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Understanding the Glycemic Index

A white bowl full of sugar is surrounded by tools used to determine blood sugar levels. Understanding the glycemic index is very important and can help deter the need to use such tools. The image reads: "GI is a standardized measure of carbs based on its potential as an energy source. The glycemic index helps suppress hunger and control blood glucose levels."

If you have or know someone diagnosed with diabetes, you know of the Glycemic Index (GI). The GI helps diabetics to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Yet, more and more people, besides diabetics, are using the Glycemic Index as a nutritional guide. The GI is a good nutritional guide, but it is fallible. To fully utilize the GI, you need to understand how the GI works.

The GI is based off glucose. Glucose equals 100 on the chart. All other foods are in comparison to glucose. For example, fructose is a 19. This means it has a low effect on blood sugar levels. But remember, the negative effects of fructose far outweigh its small effect on blood sugar levels.

There are three levels on the GI. 55 or less is a low GI, 56-69 is moderate, and 70 or more is high.

Low GI food, also known as good carbs, are often high in fiber. They are not overly processed. Low GI foods are also called slow burning carbs. These foods affect blood levels slowly and steadily. The even release of energy keeps the body from experiencing insulin spikes. Low GI foods include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grain
  • Legumes
  • Barley
  • Carrots
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Dairy products

High GI foods, or bad carbs, release glucose quickly leading to insulin spikes. Insulin spikes mean that glucose is quickly transferred from the bloodstream to the cells. This quick transfer leads to energy crashes. Food considered high GI are:

  • White bread
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Low-fiber cereal
  • Baked products
  • Bagels with honey
  • Crackers
  • Raisins
  • Bananas

The GI has many pros. It is a standardized measure of carbs based on its potential as an energy source. The Index helps suppress hunger and control blood glucose levels. The GI improves awareness of the benefits and the risks of foods. The GI also helps athletes recognize and utilize glucoses effect on physical performance. For example, low GI foods are best throughout the day and before physical activity, but high GI foods are best during the physical activity and right after a workout.

However, the GI is not perfect. The GI ranks food and beverages according to how much they raise blood sugar when eaten by themselves on an empty stomach. Most foods are not consumed in the volume necessary to elicit the measured response on the GI. Also, most foods are eaten with other foods. Fat and protein can alter the GI of a meal as can how food is prepared. For example, fried food would most likely raise glucose levels. Another factor the GI does not account for is an individual’s response to glucose or insulin production.

Keeping in mind, many sugar foods do not have a high GI. This could be because the fructose levels are higher, or an alternative sugar was used. Be sure to read labels. Added and artificial sweeteners should be avoided. Many times, they are empty calorie sugars. They do not give much, if any, benefit to the body and are more likely to negatively affect the body.

To stabilize blood sugar levels try combining natural sweeteners like Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener, fat, and fiber in meals. Fat and fiber tend to lower GI and natural sweeteners lower fructose intake. As far as carbohydrates, stick with slow burning carbs. The slow release of glucose into the bloodstream will decrease insulin spikes, and keep your body energized!

References

Berkeley Wellness. (2015, June 01). Good Carbs, Bad Carbs: Does the Glycemic Index Diet Work? Retrieved from http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/diet-weight-loss/nutrition/article/guide-glycemic-index

GI and Sugar. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gisymbol.com/gi-sugar/

Healthline Editorial Team. (2016, June 10). Understanding the Glycemic Index. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/understanding-glycemic-index#takeaway

Nutrition Team. (2013, February 18). Understanding the Glycemic Index. Retrieved from http://www.coreperformance.com/knowledge/nutrition/understanding-the-glycemic-index.html


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