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A Perfect Score

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The glycemic index - a rating of hundreds of foods, long used by diabetics to help control blood sugar levels - is a great way to monitor carbohydrates and their effect on your body.

The glycemic index - a rating of hundreds of foods, long used by diabetics to help control blood sugar levels - is a great way to monitor carbohydrates and their effect on your body. In a nutshell, the index rates different foods according to how fast they convert to blood sugar.

According to Jennie Brand-Miller, PhD, co-author of The Glucose Revolution (Marlowe & Co., 1999), eating foods that score low on the index is key to better health by lowering risk for diabetes and heart disease, controlling weight, and even improving athletic performance.

Reading the Index

Here’s how the glycemic index works. Each food’s assigned number indicates how fast that food converts to sugar in the body, how high the blood sugar level is raised, and how long it stays elevated. The most common indexes measure the increase in blood sugar level over a fixed time period - usually two hours - after eating a certain food, compared with a baseline rating - the average increase after eating 50 grams of white bread. (Because white bread raises blood sugar similarly to pure glucose, it is the standard baseline food.) Eating a mango (80 glycemic index rating), for example, will raise blood sugar 80 percent as high as 50 grams of white bread would over a two-hour period.

This knowledge puts better health in your hands because persistently high blood sugar can lead to problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and free-radical stress from glucose oxidation. In fact, glucose oxidizes much more readily than fats, leading some experts to believe that too much sugar is more damaging to the body than too much fat.

Why Go Low?

A low-glycemic diet may benefit your body and it’s not just for diabetics. While researchers who studied type II diabetics reported in Diabetes Care in 1999 that a low-glycemic diet lowered blood sugar levels, enhanced insulin response, improved cholesterol levels, and benefited vascular health, research with non-diabetics reported in Metabolism in 2001 found that eating a low to moderate index-based meal 45 minutes before exercise provided more sustained energy and better performance than a high-scoring meal. In addition, low-glycemic foods may help children and adults who suffer from obesity because unused sugar in the bloodstream is converted to fat for storage.

Natural Nutrients

While low glycemic scores are good, you needn’t completely avoid high-scoring items. “It’s wrong to think that because one food has a high glycemic index it’s bad and another with a low glycemic index is good,” says Jonny Bowden, MA, CNS, author of Jonny Bowden's Shape Up!(Perseus, 2001). “Nobody ever became diabetic from eating peas and carrots, and there are plenty of junk foods with low glycemic indexes.”

So don’t neglect a balance of nutrients. Fats, proteins, and fibre, although exerting less effect on blood sugar than carbs, slow the carbohydrate-to-sugar conversion. “Fat is the best blood sugar-stabilizing material,” says Ann Louise Gittleman, MS, CNS, author of The Fat Flush Plan(McGraw-Hill, 2001). “But it’s important to eat the right kinds of fats, like avocado, olive oil, and nuts, rather than hydrogenated oils.”

The basic approach: Choose high-fibre, whole foods in as natural a state as possible. Avoid processed grains such as pasta, bread, and cereal, which are often void of phytonutrients, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Whole fruits and vegetables are a little higher on the index but still provide the body with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Organic meat is another low-scoring food because it’s made up primarily of protein and fat. “The whole point of the glycemic index is to give you a tool to make healthier carbohydrate substitutions in your diet,” says Rick Mendosa, an Aptos, California medical writer and glycemic index and diabetes specialist.

Whether you’re at risk for diabetes or just trying to stay healthy and keep fit, the glycemic index can help you choose foods for better health.

Glycemic Index for Selected Foods

Choose foods from the low end of the glycemic index.

Low glycemic foods (Rated 20 to 49 out of 100)

Grains:
Barley, 150 g 22
Bran cereals, 30 g 42
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, 180 g 44

Dairy:
Milk, 1% or whole, 250 g 27
Plain yogurt, 200 g 36
Skim milk, 250 ml 32
Nuts and seeds
Most varieties, 50 g 22 to 25

Legumes:
Garbanzo beans, 150 g 28
Kidney beans, 150 g 28
Soybeans, 150 g 18

Fruits:
Apples, 120 g 38
Berries, 120 g 40
Cherries, 120 g 22
Grapefruit, 120 g 25
Pears, 120 g 38
Plums, 120 g 39

Vegetables:
Carrots, cooked, 80 g 47
Peas, 80 g 48
Yams, 150 g 37

Moderate glycemic foods (Rated 50 to 69 out of 100)

Grains:
Whole-wheat bread, 30 g 52
Brown rice, 150 g 55
Buckwheat, 150 g 54

Vegetables:
Beets, 80 g 64
Corn on the cob, 80 g 54

Fruits:
Bananas, 120 g 52
Kiwi fruit, 120 g 53
Mango, 120 g 51
Papaya, 120 g 59
Pineapple, 120 g 59
Raisins, 60 g 64

Beverages:
Apple juice, 250 ml 58
Orange juice, 250 ml 50

Sweeteners:
Honey, unrefined, 25 g 55
Sucrose, 50 g 60

High glycemic foods (Rated 70 to 100 out of 100)

Grains:
Breakfast cereals, 30 g 75
Corn chips, 50 g 72
Doughnuts, 47g 76
Rice cakes, 25 g 78
Waffles, 35 g 76
White bread, 50 g 100

Vegetables:
French fries, 150 g 75
Parsnips, 80 g 97
Potato, baked, 150 g 85

Fruits:
Watermelon, 120 g 72
Beverages
Sports drinks, 250 ml 78

Source: fatwars.com, mendosa.com/index.html.

