Insulin Index

By now hopefully many of you have realised I am a total low GI advocate, am a fan of nutrients such as protein, healthy fats, and fibre, to keep you full, and seem to be somewhat obsessed with packing in as many nutrients for as little calories as I can whenever possible.

Now I state prior to writing the rest of this post, that I still believe that eating a diet full of low GI options is a great way for managing your energy levels, keeping your brain fuelled, and avoiding the ups and downs in your blood sugar levels.

However, I find the information about a concept known as the insulin index, very intriguing!

Have you heard of the insulin index before?

What it is referring to, is how much insulin is actually released after you consume a food, rather than the glycemic index, which refers to how your blood sugar levels respond. Can you see the difference?

I think a common belief, which does seem logical, is that if a food has a low GI, then the corresponding insulin release will be less, and vice versa.

However amazingly, this is not always the case!

The insulin index of a range of different foods, showing that it is not just the level of carbohydrates, or whether they are low or high GI, that effects your body's insulin release.

The insulin index of a range of different foods, showing that it is not just the level of carbohydrates, or whether they are low or high GI, that effects your body’s insulin release.

This was measured based on 1000kJ serve of the foods, rather than on the grams of carbohydrates in the food (which is how they measure and compare glycemic index’s) (here is the study if you are interested).

I find it very interesting that even foods such as eggs (which are rich in protein and fats), are so much lower than fish; Or that baked beans (processed, not made from dry beans yourself), which are one of the lowest glycemic index foods, have such a high insulin index compared with the other foods.


One of the explanations for this seems to be that specific amino acids in the protein components of foods are able to spark quite a big insulin response, irrespective of it not causing the glycemic index to go up.

Whey protein, found quite densely in a range of dairy foods such as cottage and ricotta cheese (which I love!) seems to get a bit of a bad wrap in a number of studies too (here is one for anyone interested), as do specific amino acids (although if we want to be practical about this, most of us are eating “food” rather than individual “amino acids”, so it is probably best to look at it this way for the mean time).

One of my favourites, dairy, just watch the portion size, consume it for its filling effects, and pair it with some fruit such as berries to get some fibre in too!

One of my favourites, dairy, just watch the portion size, consume it for its filling effects, and pair it with some fruit such as berries to get some fibre in too!

How quickly foods were digested seemed to make a difference, and therefore the more processed foods caused a greater insulin response than the less processed.

Reasonably processed..

Reasonably processed..

Processing is also know for removing the resistant starch (which is that heavenly nutrient I always harp on about, that is like a dietary fibre, but not technically one!).

Resistant starch has been shown to make our cells more responsive to insulin, meaning you wouldn’t need as much insulin to exert the same effect of removing the glucose from your blood than you otherwise may need if you didn’t ingest any resistant starch = a GREAT thing! (here is one example of a study that explains this).

Resistant starch is found inside cooked and then cooled grains (i.e cold pasta salad or sushi), as well as unripe bananas, and legumes.


So after all this technical jargon, what is the Travelling Dietitian saying?

In summary-

  1. Select low GI foods to keep you full and help keep your brain switched on.
  2. Don’t go overboard with your portion sizes of these low GI foods thinking that they have no effect on your insulin levels.
  3. Go easy on your milk intake (please don’t read that as saying abstain completely), I am just suggesting that maybe you  select to consume the dairy products that at least contain the probiotic benefits such as those found inside Greek style yoghurt or Kefir, rather than skull down glasses of milk or have super large milky coffees.
  4. Realise that a diet predominantly made of fish, steak and other protein sources could be causing your insulin levels to spike up just as much, or more, than a diet made up of high fibre grains.
  5. Bump up your fruit and vegetable intake, we can see from the graph, as we always knew, they are healthy for your insides!
  6. Go for less processed foods where possible so you can keep that resistant starch coming in!
Kefir,  a good choice!

Kefir, a good choice!

I told you in my last post that this next one would be a little more nutrition and science focussed.

Hopefully you have all learnt something new here today.

Would love to hear feedback on whether this style of post is of interest to you all or not for future reference!

If you are interested in learning more about how your blood sugar levels respond to different foods, and far more in depth information around resistant starch and its effects on your body, I’d suggest you read my book The Clean Separation which has a whole chapter on it!

For now,

The Travelling Dietitian x

About The Author

Kara Landau aka "Travelling Dietitian" is an Australian Accredited Practicing Dietitian based in New York City. She is a world explorer, healthy foodie, social butterfly, and barre class lover. When she isn't trying new cuisines, researching new product innovations in the health food space, or speaking to the media on behalf of her food industry clients, she can be found quietly conjuring up her next idea in how to make this world a healthier and better place.

9 Responses

  1. Debbie Whittle

    Yes very interesting – just makes me believe more and more that a balanced diet with reasonable portion sizes and variety of whole and minimally processed foods still seems to be the winning combination. Common sense really. I still have my one skim capp daily (on dairy) enjoy my own home made almond or pumpkin seed milk on oats and my goats fetta in a salad and I think my body handles that well. An occasional piece of good quality soy/quinoa sourdough and I am still ok and happy. I used to shun dairy and wheat but realised that I really don’t need to for good health – just be sensible. I could never ‘enjoy’ a black coffee – so don’t deprive myself of this little luxury. I love your posts – keep them coming!

  2. abigailrd

    Thank you for a great piece of writing! As a fellow dietitian it’s great to read and very easy to follow! It’s a great reminder for people to keep it simple, lean protein, whole grains, lots of fruits and veggies and that moderation is key!! Great writing!!:))

  3. Stuart

    Hi Traveling Dietitian,
    I am a strength athlete who regularly competes in weightlifting events. As you might already know, we compete in our different weight categories and would require to make weight on day of competition.
    At the moment I’m having difficulties gaining weight interns of muscle mass without putting on some fat as well. I was wondering if you could shed some light on insulin spikes for muscle growth as well as as what foods and time of consumption to promote a constant anabolic state?

    • Travelling Dietitian

      Hi Stuart, thanks for your comments, I would actually rather direct you towards a sports dietitian who would be more equipped to cover your individual needs. I recommend going onto the SDA website and searching both for your sport specific i.e weight training fact sheets, as well as searching for a local sports dietitian who you could have a one on one with and could personalise a plan for you 🙂

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