Eating by glycemic index

Glycemic Index

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We change our body chemistry every time we eat. In fact, diet is more powerful in preventing common diseases than either drugs or medical care. Learning about the glycemic index will help you reduce and prevent inflammation, stay slim, and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.

 

Glycemic Index 101

A few decades ago, all we knew was to eat less simple carbs and more complex carbs.

We now know this advice was too simplistic. Our bodies respond differently to the many types of complex carbohydrates.

The glycemic index is a more accurate guide to carbohydrates and other foods. Foods are given a number depending on how much they raise your blood sugar level. High-glycemic foods make your blood sugar level shoot up. Low-glycemic foods keep your blood sugar relatively stable. Foods lie along the spectrum from low to high-glycemic with numbers from 0 to 100.

 

How your body reacts

Let’s dig into some biochemistry.

Here’s what happens when you have some high-glycemic food like white bread. First, your blood glucose levels shoot up as your body breaks down the white bread. The β-cells in your pancreas are triggered to action by the spiking blood glucose and work quickly to secrete insulin. High amounts of insulin are released and your blood glucose levels drop sharply. Your blood glucose levels get on the biological equivalent of a roller coaster. Compare that to how your body responds to a low-glycemic meal. Instead of spikes in blood glucose and insulin levels, your body only experiences a gradual increase in blood glucose and the pancreatic cells don’t have to work furiously to produce the insulin you need. You still with me? Here are some long-term effects of high-glycemic foods.

Your risk of diabetes increases

If your pancreas constantly works overtime to produce enough insulin, it will fail. If your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin after each meal, your risk of type 2 diabetes increases.
Here are some common foods linked to diabetes: white bread, breakfast cereals – many of them claim to be whole-grain although they aren’t, white potatoes, corn, soda[link to soda post], and other sweetened drinks.

Your risk of cardiovascular disease also rises

We now know eating high-glycemic foods is linked to increased serum triglyceride and lower HDL (‘good’) cholesterol. Both increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Obesity becomes a problem

Your blood sugar level is tightly linked to how much you feel like eating. A lot of food cravings are caused by low blood sugar. Sugar and foods that quickly break down into sugar also make you tired, irritable, and inflamed. Also, if your blood sugar falls sharply, you’ll likely start munching. Let’s go back to what happens to your blood sugar level after a high-glycemic meal. Your blood sugar level shoots up as your body breaks the food down, then plunges when the pancreas releases insulin. Your body craves food when your blood sugar is low and signals you to eat again.

The cycle repeats. Your blood sugar shoots back up. Insulin is released. Your blood sugar drops. Once you get on this biochemical roller coaster, it takes a while before you can get off. Each time this cycle repeats, you consume more calories.

 

The nitty-gritty of the glycemic index and glycemic load

Here’s how to decipher glycemic index readings:

CategoryGlycemic index
Low GI1-55
Medium GI56-69
High GI70 and higher

Stick to foods from the low GI category and eat some foods from the medium GI category. Avoid high GI foods.

You’ll hear the term ‘glycemic index’ more often, but sometimes you’ll hear about a food’s ‘glycemic load’ as well.

Which measure should you use? Here’s the short answer: the glycemic index is used more often and is generally a good guide. The glycemic load gives you a better picture of how much a food will make your blood sugar level rise, so use that if you have it.

Here’s how to decipher glycemic load readings:

CategoryGlycemic load
Low GL1-10
Medium GL11-19
High GL:20 and higher

 

More than the glycemic index

The glycemic index is just one of the factors to consider when planning your meals. Make sure you consider a food’s nutrients, vitamins, and calories as well. For example, Gatorade has about the same glycemic index as watermelon. That definitely doesn’t mean they’re both good for you. Watermelon has far more nutrients than any sugary energy drink.

Also, lots of healthy foods may not be on a glycemic index list. Just because you can’t find a food on a list doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy.

 

Here’s how to eat a low-glycemic diet

Eat more whole-grain foods. Have some steel-cut oats in the morning with blueberries and almond butter. For a snack, stay away from the cookies and grab some nuts and dried fruit instead. Definitely avoid the soda. At mealtimes, try grains like brown rice, buckwheat, and quinoa. Avoid white bread and eat less starchy foods such as potatoes and corn.

 

Table of glycemic index and load of foods

Check out the glycemic index of some of the most common foods. List courtesy of Harvard Health Publications.

