The glycemic index makes it easy
For the last few years we've been at war with carbohydrates. Making headlines today is something called the GI (glycemic index) diet - a carb balancing act.
For the last few years we’ve been at war with carbohydrates. We’ve been bombarded with the latest fad diets—from low-carb Atkins to protein-rich South Beach. Trying to eat healthy in today’s world of diet dos and don’ts is a minefield of contradictions.
Making headlines today is something called the GI diet—a carb balancing act recommended by the Canadian Diabetes Association and the World Health Organization.
The GI diet is more of a reference tool than a strictly regimented diet. It’s based on the glycemic index (GI), a numerical system that measures and rates the carbohydrates in foods according to how quickly they are digested and how greatly they affect blood sugar levels. The higher the number on the index, the greater the blood sugar response.
To assign values, pure glucose (sugar) is given the score of 100. According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, high GI foods have a score of 70 plus, medium foods fall between 55 and 69, and low foods score 55 or less. The number indicates whether a food raises your blood glucose rapidly, moderately, or slowly.
High on the GI
Carbohydrates are the body’s source of energy. Through digestion, carbs end up as glucose in the bloodstream—it’s the fuel that keeps us going. What’s important is how quickly glucose enters the bloodstream, and that’s where the GI comes in handy.
Highly ranked GI foods are digested quickly, raising blood sugar. This triggers the pancreas to release excessive amounts of insulin which brings the blood sugar back down by removing it from the bloodstream and then storing it as fat.
As your blood sugar level dramatically drops, so does your energy level. You may recognize this feeling as an energy rush after eating sugary foods, followed by sluggishness and hunger. It’s probably no surprise that foods on the higher end of the index tend to be refined and processed. Yet the list of foods with a GI of 60 or higher also contains things we might consider good for us, such as whole wheat bread, baked potatoes, instant oatmeal, cereal bars, raisins, carrots, honey, mangoes, and bananas.
Low on the GI
Foods that rank low on the GI are absorbed at a slow and steady rate, so there’s no panicky rush of insulin. End result? Your pancreas gets a break, you stay full longer between meals, and energy levels stay consistent.
Low GI foods include whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat milk products. These foods are naturally lower in fat, high in fibre, and contain essential antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Consuming low GI foods improves blood sugar control by keeping insulin levels in check—essential for diabetics. Low GI foods also reduce LDL (bad cholesterol), promote heart health, and contribute to weight loss and healthy weight management.
Making GI work for you
Man cannot live by lentils alone. It’s a conundrum to avoid bananas, cantaloupe, carrots, and other nutrient-dense foods just because they score high on the GI. But unlike fad diets, the GI is realistic for everyday eating because nothing is prohibited.
Good and bad aren’t part of the GI vocabulary. It’s more about combining a variety of carbs to create the ultimate healthy meal. The Canadian Diabetic Association recommends choosing mostly from the low and medium categories of all the food groups.
An easy starting place to include healthier carbs in your diet is to switch to whole grains such as brown rice instead of white. Try whole wheat pasta and pass on instant oats in favour of steel-cut oats at breakfast. Small steps to be sure, but increasingly important ones on the long and vital march to better health through healthier eating.