Clinical studies have shown that a low Glycemic Index (GI) diet can help you lose weight, reduce fat, and lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes (see the note below).
Let’s start from the beginning and learn more about the Glycemic Index.
What is Glycemic Index?
It’s a number from 0 to 100 assigned to a food, with pure glucose arbitrarily given the value of 100, which represents the relative rise in the blood glucose level two hours after consuming that food. Glycemic Index is a way of measuring how much sugar stress we’re subjecting our bodies to when we eat different foods. Foods are assigned numbers based on how slowly or how quickly each increases your blood sugar level. That, in turn, is based on the kind of carbs the food contains.
How does eating certain foods affect Blood Sugar?
Carbs, which include the many types of sugars and starches, are the nutrients most easily and commonly converted by the body to blood glucose (blood sugar) - which is what powers your cells and you. Some carbs are digested quickly and so raise your blood sugar quickly. They have a high Glycemic Index. Others are more complex, take more time to digest, and raise your blood sugar more slowly – low Glycemic Index. So, GI is an easy way of comparing how fast your blood sugar will rise when you eat various foods. You want to emphasize low GI foods.
An apple, for example, has a Glycemic Index of 40, which is considered low (55 or less). The carbs it contains will convert to blood glucose relatively slowly. Cornflakes, on the other hand, have a GI of 81, which is considered high (pure glucose is 100). A bowl of cornflakes, therefore, will give you a fast rise in your blood sugar.
Now remember…. sugar is toxic in your blood. Your body needs to get rid of it, i.e., into cells. So, a sudden increase in blood sugar from eating, say, a candy bar or a doughnut will result in your pancreas and liver going into overdrive to deal with the resulting spike in blood sugar. You’ll receive a surge of insulin, among other responses, to help your cells absorb the sugar. Exercise will help burn some of that, but not as much as you might think. If you do not exercise or active, much goes to fat. After the sugar spike is used one way or another, your blood sugar drops like a rock – the ‘blahs’, the ‘bonk,’ Whatever you call it, it feels awful. Spike – Crash … up – down - repeating that cycle over and over with time can cause serious health problems.
You want to focus on low Glycemic Index foods. They release glucose slowly and that’s what you want in most situations. Steady blood sugar is far better for your health than swings. You feel better too and live a healthier lifestyle.
How did the Glycemic Index come about?
In the early 1980´s, Dr. David Jenkins, a Canadian professor, came up with a Glycemic Index scheme to put numbers on this effect. The different rates at which foods raise blood sugar levels are ranked in comparison with absorption of 50 grams of pure glucose. Pure glucose is used as a reference food and has a GI value of 100. Note that foods and/or diets are only assigned a GI value if they contain carbs. Therefore, foods without carbs won’t be found on GI lists.
How are foods scaled for the Glycemic Index?
There are three ratings groups for GI: (in individual portions):
- Low = GI value 55 or less
- Medium = GI value of 56 – 69 inclusive
- High = GI 70 or more
Low Glycemic index foods and diets provide good quality carbs and avoid blood sugar swings. They’re helpful for everyone, whatever your age or interests. Most importantly, they help avoid the serious health effects of too frequent sugar swings and chronic over or under healthy levels of blood sugar over time.
Some common low-glycemic foods include:
Green peas Onions Lettuce Cabbage Leafy greens, such as spinach, collards, kale, and beets Green beans Tomatoes Cucumbers Bok choy Artichokes Brussels sprouts Broccoli Cauliflower Celery Eggplant Peppers Zucchini Squash Snow peas Mushrooms
Apples Pears Plum Avocado Olives Dried apricots Unripe banana Peaches Strawberries Oranges Cherries Coconut Grapefruit Cranberries Blueberries
Whole or minimally processed grains
Barley Whole wheat Oat bran and rice bran cereals Whole-grain pasta Whole-grain pumpernickel bread Sourdough bread Wheat tortilla
Dairy and dairy-substitute products
Plain yogurt Cheese Cottage cheese Milk Soy milk and yogurt (no added sugar varieties)
Nuts and nut butters Poultry such as chicken and turkey Eggs and egg whites Fish and shellfish Meat such as beef and pork Oils such as extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil Lard, shortening & butter Mayonnaise
Foods to Avoid
Try to stay away from or minimize these kinds of foods:
Sugar White bread Instant oats Désirée & Red Pontiac potatoes Instant mashed potatoes Instant noodles White rice Watermelon Rice crackers Rice cakes Pretzels Corn chips Doughnuts Cupcakes, Cookies Waffles Cakes Sugary drinks
That’s great for mealtimes, you might say, but what about snacking?
Since snacking is such an important part of our busy lifestyles these days and much of the snack world is filled with high Glycemic Index goodies (lots of fats & sugar), it’s hard to know what to choose. Health or Convenience?
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