You may have heard about the low glycemic diet which includes the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL). But how do we lose weight and stay healthy when using the GI and GL? And how do we even begin to remember numbers allocated to foods when we’re making choices each day? It’s become a controversial and confusing subject. We get conflicting advice from nutritionists, but it depends on how they’ve been taught, and unfortunately like many other topics, people tend to be black and white about this stuff. We are hopefully about to make it easier to understand and the information will be helpful. Many of our guests ask us about this topic too! So read on!
Why we do need sugar!
We need sugar which is broken down from carbohydrates in the form of glucose for energy which powers our body. Your body uses insulin to get the glucose to the parts of the body that need power. However, we can have health problems when there is to much glucose in the blood steam, which can happen due to a poor and unbalanced diet. This is when the Glycemic diet can help.
The Glycemic Index
The GI index was created in 1981 by a professor called Jenkins at the University of Toronto, to determine the effect of carbohydrate foods on blood sugar levels once consumed.This research was done to understand how foods affected people with type I diabetes and other diseases.The index they created shows how quickly a carbohydrate food is digested and released as sugar into the blood. It’s not good for our health if the body has to continually produce large amounts of insulin, due to a poor diet, to keep blood sugar levels stable. Eventually some people become insulin resistant. Insulin resistance is when blood sugar called glucose builds up in the blood instead of being absorbed by the cells. When this happens you can get low energy and just don’t feel yourself. The glucose that builds up can harm the blood vessels and this is when there is a risk of diabetes and other diseases.
Diabetes is partly genetics but the food we eat can play a major part in the equation.
Foods that were found to have a slower and lower effect on the insulin response were given a lower GI rating. If the insulin response was lower, it meant less fat storing and a more stable blood sugar. So the lower the index number, the better the food is to maintain health and weight and energy balance.
The index is rated as follows; –
Low, 54 and less.
So far so good. However it’s not that straight forward. The problem with the GI is it doesn’t take into consideration portion sizes. In fact, it standardises each portion size to be the same grams of carbohydrates.
Another problem with the GI is many foods can have their GI number altered dramatically depending on how that food is prepared. For instance lets look at white potatoes. They are relatively high on the GI scale at around 85, but cook them and leave them in the fridge overnight, and then GI becomes much lower, due to the development of resistant starch overnight. The new number is around 50, even if you then warm them through the GI stays low. This is just one example of where the scale doesn’t make sense in real life. However, we feel most people aren’t going to cook their potatoes and leave them overnight in the fridge to bring down the GI rating. So you should be warned that potatoes do have a high GI and according to research (1) potato consumption is related to the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Also take note that many factors affect the GI rating of foods. Starches, fibres, the preparation of the food, (i.e. cooked or fresh), ripeness of fruit. additions, such as vinegar (lowers the GI) or removal of fibre, such as in juice, (raises the GI) can all alter where a food falls on the scale.
Also just because a food is low on the index doesn’t mean it’s healthy and lots of high glycemic foods contain vast amount of vitamins and minerals.
Did you know that parsnips have a higher glycemic index value (52) than vanilla cake (42)!
In addition to this, combining foods, (as we would in a meal) by adding protein or fat, can also slow down the GI of a meal overall and therefore the impact on the blood sugar.
There is also research which suggests that for non-diabetics a rapid increase in blood sugar and the increase in insulin may be desirable. For example after a session of hard physical activity, insulin will help move glucose in to the muscle cells to aid tissue repair. This is why some fitness trainers recommend high GI foods post exercise to speed up recovery. So another thing to consider!
In 1997 researchers at the University of Harvard formulated the Glycemic Load ( GL) to overcome some of the short comings of the Glycemic index.
Glycemic Load Foods
Above 20- high
Below 11- low
To get the GL of a food we take the goods GI and divide it by 100 and then multiply this by the grams of carbohydrates, not including the fibre in a typical serving. This is because different foods have different standard portion sizes. So it stands to reason that the load will be higher if you have a whole plate of potatoes as opposed to just two. So we wouldn’t suggest you eat a whole plate of potatoes. Most foods with a high GI will also have a high GL. However, watermelon has a high GI but only 5 grams of carbohydrates , so the GL is low! Does all this seem confusing? If it does here are some simple tips we suggest you can follow.
Low Glycemic diet tips
Recently the World Health Organisation announced that 347 million people in the World have diabetes! So looking at the foods we eat is a serious issue which we need to address. Looking at the glycemic diet can help us to prevent diabetes. One of the foods linked to this is the over consumption of white potatoes and french fries (chips if you are from the UK), so this is something to be mindful off.
So how do we actually apply this to real life and eat in a way that doesn’t adversely affect our blood sugar and aggravate our insulin response?
Well like everything else in life, lets apply some common sense.
Old school thought was that we all needed to stick to very low GI foods to ensure that blood sugar levels kept low. And there is still some truth in that. However as we can see, moderation in portion size and some food combining means that we can manage just fine if we follow some simple rules. So here’s a nice common sense guide to keep your blood sugars balanced;
1. Veggies – if they grow above the ground they’re generally very low GI, green and fibrous and can be eaten in large quantities. The fibre delays digestion, which further leads to a slower absorption rate. Plus the benefits of green veg cannot be understated. We love green veggies here at the Fresh Start Thailand Fitness bootcamp!
