As of late, there has been much mention of the glycemic index. People everywhere talk about it and food advertisements use it liberally to promote certain products. But just what is this glycemic index, and what does it mean to you? Why is it that people are resorting to it as a means of weight loss and overall healthy eating choices? What is the reason that the G.I. is becoming the staple food guide of the free world?
The glycemic index is a means of measuring the effects of different foods on your blood sugar levels, in other words, how rapidly carbohydrates (sugars) are absorbed. Foods with a high G.I. release quickly into your blood causing a rapid rise in your blood sugar levels. Foods with a low G.I. release slowly into your blood helping to keep your blood sugar levels more stable and steady.
When a high G.I. food is eaten and blood sugar levels rise rapidly, there is a high response of insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels). The insulin works quickly to deposit this excess blood sugar into muscle cells in the form of glycogen (stored energy), and when the glycogen stores are full, the rest is stored in the fat cells as, yes, you guessed it, fat! Because of the over-response of insulin caused by the over-response of blood sugar, the blood sugar is quickly depleted to lower than normal levels, causing that burst of energy you felt to crash quickly.
Low G.I. foods that release at a slower rate do not cause such an insulin response. This allows for a blood sugar level stabilization over a longer period of time because a slow release of blood sugar means a slow release of insulin meaning that it can regulate blood sugar levels more accurately. And as you may have guessed, there is much less of a deposit to the fat cells also! This is why when you eat low G.I. food your energy levels stay up longer, and you don’t feel hungry too soon after eating as you do with high G.I. foods.
The glycemic index is measured by assessing how fast of a release of sugar different foods have into the blood versus the rate of pure glucose (blood sugar itself). A score of 100 has been assigned to the rate of release of glucose. If food has a release or index of 70 or higher, that means it has a rapid release and is a high G.I. food and should be avoided. If food has an index of 56 to 69 it has a somewhat rapid release but not an extreme one and is considered a medium G.I. food and should be limited. Any food with an index of 55 or less has a slow-release and is considered a low G.I. food and is good to consume at any time.
Now combining high G.I. foods with low ones in an overall meal will affect the G.I. of the whole meal. This is known as the glycemic value. If you had a potato with a G.I. of say 90 and a chicken breast with a G.I. of 0, the glycemic value of the meal would be 45, in the low G.I. range. So when you are trying to stay on the low side of the G.I. which you should be, you do not have to completely eliminate all high G.I. foods as long as you only consume them in combination with low ones to lower the glycemic load of the meal as a whole.
Examples of high G.I. foods are white flour bread, cakes of muffins, white potatoes, ripe bananas, and honey.
Some medium G.I. foods are red potatoes, jellies and jams, bran muffins, whole wheat bread, and most tropical fruits.
Some low G.I. foods are most vegetables, most northern fruits, yams, and sweet potatoes, grain cereals, any meats and dairy products, popcorn, and most nuts.
Now keep in mind that calories still do count and that means that just because you are eating foods with a low G.I. doesn’t mean that you can eat as much as you want. Staying with mostly low G.I. foods will help keep blood sugar levels stable and will help control your appetite but in the end, you still need to watch your overall calorie count lose or maintain weight and not gain weight.