Is the Glycemic Index Diet Right for
You?By Steve Edwards
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have control over the senses is like sailing in a rudderless ship, bound to
break to pieces on coming in contact with the very first rock." Mohandas
Nutritionists can be cruel.
Atkins goes bankrupt and before you can even drop "no carb" from your
vocabulary, you're being told it's not carbs but something called the "glycemic
index" that really matters. What the . . . ?
Don't worry. It's not as
confusing as it sounds. In fact, it's downright simple. So relax, grab a cup of
joe (hey, it's low on the glycemic index), and we'll have you in the know in no
time at all.
Just what the heck is the
glycemic index anyway?
In a nutshell, it's a way of
measuring how foods affect your blood sugar levels. This is particularly
important if you are diabetic, but lately it's been shown that blood sugar
fluctuations affect all sorts of factors in everyone. These include things like
your moods, cravings, and energy levels. And while it gets much deeper and more
serious for diabetics, the basic pattern is that spikes, and subsequent drops,
in blood sugar levels are bad. On the GI scale, a high number assigned to a
food is bad, and a low number is good.
Where the confusion
glycemic index refers to how fast glycogen, or sugar, is absorbed into your
blood. By itself, sugar enters extremely fast, but if you mix it with fiber,
fat, or protein, that absorption slows.
It's commonly assumed that
sugar causes blood sugar spikes, which is pretty much true. But when looking at
the numbers on a GI chart, you may get confused when fructose, a sugar, has a
low number, like 26, sucrose, table sugar, is near 100, and a baked potato, a
complex carbohydrate, is higher than both. This is because the state of the
food source needs to be accounted for. Refining and cooking many complex
carbohydrates, like starches, break down their fibrous structures and increase
their GI number to the point that many of them enter your bloodstream like a
nitrous injection. This could be good if you're playing a sport because your
blood sugar is being tapped, but it's bad if you're sitting at a desk trying to
concentrate. It's what we refer to as a "sugar rush."
The Glycemic Index Diet
Just when you're
starting to figure out that you need a healthy ratio of proteins,
carbohydrates, and fats, a diet comes along that gives every food a
numbermore than one number, in fact. There are many books now with the
words "glycemic" or "glucose" in their titles. And all of 'em are after the
same thing: somehow, you are supposed to keep these numbers straight so that
your diet balances somewhere in a middle zone in order to keep your blood sugar
levels constant. You probably like the sound of regulating your blood sugar
levels. You may not like the sound of trying to remember the GI number of every
morsel of food you pop in your mouth. I know I don't. If I had diabetes I would
do it. But I don't. And even though type 2 diabetes (the diet-induced kind) is
increasing at an alarming rate, most of you don't have it either. So let's
figure out how to avoid using the numbers.
the glycemic index is not the only indicator you should consider. What's
actually in the foodits nutrientsis far more important. This is why
I used the coffee example earlier. You probably know that your diet needs a bit
more than coffee, no matter where it sits on the GI scale. So you can't just
look at numbers and, say, use Diet Coke to replace some carrots just because it
has a lower GI number and expect to stay healthy. So the glycemic index doesn't
really change the ratio of proteins, fats, and carbs that you eat. That ratio
should be determined by your level of activity.
Luckily, most foods follow a
similar pattern on the GI scale. Plain sugary stuff, like candy, is high on the
index. Proteins and fats are low. Veggies tend to be low and fruits higher, but
this varies quite a lot depending on the sugar and fiber
ratioessentially, you don't really have to consider them much. For
example, ripe bananas and carrots are unusually high on the index, but these
are healthy foods without a lot of calories and not very offensive in the
overall scheme of your diet.
bigand not so obviousoffenders are the starches. Most grains are
cooked before we eat them, which causes their GI number to skyrocket. Add a bit
of manufacturinglike what's done to make white rice and pastasand
you have almost off-the-chart numbers and a perfect diet to induce the famed
sugar rush in cycles so harsh you may feel like you're manic-depressive. For
this reason, these foods should be limited and perhaps in severe cases cut out
completely. Then again, most of us don't eat pasta alone and combining foods
has an equalizing effect. So pasta with a lot of meat and fat won't shock your
system the same way pasta alone will. Therefore, if your diet is balanced, it's
really not that big a concern.
The bottom line
- On the GI scale, high numbers
are bad and low numbers are good.
- Natural foods have a lower GI than
- Uncooked is better than cooked.
- Whole grains have a lower GI than
- Table sugar (sucrose) is worse than
natural sugar (fructosenot to be confused with high-fructose corn syrup,
which is more processed and worse than sucrose).
- Fruits and veggies are pretty much fine,
even if their GI number is high.
- And no matter what you eat, your diet
should reflect your activity level. Does this sound familiar? If not, you
probably haven't read your diet guide.
In essence, the glycemic
index is a tool you can use to keep your diet in check that basically champions
the slogan that the more natural your diet is, the better it will be.