Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load — and Your Diet
You may react badly towards certain types of carbs (the sugars and starches that are so prevalent in today’s Western diet) like some people react badly to lactose or gluten. While your reaction towards carbs may not be as immediately visible as hives or nausea, the long term effects are easy to see – obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. So, like people who are lactose- or gluten- intolerant, you need to eat strategically.
One place to start is by designing a diet around the Glycemic Index (GI). (See definition of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load) Basically, you still eat carbs – but ‘high quality’ carbs instead of sugars and starches. The Glycemic Index is built on ranking food on a number scale, based on how quickly they raise blood sugar. ‘Oh no’, you’re thinking, ‘math! I hate math!’ But once you get used to the scale, it will become second nature and you will know instinctively what you should and should not eat. And if you’re like me, you can already look at a plate of food and calculate almost exactly how many calories it’s serving up — from years of practice. So this, too will become automatic — AND, more productive and healthful.
Remember the food pyramid? Well, we can think of the Glycemic Index diet as a pyramid, too. This time, low GI fruits and vegetables and legumes, protein, fats, and some dairy make up the bottom tier. Then comes the whole, unrefined grains and higher GI fruits and vegetables, with simple sugars and starches making up the top tier – meaning the tier you should stay away from!
Check out the Glycemic number of foods and compare them to what you eat in a normal day. Which foods in your current diet have a high GI number? Which ‘slow carbs’ can you eat instead? It’s not hard to find substitutes. You’ll be surprised as you look over the tables at what is high and what is low GI. (There are some examples following this article.) This means you can eat as you have been, only make some simple swaps!
Some ideas to get you started:
- You may have been raised on white bread, white rice and refined pasta, but it’s not hard to switch over to the whole grain variety! Learn to read labels — “whole wheat” is often not.
- Make a batch of bran muffins over the weekend. It’s as easy to slather some natural peanut butter on a pre-made muffin as it is to pour a bowl of cereal! Most familiar cereals have a high GI.
- Think you can’t live without potatoes? Try turnips – with a glycemic index of 0 it trumps potatoes at 85, without sacrificing taste! Slice them for au gratin, grate them for hash browns or mash them for a great mashed potato alternative. Cauliflower also makes a mean mash* and has a glycemic index of 0!
- If dislike the taste of whole grain pasta, try spaghetti squash. Poke some holes in it, microwave for 12-15 minutes, slice open and have fun extracting the ‘spaghetti’. Plus, the squash will give you a helping of veggies!
- Fresh fruit always makes a good sweet treat! And many fruits have lower GI’s.
Remember that with any diet, you need to listen to your body. If certain foods give you cravings, even if they have a low glycemic load, it might be better to avoid them. However, using the Glycemic Index is a great tool point for developing a slow-carb diet that will set you on your way to a great-looking body and stellar health!