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If you are diabetic, do NOT change your diet without consulting your caregiver. Sudden changes to diet can cause serious, even life-threatening issues in diabetic people.

The Insulin Hypothesis: Take With a Grain of Salt

Explore the evidence challenging the Insulin Hypothesis for obesity and weight gain in this comprehensive review. Delve into the science behind low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets, and discover why the Insulin Hypothesis may not be a universally valid model for weight loss. Drawing from meta-analyses, long-term studies, real-world success stories, and the dietary habits of long-lived populations, this article sheds light on the importance of personalized dietary approaches in achieving sustainable weight loss. Join Dr. Mark Holland as he unpacks the truth behind insulin's role in obesity, offering expert insights for those seeking effective weight management solutions.

Pastel colored marshmallow candies

Starch is OK. Sugar is not.

The Insulin Hypothesis is a model that posits that obesity and weight gain are primarily driven by the hormone insulin, which is secreted in response to the consumption of carbohydrates. According to this hypothesis, consuming carbohydrates causes an increase in blood sugar levels, leading to increased insulin secretion. Insulin then promotes the storage of excess glucose as fat, inhibiting fat breakdown and encouraging weight gain. Proponents of this hypothesis argue that low-carbohydrate diets are more effective for weight loss because they reduce insulin levels, allowing the body to more easily access and burn stored fat.

However, there is a considerable body of scientific evidence that challenges the Insulin Hypothesis and suggests that low-carbohydrate diets may not be the most effective approach for weight loss:


Calories-in, calories-out (CICO) model: 

The CICO model posits that weight gain is determined by the balance between energy intake and energy expenditure. A wealth of scientific evidence supports this model, indicating that the primary driver of weight gain is a caloric surplus, not carbohydrate consumption or insulin levels.

Meta-analyses of dietary intervention studies: 

Several meta-analyses have compared low-carbohydrate diets to other dietary approaches, such as low-fat diets. Some studies have found no significant difference in weight loss between the two approaches, while others have found slightly greater weight loss with low-fat diets. For example, a meta-analysis by Tobias et al. (2015) found that low-fat diets were more effective for long-term weight loss than low-carbohydrate diets.

The DIRECT study: 

A large, long-term, randomized controlled trial called the Dietary Intervention Randomized Controlled Trial (DIRECT) compared low-fat, Mediterranean, and low-carbohydrate diets for weight loss. The study found no significant difference in weight loss between the low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets after two years.

The role of dietary fat: 

The Insulin Hypothesis downplays the role of dietary fat in obesity, but there is evidence that high-fat diets can promote weight gain. One reason is that fat is more energy-dense than carbohydrates or protein, which means that consuming the same volume of food with a higher fat content can result in greater calorie intake.

The success of low-fat diets: 

Many people have successfully lost weight on low-fat diets, which contradicts the Insulin Hypothesis. The National Weight Control Registry, which tracks the habits of people who have lost significant amounts of weight and maintained the loss, has found that most successful weight losers follow a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.

The Blue Zones:

Blue Zones are regions of the world where people live significantly longer, healthier lives, and tend to have lower rates of obesity. Many of these populations, such as those in Okinawa, Japan and the Mediterranean region, consume diets that are relatively high in carbohydrates and low in fat, further challenging the Insulin Hypothesis.


In conclusion, while the Insulin Hypothesis provides an interesting perspective on the role of carbohydrates and insulin in obesity, there is a considerable body of evidence suggesting that it is not a universally valid model. Low-carbohydrate diets can be effective for weight loss for some individuals, but they are not inherently superior to other dietary approaches, such as low-fat diets. It is important for individuals to find a dietary approach that works best for them, taking into account their personal preferences, health conditions, and lifestyle factors.

If you are diabetic, do NOT change your diet without consulting your caregiver. Sudden changes to diet can cause serious, even life-threatening issues in diabetic people.
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