Cook This Way for Better Insulin Response

Try this technique to retain the flavor of your favorite foods without cooking over high heat.

pot on the stove

Medically reviewed in August 2021

Did you know the cooking method you choose could help keep your diabetes in control? Research shows that lightly steam-cooking at least some of your favorite foods may be one of the best ways to aid your insulin response.

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps you use blood sugar for energy. When you have low insulin sensitivity, also called insulin resistance, your body doesn’t perform this task as efficiently. This can lead to higher blood sugar, as well as an increased risk of certain conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.

In one 2016 study in the journal Diabetologia, steam cooking—along with poaching, boiling and stewing—seemed to beat frying, grilling and roasting when it came to maintaining insulin responsiveness. The study participants who ate foods cooked at high heat had poorer insulin sensitivity compared with the folks who often ate lightly steam-cooked foods.

Avoid this byproduct
Bottom line: A Maillard reaction occurs during the browning stage of high-heat cooking, producing potentially harmful byproducts called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). And these byproducts may be the reason for the research results.

So, instead of putting some of your goodies on the grill, pop them in the steamer—and give these steam-cooking tips a try:

  • Water it down. Poaching is another great low-heat cooking option for fruit, eggs, chicken and fish. To poach a food, you submerge it in a hot liquid such as water, wine or broth until it’s fully cooked.
  • Soak it up. A marinade may help reduce the harmful by-products created during high-heat cooking. Some studies have found that meat marinades made with herbs like rosemary and thyme to be particularly effective.
Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Insulin Resistance and Diabetes.” Reviewed August 12, 2019. Accessed August 3, 2020.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes.” May 2018. Accessed August 3, 2020.
W Cai, J Uribarri, L Zhu, et al. “Oral glycotoxins are a modifiable cause of dementia and the metabolic syndrome in mice and humans.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2014;111(13):4940-4945.
H Vlassara, W Cai, et al. “Oral AGE restriction ameliorates insulin resistance in obese individuals with the metabolic syndrome: a randomised controlled trial.” Diabetologia. 59, pages2181–2192(2016).
National Cancer Institute. “Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk.” Reviewed July 11, 2017. Accessed August 3, 2020.
University of Arkansas, Food Safety Consortium. "Brush On The Marinade, Hold Off The Cancerous Compounds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 June 2007.
SY Tsen, F Ameri, JS Smith. “Effects of Rosemary Extracts on the Reduction of Heterocyclic Amines in Beef Patties.” Journal of Food Science. Volume 71, Issue 8, Pages C469-C473. October 2016.

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