Health & Fitness

By Leslie Rice Hart

Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more about the Glycemic Index (GI), a nutritional system that ranks foods according to how they affect blood sugar levels. I’ve known about the Glycemic Index for years, in fact, the Glycemic Index has actually been around for over 20 years. Some tout its use as a new approach to weight-loss. The idea behind the weight-loss plan is a system, the Glycemic Index, in which numbers are assigned to foods, allowing you to choose the foods that curb appetite, help shed excess pounds, lower your risk for diabetes, and improve heart health. Is this what we’ve all been waiting for? Here is how it is explained.

The Glycemic Index ranks carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100.

Foods considered high GI foods, 70 or higher on the index, such as potatoes, trigger a dramatic, rapid rise in blood sugar. This forces the body to overproduce insulin, the hormone that works to remove sugar from the blood and stimulates fat storage. This rapid rise in both blood sugar and insulin can cause increased hunger, sugar cravings, mood swings, fatigue and fat production, while increasing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and serious side effects in those who already have diabetes.

However, low GI foods, a number of 55 or less on the index, such as oatmeal will do just the opposite. These low GI foods produce a slow rise in blood sugar that the body can comfortably handle, keeping blood sugar steady and insulin levels under control. Low GI foods help curb the appetite and maintain energy levels, while defending against heart disease and diabetes. Medium GI foods, those in-between numbers, 56-69 have effects on the blood sugar that fall somewhere in between.

However, according to many experts, even some from the American Diabetes Association, the GI level of foods should not be the only evaluating factor when making decisions on what to consume. The index can get complicated.

The GI of a food varies from each person and even in an individual from day to day, depending on blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, and other factors.

The GI of a food might be one amount when consumed alone and another when it eaten with other foods as part of a meal.

Some low GI foods, like certain candy bars or potato chips, are high in fat and empty calories, while some high GI foods, like baked potatoes and watermelon are very nutritious and low in calories. The objective is to find foods that are low on the GI index, highly nutritious and appealing to individual tastes.

Among concerns in using, the GI is if food manufacturers begin lowering the GI of processed foods by adding high-fat ingredients or high-fructose corn syrup (which has a low GI). We will be in the same “sinking ship” when we had low-carb products inundating the market, non-nutritional foods were altered and labeled as healthy. Most experts, as a first measure, suggest basing food choices on a nutritionally balanced diet, while controlling total carbohydrates.

The Glycemic Index of a food varies significantly depending on the kind of food, its ripeness, it’s storage time, how it is cooked, the type and origin of the food and how it was processed.

More studies with the Glycemic Index must be conducted for conclusive results to make the GI an end all for weight-loss. Use it as a guideline and be smart about your choices.

Originally published March 2006
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