There is a long list of diet trends and one of them is low glycemic eating. Like most popularized diets most people really don’t understand what it means to eat foods that are low glycemic. It’s by no means a poor choice for an eating; in fact this style of eating is one I endorse when helping clients embark on a happier, healthier eating plan.
What is the Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index or GI is basically the impact a certain food will have on your blood sugar. Foods are tested as to how quickly it will raise our blood sugar and then given a GI value between 0 and 100. When we consume foods, our body goes to work to break them down into glucose aka sugar, which is then released into the blood stream for our body to distribute and use.
Depending on how quickly that food is broken down and released will dictate it’s GI. A food that has a high GI will have a greater impact on blood sugar than those that have a low GI. Foods are classified as having low GI (0-55), medium GI (56-69) and high (70+) GI values.
The concept of a GI association of food was initially used as a means to help individuals with type 2 Diabetes regain control of their health with healthier eating. Controlling blood sugar spikes and dips are important not just diabetics, but to all of us.
Blood sugar irregularities lead us to often to poor food choices as we are looking for that quick sugar fix (hello vending machine! ) Using the GI of food is a great way to understand how foods impact your body and make better choices.
Low glycemic foods
Low glycemic foods are those that have a low index score (<55) due to the fact, they take more time for the body to digest. Think of low GI foods as nutrient dense foods that are low in sugar, high in fiber, and most often unprocessed and unrefined. The more you have to chomp and chew, the more work you have to do to digest, the slower those sugars can be released.
Some Low GI choices are:
• Vegetables (other than potatoes)
• Most fruits (apples, berries, citrus and peaches)
• Lean proteins (including nuts/seeds, legumes, beans)
• Dairy (skim milk, cheese and low fat plain yogurt)
• Quality Grains such as barley, oats, quinoa
On the other hand, high GI foods are associated with most carbohydrates as these choices are most often processed, high in sugar and refined that will result in quick digestion and release of sugars. These are foods that are highly processed and more often contain little nutritional value (high sugar, low fiber).
High GI choices are:
• Refined flours
• Most packed goods such as crackers, cereals, snack foods, pastries, candy
• Whites – rice, pasta, breads, bagels
• Sweetened beverages such as soda and fruit drinks.
Living the Low GI Life
If using low GI as an eating style, it’s important to consider a few things. First, the GI value of a food does not take into account its nutritional value such as vitamins and minerals; it is purely a value of how the food could potentially affect blood sugar if consumed by itself. Some fruits will have a medium to high GI rating, but its nutritional value should not be negated due to its GI.
Secondly, how a food was cooked (i.e. mashed potato vs roasted whole), processed (juiced) or even the ripeness of certain fruits can affect the GI. Lastly, pairing foods although can also affect its rate of digestion, will not affect its original GI.
For instance, consuming pretzels (GI=83) alone will have a greater impact on blood sugar then consuming the pretzels with some hummus or nut butter. The fat and protein in the hummus/nut butter will slow digestion, yet the GI of the pretzels remains high.
Using the GI of a food, assisting particularly with our relationship with carbohydrates, can lead us to make better overall eating choices. So, choose to have the apple but eat it whole not juiced, pair that hummus with low GI cut up veggies and you’ve got a recipe for low glycemic eating success!