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In this article, I’d like to introduce you to another powerful fat-burning hormone called “glucagon”. People get this confused with glycogen. It has nothing to do with glycogen. Glycogen is stored sugar (glucose) in the muscles and liver.
Glucagon is the opposing hormone to insulin. Insulin takes the sugar or carbohydrate you eat, and changes it into fat. Glucagon takes the stored fat and breaks it down into sugar—thus, “fat-burning.”
In the presence of insulin, you will NOT burn, and CANNOT burn, fat as fuel. To say this more simply, eating sugar or refined carbohydrates prevents fat burning, period. Not only does it prevent the breakdown, it actively causes the storage of fat and makes triglycerides and cholesterol, including bad cholesterol (LDL), from the carbohydrates. The confusion many people have is thinking all their cholesterol problems come from eating fats and cholesterol. It’s the carbs!
Overeating of any food will also increase insulin.
Adding fat to your meal can actually slow the insulin response. If you added butter, sour cream, or melted cheese to a potato, it would cause less insulin response than eating the potato alone. Even ice cream with all its fat is less fattening than eating the pure sugar alone—though I’m not recommending this.
With blood sugar problems, mood can be easily affected. Have too high level of blood sugar and you can get fatigue and brain fog, like after a Thanksgiving meal. Have too low level of blood sugar and you will feel irritable, moody, depressed, and worried, like what happens when you skip a meal or after an hour of eating sweets.
However, when glucagon is released, you will burn fat. There are several actions that release this hormone. The first is the intake of protein. This is why many of the high-protein diets work for people, and the only reason they would not work is if a person had some damage to the liver. This is because glucagon works inside the liver.
For a person who has a healthy liver, eating protein is fat-burning and consuming carbohydrate is fat-storing.
The other activity that increases glucagon is exercise. Exercise increases glucagon 4 to 5 times the normal amounts. If someone combined both activities (exercise and protein), they would strategically make it easier to lose weight. Exercise also decreases insulin.
Fasting, starvation, low-calorie diets, all increase glucagon, too. This is why people can lose some initial fat by not eating. The problem is the compensating hormone, cortisol, which is triggered by stress, thus slowing metabolism. Cortisol compensates to counter the stress of not eating by releasing extra sugar in the blood.
If cortisol is triggered, it alone will dump lots of sugar in the bloodstream, causing insulin to store fat in the midsection.
An effective way to buffer and slow the insulin response is taking fiber, not from cereals but from a better source—vegetables. Leafy greens with all their fiber barely increase the insulin response. This means vegetables, as a carbohydrate, will help reduce weight rather than increase weight. That is why I recommend a balance of protein and vegetables. Vegetables also have much more potassium than sodium, which gets rid of water retention and water weight.
1. Eat protein before workouts—at least one hour.
2. Eat small amounts of protein in between meals to prevent hunger.
3. Avoid sweets and refined carbohydrates, including juice, alcohol, and hidden sugars (ketchup, dressing, vanilla yogurt, and puffed rice cakes; a lot of deli meat contains sugar—check labels). Avoid juice cleanses.
4. Get your fiber from vegetables, excluding potato. This will reduce the insulin response.
5. Reduce stressors which activate cortisol.
6. Exercise to increase glucagon and decrease insulin.
7. Avoid overeating to reduce insulin.
8. To buffer insulin response, add some fiber.