A lesson on the glycemic index

How – and if – having a working knowledge of the glycemic index can help you cut the pounds.

A classification of carbohydrate foods and their influence on your blood sugar levels, the glycemic index permeates the world of quick-fix diets.

From the Zone Diet to Sugar Busters to Nutrisystem, the glycemic index reigns supreme. Originally, diets revolving around the glycemic index were first created as a way to help control diabetes, but were later found to benefit anyone who needed to lose weight.

Glycemic index diets (often called low GI diets) aren’t like your traditional carb-counting or low-fat diets. On a glycemic index diet, you don’t count carbs and you don’t count calories, but you watch what type of carbs you eat. This is where the index comes in. The glycemic index tells you what kind of carbs to eat and drink in order to balance your blood sugar level. Advocates of a glycemic index diet claim such a diet will help you lose weight and reduce your risk for certain disease.

Are the claims true?

Glycemic index diets are based on the idea that high blood sugar levels are directly related to health problems such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Therefore, eating a diet that balances your blood sugar is thought to reduce your risk for such health conditions.

When you eat or drink carbs (sugars, starches, fiber), your body converts them to sugar. This sugar enters your blood, where it then reaches cells and provides your body with energy or gets stored in your muscles and liver to be used later. The hormones insulin and glucagon then help regulate the amount of sugar in your blood. Certain foods disrupt the balance of your blood sugar by causing a spike or drop. Over time, this fluctuation of blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance, which can lead to the health conditions listed above.

If you desire to eat foods that are good for your blood sugar level, the glycemic index is what you need. It ranks carbohydrate-containing foods and drinks from zero to 100. Foods with high numbers are digested quickly and cause your blood sugar to spike. Foods with a low score are digested slowly and keep your blood sugar at a nice, even level. Since these foods are digested slower, they keep you feeling fuller for longer and help with weight management.

Here are where some of your favourite foods fall on the scale.

Fifty-five or less: Low. Foods include raw apples, peas, raw carrots, peanuts, skim milk, lentils and kidney beans.

Fifty-six – 69: Medium. Foods include bananas, raisins, sweet corn, pineapple, and certain ice creams.

Seventy and above: High. Foods include brown rice, instant white rice, skinless baked potato, white bread, and watermelon.

Many wonder what it is about the glycemic index diet that makes for weight loss success. Is it eating foods that regulate blood sugar? Is it because it’s not an extreme diet, so it’s easier to maintain long term? Or is it because you eat more protein and fiber, which reduces your portion sizes? Depending on where you ask your questions, the answers vary.

But the real answer to weight loss is always the same – reduced calorie intake and additional calorie burning. That means eating less and working out more. Any diet that helps you lose weight will reduce your risk factors for certain health conditions.

A quick look at the glycemic index will show that healthy foods are low on the scale, but some unhealthy foods also score low. Surprisingly, ice cream and potato chips are lower on the index than baked potatoes. But don’t let this number fool you. When dealing with the glycemic index, you can’t just go by the numbers. You’ve got to use a dash of common sense as well.

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