Low Insulin Foods

Weight loss or weight gain is not only about the amount of calories you consume.

It’s also about how they affect your hormones.

And when certain foods over-stimulate your hormones (such as insulin), this can lead to accelerated weight gain, regardless of the calorie count.

So I no longer buy bread because of how it sky-rockets insulin.

Recent Research by Bao and Holt has measured a range of foods based on their insulin response, ranking them with a Food Insulin Index (Ref 1,2).

For educational purposes, here’s a summary of some of their notable findings below (I’ve highlighted some of the more commonly consumed foods to be especially wary of):

Food                         Food Insulin Index (higher is worse)

Jelly Beans              160

Melon                        127

Mars Bar                   122

Potatoes                    121

Baked Beans            120

Yogurt                        115

White bread             100

Whole meal bread  96

Ice tea                        95

Cookies                     92

Ice cream                  89

Crackers                    87

Raspberry jam         85

Cake                           82

Banana                      81

Rice                            79

Croissant                  79

Cornflakes                75

Donuts                       74

French Fries            74

Grain bread              71

Sustain (cereal)       71

special K (cereal)    66

Apple juice               64

Pizza                          64

Potato Chips            61

coca cola                  60

Oranges                    60

Apples                       59

Fish                            59

Lentils                       58

Carrot juice              56

Corn                           53

Beef                            51

Museli                       46

Cheese                      45

Raisins                     42

Pasta                         40

Full fat milk            33

All Bran cereal       32

Eggs                          31

Roast chicken        23

Tuna                          22

Peanut butter          15

Walnuts                     7

Avocado                    6


So as you can see, the worst offenders included the Jelly Beans (160), Mars Bar, Yogurt and Baked Beans (120).  All of these have high levels of refined added sugar.

The Potatoes have a surprising high Index of 121, and this is due to the high starch content which is essentially compact strings of glucose (sugar).


Potatoes have a surprisingly high effect on insulin

Still in the high zone, we can see Bread (100), cookies and ice cream.  Bread contains a-lot of refined grains (flour), which are known to stimulate insulin, as well as high levels of carbohydrates (starch).  Cookies and ice cream contain a-lot of added sugar.

Cornflakes were a surprise, right up there with croissants and donuts.

Coming down to lower levels we have some of the healthier staple foods such as beef (51), fish, cheese (45), pasta, chicken (23), vegetables, milk, eggs (31), and nuts.

And the winner is a food full of rich natural fats, the humble Avocado….long live the Avocado!


Avocado contains natural fats.

Why Do Some Foods have a Higher Insulin Index?

This depends on factors such as the amount of carbohydrates (“sugar”) as well as the glycemic index which refers to the speed that the food is converted into blood sugars.  Protein also stimulates insulin.

It’s also known that when protein and carbs are mixed together in the same meal, they can generate a dis-proportionally higher jump in insulin.

This is why some health experts recommend that protein and carbs should be eaten at separate meals if high insulin is a problem.


What are the Effects of too much Insulin?

The effects of eating too many insulin stimulating foods can lead to insulin resistance, and eventually diabetes.

Diabetes is unfortunately on the rise and since 1995, it’s estimated to affect at least twice as many people by 2025 (3).

This is likely caused by the increasing availability and popularity of cheap junk food across the globe, as well as the trends towards more “screen time” and less outdoor activities.



What are the Signs of Insulin Resistance?

The signs of insulin resistance include:

  • Having a large protruding belly (especially when the rest of your body is fairly slim looking)
  • High Blood sugar levels (blood glucose tests from your doctor)
  • Low HDL Cholesterol levels (the “Good” Cholesterol) (3)
  • High Triglyceride (“Fat”) levels in the blood (3)


How can we reduce Insulin Resistance?

Ways to reduce insulin resistance include:

  • Regular exercise (ideally 30 mins brisk walking as a minimum each day).
  • Low carbohydrate or ketogenic diets
  • Less alcohol (i think a small glass of wine is generally ok with a meal).  However I think it’s good to have a few non-alcohol days each week too, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
  • Less sugary soda drinks (eg coke / lemonade) and reduce sugary chocolate snacks and sweets.  Go for the low or zero sugar versions.  If you’re a chocolate lover, it’s possible to buy chocolate suitable for diabetics (in my opinion a healthier choice for everyone), or try dark chocolate (less sugar).



The Take Home

To stay slim and healthy we need to go easy on the foods that stimulate a-lot of insulin.

Try to limit foods like confectionery, breads, pastries, cakes, cookies, potatoes, fries, and ice cream.

Enjoy healthy foods such as vegetables, fish, chicken, beef, some fruit, eggs, nuts and seeds.




(1) Food insulin index: physiologic basis for predicting insulin demand evoked by composite meals
Bao, de Jong, Atkinson, Petocz, Brand-Miller.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 90 2009.

(2) An insulin index of foods: the insulin demand generated by 1000-kJ portions of common foods
Susanne HA Holt, Janette C Brand Miller, and Peter Petocz

(3) Evidence for an independent relationship between insulin resistance and fasting plasma HDL-cholesterol, triglyceride and insulin concentrations.  A Laws G Reaven. Journal of Internal Medicine 1992.