to change. Many of us don't know that much about insulin, but Bittman offers a useful primer, which I've copied below. Click here to read the entire article (highly recommended).
"We all need insulin: in non-diabetics, it’s released to help cells take in the blood sugar (glucose) they need for energy. But the cells can hold only so much; excess sugar is first stored as glycogen, and — when there’s enough of that — as fat. (Blood sugar doesn’t come only from sugar, but from carbohydrates of all kinds; easily digested carbohydrates flood the bloodstream with sugar.) Insulin not only keeps the blood vessels that supply the brain healthy, it also encourages the brain’s neurons to absorb glucose, and allows those neurons to change and become stronger. Low insulin levels in the brain mean reduced brain function.
"Type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, accounts for about 10 percent of all cases. Type 2 diabetes is chronic or environmental, and it’s especially prevalent in populations that overconsume hyperprocessed foods, like ours. It’s tragically, increasingly common — about a third of Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes — and treatable but incurable. It causes your cells to fail to retrieve glucose from the blood, either because your pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin or the body’s cells ignore that insulin. (That’s 'insulin resistance'; stand by.)
"Put as simply as possible (in case your eyes glaze over as quickly as mine when it comes to high school biology), insulin 'calls' your cells, asking them to take glucose from the bloodstream: 'Yoo-hoo. Pick this stuff up!'
"When the insulin calls altogether too often — as it does when you drink sugar-sweetened beverages and repeatedly eat junk food — the cells are overwhelmed, and say, 'Leave me alone.' They become resistant. This makes the insulin even more insistent and, to make matters worse, all those elevated insulin levels are bad for your blood vessels.
"Diabetes causes complications too numerous to mention, but they include heart disease, which remains our No. 1 killer. And when the cells in your brain become insulin-resistant, you start to lose memory and become disoriented. You even might lose aspects of your personality.
"In short, it appears, you develop Alzheimer’s."