FOODGlycemic index (glucose = 100)Serving size (grams)Glycemic load per serving
BAKERY PRODUCTS AND BREADS
Banana cake, made with sugar476014
Banana cake, made without sugar556012
Sponge cake, plain466317
Vanilla cake made from packet mix with vanilla frosting (Betty Crocker)4211124
Apple, made with sugar446013
Apple, made without sugar48609
Waffles, Aunt Jemima (Quaker Oats)763510
Bagel, white, frozen727025
Baguette, white, plain953015
Coarse barley bread, 75-80% kernels, average34307
Hamburger bun61309
Kaiser roll733012
Pumpernickel bread56307
50% cracked wheat kernel bread583012
White wheat flour bread713010
Wonder™ bread, average733010
Whole wheat bread, average71309
100% Whole Grain™ bread (Natural Ovens)51307
Pita bread, white683010
Corn tortilla525012
Wheat tortilla30508
BEVERAGES
Coca Cola®, average63250 mL16
Fanta®, orange soft drink68250 mL23
Lucozade®, original (sparkling glucose drink)95±10250 mL40
Apple juice, unsweetened, average44250 mL30
Cranberry juice cocktail (Ocean Spray®)68250 mL24
Gatorade78250 mL12
Orange juice, unsweetened50250 mL12
Tomato juice, canned38250 mL4
BREAKFAST CEREALS AND RELATED PRODUCTS
All-Bran™, average553012
Coco Pops™, average773020
Cornflakes™, average933023
Cream of Wheat™ (Nabisco)6625017
Cream of Wheat™, Instant (Nabisco)7425022
Grapenuts™, average753016
Muesli, average663016
Oatmeal, average5525013
Instant oatmeal, average8325030
Puffed wheat, average803017
Raisin Bran™ (Kellogg’s)613012
Special K™ (Kellogg’s)693014
GRAINS
Pearled barley, average2815012
Sweet corn on the cob, average6015020
Couscous, average651509
Quinoa5315013
White rice, average8915043
Quick cooking white basmati6715028
Brown rice, average5015016
Converted, white rice (Uncle Ben’s®)3815014
Whole wheat kernels, average305011
Bulgur, average4815012
COOKIES AND CRACKERS
Graham crackers742514
Vanilla wafers772514
Shortbread642510
Rice cakes, average822517
Rye crisps, average642511
Soda crackers742512
DAIRY PRODUCTS AND ALTERNATIVES
Ice cream, regular57506
Ice cream, premium38503
Milk, full fat41250mL5
Milk, skim32250 mL4
Reduced-fat yogurt with fruit, average3320011
FRUITS
Apple, average391206
Banana, ripe6212016
Dates, dried426018
Grapefruit251203
Grapes, average5912011
Orange, average401204
Peach, average421205
Peach, canned in light syrup401205
Pear, average381204
Pear, canned in pear juice431205
Prunes, pitted296010
Raisins646028
Watermelon721204
BEANS AND NUTS
Baked beans, average401506
Blackeye peas, average3315010
Black beans301507
Chickpeas, average101503
Chickpeas, canned in brine381509
Navy beans, average311509
Kidney beans, average291507
Lentils, average291505
Soy beans, average151501
Cashews, salted27503
Peanuts, average7500
PASTA and NOODLES
Fettucini, average3218015
Macaroni, average4718023
Macaroni and Cheese (Kraft)6418032
Spaghetti, white, boiled, average4618022
Spaghetti, white, boiled 20 min, average5818026
Spaghetti, wholemeal, boiled, average4218017
SNACK FOODS
Corn chips, plain, salted, average425011
Fruit Roll-Ups®993024
M & M’s®, peanut33306
Microwave popcorn, plain, average55206
Potato chips, average515012
Pretzels, oven-baked833016
Snickers Bar®516018
VEGETABLES
Green peas, average51804
Carrots, average35802
Parsnips52804
Baked russet potato, average11115033
Boiled white potato, average8215021
Instant mashed potato, average8715017
Sweet potato, average7015022
Yam, average5415020
MISCELLANEOUS
Hummus (chickpea salad dip)6300
Chicken nuggets, frozen, reheated in microwave oven 5 min461007
Pizza, plain baked dough, served with parmesan cheese and tomato sauce8010022
Pizza, Super Supreme (Pizza Hut)361009
Honey, average612512

 

Chew on this

Keeping the glycemic index in mind when you pick foods will do a lot for you. It’ll even help you stay slim because you’ll be eating more fibre and less sugar.

Eating a low-glycemic diet will be easy. You don’t have to check a glycemic index list each time you eat. Remember the Michael Pollan food rule and you’ll be just fine: “Eat food (not processed). Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Eat well and live well!

Have you made the switch to a low-glycemic diet? Tell us about it in the comments!

Heather Tick M.D.

Heather Tick M.D.

Using both the data of modern science and the time-proven traditions of complementary medicine, Dr. Heather Tick M.D. has helped tens of thousands of patients reach their peak levels of health. For over twenty years Dr. Tick has dedicated herself to researching evidence-based holistic treatments for pain and inflammation. A multiple-book author, including the highly acclaimed Holistic Pain Relief - An In-Depth Guide to Managing Chronic Pain, Dr. Tick empowers her patients to live free of pain and full of life. She is the first holder of the prestigious Gunn-Loke Endowed Professorship of Integrative Pain Medicine at the University of Washington and a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington in the departments of Family Medicine and Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine.

2 Comments

  • Rhonda Witwer

    I’m confused by your support for Glycemic Index. When foods with resistant starch and fiber are tested for Glycemic Index, they compare more fiber-containing food with a smaller quantity of food. With the exception of viscous fibers, this results in no change in glycemic index of fiber-containing foods. Clearly misleading as fiber-containing foods have tremendous amount of evidence of health benefits. Glycemic Response, which compares the same quantity of foods is more fair and does not penalize fiber.

    October 17, 2016 at 3:30 am
  • Heather Tick M.D.
    Heather Tick M.D.

    GI is a simple start to raise the awareness of what the food we are eating is doing to our chemistry. You raise valid points that add more complexity. Thank you for that comment.

    November 30, 2016 at 9:21 pm

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