You may be able to help reduce high insulin levels by making dietary changes and increasing your physical activity.
Insulin is an extremely important hormone that’s produced by your pancreas. It has many functions, such as allowing your cells to take in sugar from your blood for energy.
However, living with chronically high levels of insulin, also known as hyperinsulinemia, can lead to excessive weight gain and serious health problems like heart disease and cancer (
High blood insulin levels can also cause your cells to become resistant to the hormone’s effects. This condition, known as insulin resistance, leads your pancreas to produce even more insulin, creating a precarious cycle (
If your doctor has advised you to lower your insulin levels, here are 14 things you can do.
Of the three macronutrients — carbohydrates, protein, and fat — carbs raise blood sugar and insulin levels the most. Even though carbs are an essential part of most balanced, nutritious diets, lower-carb diets can be very effective for losing weight and managing diabetes (
Many studies have confirmed the effectiveness of lower-carb eating plans for lowering insulin levels and increasing insulin sensitivity, especially when compared with other diets.
People living with health conditions characterized by insulin resistance, such as metabolic syndrome and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), may experience a dramatic lowering of insulin with carb restriction (
In a smaller study from 2009, people with metabolic syndrome were randomized to receive either a low fat or low carb diet containing 1,500 calories (
Insulin levels dropped by an average of 50% in the low carb group, compared with 19% in the low fat group. Those on the low carb diet also lost more weight (
In another small study from 2013, when people with PCOS ate a lower-carb diet containing enough calories to maintain their weight, they experienced greater reductions in insulin levels than when they ate a higher-carb diet (
While carbohydrates are typically an important part of a balanced diet, lower-carb diets have been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin levels in people living with obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and PCOS.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) may help prevent insulin and blood sugar spikes after eating, particularly when consumed with high carbohydrate foods (11).
One review found that consuming 2–6 teaspoons (10-30 mL) of vinegar daily appears to improve glycemic response to carbohydrate-rich meals. It’s important to note, however, that this review incorporated studies that used other forms of vinegar in addition to ACV (12).
Another review of studies found that consuming vinegar with meals affects both blood glucose and insulin levels. Individuals consuming vinegar with meals had lower blood sugar and insulin levels than those who didn’t consume it. But again, this review did not specify ACV (
A third review of studies from 2021 specifically targeted ACV analyzed its effect on glycemic control in adults (
The researchers found that consuming ACV significantly decreased fasting blood sugar and HbA1C (a measure of blood sugar over time). However, ACV did not seem to affect fasting insulin levels or insulin resistance (
Vinegar may help ease high blood sugar and insulin levels after meals, particularly when those meals are high in carbs. However, results are mixed and more research is needed — especially around apple cider vinegar in particular.
Your pancreas releases different amounts of insulin depending on the type of food you eat, but eating a large amount of foods that cause your body to produce extra insulin can eventually lead to hyperinsulinemia.
This is of particular concern for people who are already living with obesity and insulin resistance (
In one small 2017 study, otherwise healthy people classified as having either a “normal” BMI or a higher BMI each ate meals with different glycemic loads for a few days.
Researchers found that while the meals with a higher glycemic load (those with more sugar and carbs) spiked everyone’s blood sugar, the blood sugar of individuals with BMIs in the “obese” category stayed elevated longer (
Consuming fewer calories has consistently been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin levels in people living with excess weight and obesity, regardless of the type of diet they consume (
One small study from 2012 analyzed different weight loss methods in 157 people living with metabolic syndrome, which is a group of conditions that include a larger waist circumference and high blood sugar (
The researchers found that fasting insulin levels decreased by 16% in the group that practiced calorie restriction and 12% in the group that practiced portion control (
Even though calorie restriction has been shown to ease excess insulin levels, It’s a good idea to seek the help of a nutritionist or doctor before making any dietary changes to be sure you aren’t missing out on any important macro or micronutrients.
Reducing calorie intake can help lower insulin levels in people living with excess weight or obesity who have type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Sugar may very well be the most important ingredient to keep an eye on if you’re trying to lower your insulin levels. Diets high in added sugar are associated with insulin resistance and may promote the development of metabolic disease (
In a small study from 2009, otherwise healthy people were tasked with eating an increased amount of either candy (sugar) or peanuts (fat). The candy group experienced a 31% increase in fasting insulin levels, while the peanut group had a 12% increase (
In another small study from 2014, otherwise healthy adults consumed jams containing varying amounts of sugar. The adults who consumed high sugar jams saw their insulin levels rise significantly as compared with those who ate the lower-sugar jams (
Fructose is a type of natural sugar found in table sugar, honey, fruit, corn syrup, agave, and syrup.
While some studies have singled out fructose as particularly harmful for blood sugar control and insulin resistance, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest fructose is more harmful than other types of sugars when consumed in moderate amounts (
Indeed, one study found that replacing glucose or sucrose with fructose actually lowered peak post-meal blood sugar and insulin levels, especially in people with prediabetes or type 1 or type 2 diabetes (
A high intake of sugar in any form has been shown to increase insulin levels and promote insulin resistance if consumed for a length of time.
