Understanding the Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index ranks carbohydrate containing foods (on a scale from 0 to 100) based on their effects on blood sugar levels in the body. A food with a high glycemic index (70 or above) will elevate your blood glucose higher and more quickly than a food with a low glycemic index (55 or less).

Highly processed and sweetened foods, such as candy or even bread made from refined white flour, tend to have a high glycemic index while less processed “whole” foods, such as an apple or whole-wheat bread tend to be lower in glycemic index. When planning meals using the glycemic index as a guide, proponents recommend choosing foods that are low or medium on the scale as often as possible. This usually is a good idea for any healthy diet because low-GI foods tend to be less processed, more nutritious and more wholesome. But plenty of good-for-you foods can have a high glycemic index (watermelon is one example), while other “unhealthy” foods like candy bars can be low on the GI scale.

Proponents of the GI diet believe that the lower the GI number of a carbohydrate food, the better. High GI foods are digested and metabolized more quickly, causing a rapid rise in blood glucose levels. This creates a dramatic spike in insulin levels. These responses can lead to an overproduction of insulin, contributing to weight gain. Therefore, carbohydrate foods with low glycemic indexes cause less insulin secretion and slow the clearing of glucose from the bloodstream—resulting in greater satiety, and fewer calories consumed throughout the day.

Ranking food on glycemic index alone ignores many other factors that may make that food favorable or unfavorable.  Because a carrot has a higher glycemic index than a slice of bacon does not make the bacon a better food for a diabetic or heart patient.  There are other more important nutritional considerations besides the glycemic index, including the toxicity, micronutient density and fiber in the food.  .

A good example of such nutritional nonsense is when the Zone diet, warns against the consumption of lima beans, papayas and carrots because of their glycemic index and Atkin’s excludes or limits those carbohydrate containing fruits and vegetables with proven powerful anti-cancer benefits.

The important point to remember is that a diet with a high micronutrient density already has a favorable glycemic index, but it also is low in saturated fat, high in fiber and rich in phytochemicals.

One great addition to your diet, that has both a low glycemic Index and high nutritive value is steel cut oats. Steel cut oats not only provide many nutrients beneficial to one’s body, they can aid in fat loss and general improvement in body composition. Steel cut oats rank 42 on the glycemic index, old fashioned rolled oats rank in at 50. In addition to steel cut oats, whole grain breads, veggies and most fruits are relatively low on the glycemic index.

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