Basic Information on The Glycemic Index

Some people have never heard of the Glycemic Index and how food is ‘weighted’ and why the process is even necessary.

Even more people have heard of GI, but don’t know much about it, and their lives are just too busy already to learn something new about the way food affects the human body.

This post is a primer of sorts, an introduction to the Glycemic Index, an explanation of why this is important for overall health, and where to get more information on the subject of Low GI eating.

Keep in mind that this is a far more advanced concept of understanding food’s effect on your body than simple calorie counting. Although the caloric value of a food is somewhat important for health and well-being, far too many people place far too much emphasis on calories when watching their weight – one of the major reasons that diets don’t work!

What is the Glycemic Index?

The Glycemic Index is a measure of foods’ and combination of foods’ ability to raise a body’s blood glucose levels. The process of determining a food’s effect is costly and requires scientific experimentation using human subjects.

If you are looking to lose weight, manage your weight, prevent the onset of diabetes or manage your blood sugar levels, understanding the Glycemic Index is important. I might also add that if you are a parent or caretaker who influences eating habits of others, learning about GI should be a primary concern and responsibility.

What Foods Affect Glucose Levels?

Sugar, of course, natural and refined. Carbohydrates also convert to glucose in your body, but carbs are not all created equal and are a necessity to optimum health – so don’t nix them from your intake just yet…

The best direction you can take for your body – no matter what your health goals are – is to fuel your body with foods that do not cause ‘spikes’ in your blood glucose levels.

Low GI foods, slowly digested, cause a gradual rise and fall in glucose. This is optimum to healthy bodies because:

  • low GI foods reduce the secretion of your body’s insulin throughout the day,
  • low glucose levels decrease oxidative stress in your blood, heart and other organs,
  • an even blood glucose level throughout the day ensures vessels remain elastic, reducing formation of plaque leading to atherosclerosis (heart disease),
  • low glucose levels reduce your body’s tendency to form blood clots, and
  • slowing the digestion through Low GI dieting, helps delay hunger pangs and therefore promotes weight loss.

If you’re starting to understand that foods which take your body longer to digest are better for your body, you’d be correct – but there’s more to Low GI diets than meets the eye so read on!

Know More About the Food You’re Eating Than Its GI Value

The Glycemic Index is not meant to be used in isolation when understanding a food’s effect on the human body. If that was the case, you might assume that low GI, but high fat, foods (i.e. chocolate, potato chips, beer), are a good choice – but these would, in fact, be poor dietary choices overall since they are high in fat or other potentially harmful substances.

High fat foods do have a tendancy to appear on the GI as a low GI food – especially when compared to their lower fat equivalents. For instance potato chips have a GI of 54, vs. their more natural counterpart potatoes with a GI of 85. Your glucose levels may be maintained, but you’d quickly gain weight and clog your arteries with all that fat intake if you simply took the GI at face value.

With that said, don’t avoid all foods just because they have fat. Fats, like carbohydrates, have a wide spectrum of good to bad. Good fats, eaten with carbohydrates, round out a meal whereby the fat is beneficial and the meal becomes low GI. Which is my next point – combining foods for optimum health.

I won’t go into great detail in this post about combining – I’ll save it for another day, once you’ve had a chance to mull over and hopefully adopt the low GI way of life – but as an example of the power of combining…just a few good squirts of a fresh lemon can lower the GI of a meal. Wouldn’t you agree then, that learning about the Glycemic Index, combining foods, and later Glycemic Loads, is important and vital to your overall health?

I thought so!

Talk to you soon,

Laura Childs