Engaging in regular physical activity can have powerful insulin-lowering effects.
Aerobic exercise appears to be very effective at increasing insulin sensitivity in people living with obesity or type 2 diabetes (
One study looked at the effect of sustained aerobic exercise versus high intensity interval training on metabolic fitness in men with obesity (
Although both groups experienced improvements in fitness, only the group that performed sustained aerobic activity experienced significantly lower insulin levels (
There’s also research showing that resistance training can help decrease insulin levels in older adults and people who are more sedentary (
And lastly, combining aerobic and resistance exercise may be the best choice when it comes to positively affecting insulin sensitivity and levels (
Aerobic exercise, strength training, or a combination of both may help lower insulin levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
Cinnamon is a delicious spice loaded with health-promoting antioxidants.
Recent studies suggest that both individuals living with insulin resistance and those with relatively normal insulin levels who supplement with cinnamon may experience enhanced insulin sensitivity and decreased insulin levels (
In one small, well-designed study, women with PCOS who took 1.5 grams of cinnamon powder daily for 12 weeks had significantly lower fasting insulin and insulin resistance than women who took a placebo (
In another small, well-designed study, individuals living with type 2 diabetes who took 500 mg of cinnamon powder twice daily for 3 months had lower fasting insulin and insulin resistance than those who took a placebo (
Improvements in insulin and insulin sensitivity were most pronounced for individuals with higher BMIs (
It’s important to note that there is no recommended dose of cinnamon that has been tested across the board, and not all studies have found that cinnamon helps lower insulin levels or increases insulin sensitivity. Cinnamon’s effects may vary from person to person (
Some studies have found that adding cinnamon to foods or beverages lowers insulin levels and increases insulin sensitivity, but results are mixed.
While complex carbs are an important part of a nutritious diet, refined or “simple” carbs don’t usually contain a lot of fiber or micronutrients and are digested very quickly.
Refined carbs include simple sugars as well as grains that have had the fibrous parts removed. Some examples are cereal with added sugar, highly processed fast foods, foods made with refined flour like certain breads and pastries, and white rice (
Regularly consuming refined carbs can lead to several health problems, including high insulin levels and weight gain (
Furthermore, refined carbs have a high glycemic index (GI). The GI is a scale that measures a specific food’s capacity to raise blood sugar. Glycemic load takes into account a food’s glycemic index and the amount of digestible carbs contained in a serving (42).
Some studies comparing foods with different glycemic loads have found that eating a high-glycemic-load food raises insulin levels more than eating the same portion of a low-glycemic-load food, even if the carb contents of the two foods are similar (
However, other studies comparing high-glycemic-load and high-glycemic-index diets with low-glycemic-load and low-glycemic-index diets have found no difference in their effects on insulin levels or insulin sensitivity (
Replacing refined carbs, which are digested quickly and can sharply raise blood sugar, with slower-digesting complex carbs and whole grains may help lower insulin levels.
Living an active lifestyle can help reduce insulin levels.
A 2005 study of more than 1,600 people found that the most sedentary people (who didn’t spend free time engaged in moderate or vigorous activity) were nearly twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome as those who did at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week (
Other studies have shown that getting up and walking around, rather than sitting for prolonged periods, can help keep insulin levels from spiking after a meal (
One study looked at the effect of physical activity on insulin levels in men with extra weight who were at risk for type 2 diabetes. Those who took the most steps per day had the greatest reduction in insulin levels and belly fat compared with those who took the fewest steps (
Avoiding sitting for prolonged periods and increasing the amount of time you spend walking or doing other moderate activities may help reduce insulin levels.
Intermittent fasting (an eating plan where you have set hours for eating and set hours for fasting during a 24-hour period) has been popping up in headlines recently, specifically around its possible weight loss benefits.
Research also suggests intermittent fasting may help reduce insulin levels as effectively as or more effectively than daily calorie restriction (
A 2019 study compared alternate-day fasting with calorie restriction in adults with extra weight or obesity and insulin resistance (
Those using alternate-day fasting for 12 months had greater reductions in fasting insulin and insulin resistance than those who restricted their calorie intake, as well as those in the control group (
Although many people find intermittent fasting beneficial and enjoyable, it doesn’t work for everyone and may cause problems in some people. A doctor or nutritionist can help you figure out whether intermittent fasting is right for you and how to do it safely.
Intermittent fasting may help reduce insulin levels. However, more research needs to be done, and this way of eating may not suit everyone.
Soluble fiber provides a number of health benefits, including aiding in weight loss and reducing blood sugar levels.