2.Veggies – below ground have more natural sugars in them, so just don’t have a huge plateful at one sitting, eat in moderation, as you probably would anyway. Sweet potatoes are one vegetable which is grown underground and are sweeter than white potatoes. Interestingly the way you cook them will affect their GI, boiling being the best for keeping the GI down. Sweet potatoes are also loaded with beneficial fibre which helps your bowels to mover properly. The fibre in a sweet potato also also helps to lower the GI and according to the Utah State University. Along with all the beneficial health promoting vitamins like Vitamin A we feel this is one vegetable you shouldn’t live without!
3.Veggie Juices – juices from vegetables as a rule have a much lower GI than those of fruits. Apart from carrots, (which are incredibly sweet when juiced), then its safe to say a glass of veggie juice isn’t going to be high on the scale.
4. Fruits- Whole fruits have a lower GI due to the fibre and skin that comes with them. Berries are typically lower on the scale due to the type of sugar they contain.
5. Fruit Juices – are high on the GI scale. Stripping an orange or apple of all its fibre and skin will result in a glass of fructose, which you can probably tell by the sweetness! The rule of thumb for juices is that you can juice your veggies (in moderation) but eat your fruits. A small amount of fruit in a veggie juice is acceptable to make it palatable, but think about how sweet it is when you’re drinking it and be led by that. The sweeter it is, the higher on the scale it is. However, we do feel a fruit juice is far better than a can of coke or soda so use your own discretion when deciding. There are lots of other benefits of having fresh fruit juices like all the vitamins and minerals. So you have to take other factors into consideration. You could add 1/2 teaspoon of chia seeds and or a teaspoon of flax seed oil to balance the blood sugar levels.
We wanted to mention that we know lots of people that have cured themselves of horrible diseases just by juicing alone! There is lots on information and conflicting research out there so be intuitive and see and feel what works for you.
6. Meats – the protein makes them naturally lower GI. Protein does elicit an insulin response, but its small and not relevant for what we’re concentrating on now. Keep to your normal portion of a chicken breast or slice of fish.
7. Fats – low GI by nature. Saturated fats of good quality, i.e. grass fed organic ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil, butter and other natural fats such as olive and flax are all great to consume as you would normally. Modern research has now caught up and stated that fat does not harm your cholesterol nor make you fat. Enjoy but don’t overdo it either!
8. Grains – some are labeled as being low to mid GI, especially if you look at brown wholegrain varieties, and others very high, such as white bread. But this does not mean you can have 3 rounds of wholegrain toast and still enjoy some weight loss. The GI of different grains prepared in different ways is variable. We do suggest minimising this food group and staying away from high over processed glutinous, inflammatory grains like white bread, pasta and rice. For example a white bagel has a GI of 72!
Lower GI more natural grains include barley, spelt, bulgar wheat and rye which all contain less gluten than wheat and many beneficial nutrients that help to keep our bodies healthy. Buckwheat and Quinoa which aren’t part of the grain family are other lower GI alternatives. Another tip is wild rice which is the seed of a grass. This amazing rice has twice the protein and fibre of brown rice and a GI of 45.
9. Alcohol – use the sweetness and calorie reference as a guide here. Generally the better tipples are clean spirits, (with no sugar mixers!), and red wine. White wines and beers have more of an impact on blood sugar. American beers tend to have a lower GI due to their higher water content. Again, for weight management, enjoy alcohol in moderation.
10. Check out The Glycemic Load diet book by Rob Thompson M.D. There is some great information in this book including ways to correct hormonal imbalances, ways to speed up your metabolism and how to cut cravings.
11. Make sure you drink enough water every day. Your blood sugars are higher when you are dehydrated. Hydration helps to boost energy levels and reduces sugar cravings.
12. Keep exercising! Regular cardiovascular exercise has been shown to keep blood sugar levels balanced.
13. A good meal which would keep your blood sugars balanced would be fish and steamed mixed vegetables. The protein from the fish will help to slow the absorption of sugar from the carbohydrate in the vegetables.
14. Researchers have found that cinnamon is good at balancing blood sugars. So try including cinnamon into your meals!
Glycemic diet and weight loss
Increased blood sugar can lead to increases in insulin. Insulin is our fat storage hormone. So increased insulin can stop your body burning fat! Doctor Oz explains that your body can not break down large amounts of blood sugar and therefore it gets stored as fat.
Foods that are low on the glycemic load tend to keep us satiated for longer because these foods break down slowly and keep us fuller for longer, which is good for preventing snacking.
Regulating your blood sugar can be used as an effective way to maintain your fat burning capacity!
Just as we don’t really want to be counting calories all our life, we don’t want to be remembering the GI scale of every food we eye in the supermarket. Life would just be too dull. So stick to those general guidelines, be led by your palate and common sense and you’ll be just fine.
Remember your diet should be healthy and it involves more than the glycemic ethos. We suggest to stay away from any extreme approaches. For instance lots of research indicates that high meat consumption isn’t good for our health, especially if it isn’t organic! We will delve deeper into this debate in another article.
Eat naturally and enjoy a wide variety of clean foods in reasonable amounts and your body will enjoy the homeostasis. Here at fresh Start fitness holiday bootcamp we feel balance is important as is listening to our own bodies as we are all uniquely different. We hope you have found this article informative and enlightening.
‘’Attending our boot camp holiday in Thailand will help you to transition to a low Glycemic diet, as the food we prepare and present to you will be natural, wholesome and suitable for your health goals. Avoidance of processed foods, and using foods to help you refuel and recover is our main aim for long-term health’’
(1) American Diabetes Association
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition