When trying to lose weight there are many confusing, controversial, and fad “diet” tactics out there to differentiate in order to determine the best, and healthiest, choice for our personal needs.  There is no such thing as a “quick fix” that doesn’t also involve extreme sacrifices and, often, a quick regain of any weight lost.  For example, removing carbohydrates from one’s diet is a popular trend.  However, carbohydrates are a crucial fuel our bodies need to function and perform and cutting them completely from a diet, A) is nearly impossible, and B) leaves us with little to no energy for the important exercise and fitness component of weight loss.  The more beneficial approach is to alter the types and amounts of carbohydrates we consume.  Referencing a particular food’s glycemic index and glycemic load can assist in making informed choices.

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What is Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index is, essentially, a ranking of the carbohydrates present in a particular food in relation to how quickly they are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream.  Our digestive system converts these carbohydrates to glucose, or blood sugar.

Foods with a high glycemic index cause a rapid spike in blood sugar (think of a “sugar rush”) which triggers the body to release more insulin.  This is followed a few hours later with a sharp drop in blood sugar (or “crash”), making you feel hungry again.  This increased insulin secretion also inhibits fat burning, which ultimately is our goal.

Aside from being counterproductive to weight loss, long-term cycles of these spikes in blood sugar and insulin bursts may exhaust the pancreatic cells that release the insulin and this can lead to diabetes.  High blood sugar may also increase the amount of triglycerides in your blood, as well as decrease the HDL (high-density lipoprotein, the good cholesterol), increasing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  

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Okay, Now What is Glycemic Load?

A food’s glycemic load is a measurement of its impact on our blood sugar.  This figure combines the glycemic index and the amount of carbohydrates, in grams, of a food.

(GI x Carbs) ÷ 100 = GL

When we eat foods with a low glycemic load, glucose is more steadily released throughout our body.  Thus, our blood sugar levels remain more consistent over a longer period of time.  This lowers our insulin demands and potential future health risks. The most tangible benefit is feeling fuller for longer, and not experiencing a hard crash that sends us running for potato chips (bad!).

You may be familiar with the concept of eating 5 or so smaller meals throughout the day, or eating a little food every few hours.  When the snacks and meals we choose have a low glycemic load we sustain the satisfied feeling longer.  In between lunch and dinner, for example, reaching for a healthy snack can gently bump the blood sugar back up to a level we can maintain until our next meal.

How Do I Make Better Food Choices?

Since no one is telling you to erase carbohydrates from your memory, we need to examine what healthy ones should look like.  Depending on your individual needs and goals, you likely need to adjust several macronutrients in your meals (protein, fats, carbohydrates, fiber).  Many eating habits benefit from increasing your lean protein intake, which can help you feel full while consuming lesser amounts of starchy things.  Speaking with a nutrition expert, such as a certified holistic health coach, can address your personal goals and nutrient needs.

There is nothing inherently wrong with carbs such as brown rice or a sweet potato, but in America we have gotten used to grossly oversized proportions.  This is where glycemic load comes into play (grams of carbs per serving).  It helps to hone in on the quality of carbohydrate so we are optimally fueled without the blood sugar and insulin spikes.

For example, let’s compare two popular breakfast cereals:

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When reading the side of the box you may look at how many carbohydrates it contains and see that they are very similar.  However, the glycemic index of Corn Flakes is much higher, meaning it has less beneficial carbohydrates that will be quickly converted to glucose and accelerated to your blood, causing the insulin spike and, later, crash.  All-Bran is made with a whole grain and an equal sized bowl will be more slowly digested and converted to glucose, and will sustain the feeling of satisfaction and steady energy for a longer period of time.

What is a “Bad Carbohydrate?”

The most beneficial carbohydrates can be summed up as whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.  Carbs that do not provide much nutritional benefit are items such as white rice, white bread, potatoes, crackers, pasta, dried fruits, cookies, and sweets.  While the “good carbs” contain some sugars they are naturally occurring ones, as they are grown in nature.  They often contain a lot of fiber as well, which our body needs.  Items like white flours, rice, table sugar, and packaged foods are heavily processed, often diminishing the nutrient values.

Do not be fooled by some fruits, however!  Some fruits have very high GL, such as dried fruits and bananas, so do a little research before you shop.

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The best ways to lower your overall daily glycemic load are:

  1. Increase whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables
  2. Decrease high glycemic index starchy foods such as potatoes, white rice, white bread
  3. Decrease sugary foods such as cookies, cake, processed foods, soft drinks
  4. Purchase whole foods, as in foods that look the same as they do when found in nature!

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Talking Numbers

In order to determine the best foods based on GI and GL let’s review the established parameters:GLGI

 

Ready, Set, Go!

Keep in mind that glycemic load and glycemic index are only part of constructing a well-rounded eating plan for weight loss and health benefits.  Consider meeting with our nutrition expert and certified holistic health coach, Amanda Shipe, so you can be the healthiest you possible.  Amanda delivers a personalized plan for your overall health by examining your lifestyle, cravings, sleep quality, and more in her whole-body and whole food approach to helping you achieve your goals.  Utilizing tools such as BIA (bio-impedance analysis) can measure muscle-to-fat ratio and intracellular-to-extracellular health.  Over time, this can measure the progress of restoring good health through lifestyle changes.

For more information on nutrition counseling or the upcoming group nutrition workshop series, please reach out to:

Amanda Shipe
Owner and Founder, Mind Your Body Oasis
Certified Holistic Health Coach, Certified Pilates Instructor, Registered Yoga Teacher

Amanda@mindyourbodyoasis.com

By: Kathleen Kneeland

References

Atkinson, F.S., Foster-Powell, K., & Brand-Miller, J.C. (2008).  International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008.  Diabetes Care, 31 (12), 2281-2283.

Retrieved from: www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods

Foster-Powell, K., Holt, S.H.A., & Brand-Miller, J.C., (2002). International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 76, 5-56.

Higdon, J., Drake, V.J., & Liu, S., (2009). Glycemic index and glycemic load. Micronutrient Information Center.

www.lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/glycemic-index-glycemic-load

*This link leads to a website provided by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.  Kathleen Kneeland is not affiliated or endorsed by the Linus Pauling Institute or Oregon State University.

Larsen, T.M., Stine-Mathilde, D., vanBaak, M., Jebb, S.A., Papadaki, A., Pfeiffer, A.F.H., …Astrup, A. (2010). Diets with high or low protein content and glycemic index for weight-loss maintenance.  New England Journal of Medicine, 363, 2102-2113. Doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1007137.

McMillan-Price, J., Petocz, P., Atkinson, F., O’Neill, K., Samman, S., Steinbeck, K., …Brand-Miller, J. (2006). Comparison of four diets or varying glycemic load on weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction in overweight and obese young adults. JAMA Internal Medicine, 166, 1466-1475. Doi: 10.1001/archinte. 166.14.1466.