After you eat, the soluble fiber in food absorbs water and forms a gel, which slows down the movement of food through your digestive tract. This promotes feelings of fullness and keeps your blood sugar and insulin from rising too quickly after a meal (
One observational study from 2013 found that individuals assigned female at birth who ate the most soluble fiber were half as likely to be insulin-resistant as individuals assigned female who ate the least soluble fiber (
Soluble fiber also helps feed the friendly bacteria that live in your colon, which may improve gut health and reduce insulin resistance.
In a 6-week controlled study of older women with obesity, those who took flaxseed (which contains soluble fiber) experienced greater increases in insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels than women who took a probiotic or placebo (
Overall, fiber from whole foods appears to be more effective at reducing insulin than fiber in supplement form, although results are mixed. One study found that insulin decreased when people consumed black beans but not when they took a fiber supplement (
Soluble fiber, especially from whole foods, has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels, particularly in people living with obesity or type 2 diabetes.
The distribution of fat throughout your body is determined by age, sex hormones, and genetic variation (
An overabundance of belly fat — also known as visceral or abdominal fat — in particular is linked to many health issues. Visceral fat can promote inflammation and insulin resistance, which drives hyperinsulinemia (
A small study from 2013 suggests that losing visceral fat can lead to increased insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels (
Interestingly, another small study from 2013 found that people who lost abdominal fat retained the benefits for insulin sensitivity even after regaining a portion of the belly fat (
There is no way to specifically target visceral fat when losing weight. However, visceral fat loss is linked to subcutaneous fat loss, so when you lose weight in general, you’ll likely also lose visceral fat.
Furthermore, studies show that when you lose weight, you lose a higher percentage of visceral fat than fat throughout the rest of your body (
If your doctor has advised you to lose weight, talk with them about the best weight loss program for you.
If your doctor advises you to do so, losing visceral fat can increase insulin sensitivity and help reduce your insulin levels. While you can’t target visceral fat specifically, when you lose weight overall, you lose visceral fat as well.
Green tea contains high amounts of an antioxidant known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which may help fight insulin resistance (
In a 2016 study, postmenopausal individuals living with obesity and high insulin levels who took green tea extract experienced a small decrease in insulin over 12 months, while those who took a placebo had increased insulin levels following the intervention (
In a 2013 review, researchers reported that green tea appeared to significantly lower fasting insulin levels in high quality studies (
However, there are other high quality studies on green tea supplementation that have not shown a reduction in insulin levels or increased insulin sensitivity (
Several studies have found that green tea may increase insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin levels, but results are mixed.
There are many reasons to consume fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and anchovies. They provide high quality protein and are some of the best sources of long-chain omega-3 fats, which offer many health benefits (
Studies have shown that the omega-3s in fatty fish may also help reduce insulin resistance in people living with obesity, gestational diabetes, and PCOS (
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s
People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should eat 8–12 ounces of a variety of seafood per week, choosing options that are lower in mercury (
While eating fish is typically recommended over taking supplements for a variety of reasons (more omega-3s aren’t always better, and fish has additional nutrients and vitamins), fish oil supplements are sold widely in stores and are often used in studies.
These supplements contain the same long-chain omega-3 fats as the fish itself, but the effective dosage has not yet been determined (
Despite the need for more research, fish oil has been shown to support healthy blood sugar.
One small 2012 study in individuals with PCOS found a significant 8.4% decrease in insulin levels in a group who took fish oil, compared with a group who took a placebo (
Another study from 2013 found that children and adolescents with obesity who took fish oil supplements significantly reduced their insulin resistance and triglyceride levels (
Finally, a review of 17 studies found that taking fish oil supplements is associated with increased insulin sensitivity in people living with metabolic disorders (
The long-chain omega-3s in fatty fish may help reduce insulin resistance and insulin levels, especially in those with metabolic disorders. While fish oil supplements are sold widely and often used in studies, the effective dosing has not yet been determined.
Consuming adequate protein at meals can be beneficial for controlling your weight and insulin levels.
In a small study from 2015, premenopausal individuals living with obesity had lower insulin levels after consuming a high protein breakfast compared with a low protein breakfast. They also felt fuller and ate fewer calories at lunch (
However, protein stimulates insulin production so that your muscles can take up amino acids. Therefore, eating very high amounts over a prolonged period may lead to higher insulin levels in otherwise healthy individuals (
A larger study from 2018 sheds some light on these diverging results: When it comes to protein, dietary patterns are important.
For instance, researchers found that individuals who ate a majority of plant proteins were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, while individuals who ate a lot of protein in the form of red meat had a greater likelihood of living with or developing type 2 diabetes (
So while protein is important, eating a variety of protein that isn’t overly processed and is nutrient-dense is even more important.
Eating a variety of nutritious protein sources may help with insulin sensitivity, but moderation is key.
If your doctor has advised you to find ways to lower your insulin levels, they will most likely have a plan to help you accomplish that goal.
Eating fewer refined carbs and sugars, eating more fibrous and nutrient-dense foods, getting enough exercise, and occasionally supplementing with natural helpers like green tea and cinnamon can help you get on track and stay there until you reach that goal.