Why Go Low?

A low-glycemic diet may benefit your body and it’s not just for diabetics. While researchers who studied type II diabetics reported in Diabetes Care in 1999 that a low-glycemic diet lowered blood sugar levels, enhanced insulin response, improved cholesterol levels, and benefited vascular health, research with non-diabetics reported in Metabolism in 2001 found that eating a low to moderate index-based meal 45 minutes before exercise provided more sustained energy and better performance than a high-scoring meal. In addition, low-glycemic foods may help children and adults who suffer from obesity because unused sugar in the bloodstream is converted to fat for storage.

Natural Nutrients

While low glycemic scores are good, you needn’t completely avoid high-scoring items. “It’s wrong to think that because one food has a high glycemic index it’s bad and another with a low glycemic index is good,” says Jonny Bowden, MA, CNS, author of Jonny Bowden's Shape Up!(Perseus, 2001). “Nobody ever became diabetic from eating peas and carrots, and there are plenty of junk foods with low glycemic indexes.”

So don’t neglect a balance of nutrients. Fats, proteins, and fibre, although exerting less effect on blood sugar than carbs, slow the carbohydrate-to-sugar conversion. “Fat is the best blood sugar-stabilizing material,” says Ann Louise Gittleman, MS, CNS, author of The Fat Flush Plan(McGraw-Hill, 2001). “But it’s important to eat the right kinds of fats, like avocado, olive oil, and nuts, rather than hydrogenated oils.”

The basic approach: Choose high-fibre, whole foods in as natural a state as possible. Avoid processed grains such as pasta, bread, and cereal, which are often void of phytonutrients, fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Whole fruits and vegetables are a little higher on the index but still provide the body with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Organic meat is another low-scoring food because it’s made up primarily of protein and fat. “The whole point of the glycemic index is to give you a tool to make healthier carbohydrate substitutions in your diet,” says Rick Mendosa, an Aptos, California medical writer and glycemic index and diabetes specialist.

Whether you’re at risk for diabetes or just trying to stay healthy and keep fit, the glycemic index can help you choose foods for better health.

Glycemic Index for Selected Foods

Choose foods from the low end of the glycemic index.

Low glycemic foods (Rated 20 to 49 out of 100)

Grains:
Barley, 150 g 22
Bran cereals, 30 g 42
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, 180 g 44

Dairy:
Milk, 1% or whole, 250 g 27
Plain yogurt, 200 g 36
Skim milk, 250 ml 32
Nuts and seeds
Most varieties, 50 g 22 to 25

Legumes:
Garbanzo beans, 150 g 28
Kidney beans, 150 g 28
Soybeans, 150 g 18

Fruits:
Apples, 120 g 38
Berries, 120 g 40
Cherries, 120 g 22
Grapefruit, 120 g 25
Pears, 120 g 38
Plums, 120 g 39

Vegetables:
Carrots, cooked, 80 g 47
Peas, 80 g 48
Yams, 150 g 37

Moderate glycemic foods (Rated 50 to 69 out of 100)

Grains:
Whole-wheat bread, 30 g 52
Brown rice, 150 g 55
Buckwheat, 150 g 54

Vegetables:
Beets, 80 g 64
Corn on the cob, 80 g 54

Fruits:
Bananas, 120 g 52
Kiwi fruit, 120 g 53
Mango, 120 g 51
Papaya, 120 g 59
Pineapple, 120 g 59
Raisins, 60 g 64

Beverages:
Apple juice, 250 ml 58
Orange juice, 250 ml 50

Sweeteners:
Honey, unrefined, 25 g 55
Sucrose, 50 g 60

High glycemic foods (Rated 70 to 100 out of 100)

Grains:
Breakfast cereals, 30 g 75
Corn chips, 50 g 72
Doughnuts, 47g 76
Rice cakes, 25 g 78
Waffles, 35 g 76
White bread, 50 g 100

Vegetables:
French fries, 150 g 75
Parsnips, 80 g 97
Potato, baked, 150 g 85

Fruits:
Watermelon, 120 g 72
Beverages
Sports drinks, 250 ml 78

Source: fatwars.com, mendosa.com/index.html.

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