Thanks to recent scientific research, the glycemic index has revolutionized the way Americans view their diets. And it could become your best friend when attempting to lose weight. Additionally, learning about the glycemic index may help you discover untold benefits for your health, including reducing your risk of developing Metabolic Syndrome X, Type 2 Diabetes, high triglyceride levels, and heart disease.
The glycemic index is a way to rank foods according to the effect they have on blood glucose levels. It is especially useful for classifying carbohydrates.
In a nutshell, you want to choose foods that prevent large spikes in your insulin levels.
The Glycemic Index: How It Works
All carbohydrates cause a temporary rise in your blood glucose levels and, subsequently, insulin levels. This is called the glycemic response. The intensity of this response is affected by a number of factors, including the amount of food eaten, the type of carbohydrates, the method used to prepare the food, and the degree to which the food was processed.
Foods that raise your blood sugar and insulin levels slowly are most beneficial for weight loss. There are several reasons for this. Primarily, these foods—many of which are high in fiber—will keep you feeling fuller for a longer period of time.
The glycemic index measures to what degree a 50-gram portion of carbohydrates raises your blood sugar levels. Each food is assigned a number that ranges from 1 to 100. The highest rating, 100, is the reference score for pure glucose.
The index classifies GI scores in this manner:
<55 Low GI
56¬–69 Moderate GI
>70 High GI
The lower the GI, the more moderate the glycemic response, and in turn, the less hunger you feel later.
Any of us who has been on a diet can be thankful for this. The longer we feel satisfied, the weaker the temptation to visit “vending machine hell” at your workplace, grab that bag of chips on the way home from work, or sit down with those cheese puffs once you do get home.
Sugar and Its Effect on the Body
Your body performs at its best when it’s provided with a constant supply of blood sugar. Foods that cause your blood sugar to spike—and then crash—cause a host of undesirable symptoms and lead to potentially serious health problems down the road.
In fact, this sudden rush of sugar is one of the major causes of Type 2 Diabetes, which is currently being diagnosed in epidemic proportions in our country today.
You’re probably much more familiar with the physical effects of the glycemic index on your body than the verbal description of it. When your blood sugar drops too low, your body responds by inducing a general tiredness, what we have come to call that “sugar crash.” For many of us, it happens shortly after lunchtime. Three in the afternoon seems to be one of the favorite times for this to strike. Sound familiar now?
Many people attempt to cure this lethargic feeling with a quick snack—and usually an unhealthy one at that. Many of us turn to a candy bar. This, indeed, solves the problem, but only momentarily. A candy bar only serves to raise the blood’s glucose level quickly, and then…
The glucose level will only fall again. A vicious cycle, it is. But by choosing foods low on the glycemic index, we provide circumstances conducent to a slow and constant release of glucose into the bloodstream. The result is that we have a sustainable supply of energy all day long. The rises and dips of the glucose level become a thing of the past.
So what determines the numbers we find on the glycemic index? Several primary factors go into this ranking system: the structure of the simple sugars in the foods you eat, the quantity of soluble fiber in the foods, and the fat and protein contents of the food.
No complex carbohydrates (think grains, breads, and vegetables here) can enter the bloodstream as they are. The molecules are just too large. To remedy this, the body breaks the carbohydrates down into chemically smaller substances called simple sugars.
Your body uses two types of carbohydrates. The first type is called a complex carbohydrate. These are most commonly found in natural foods. Composed of long chains of sugar molecules, the liver gradually breaks this food down into shorter glucose molecules, which the brain can use for fuel.
Think of complex carbohydrates as time-released capsules of sugar. These are, for the most part, the foods that rank low on the glycemic index. Complex carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits and vegetables.