Glycemic index is the measure of how quickly the food we eat causes our blood sugar levels to rise.
This measure ranks food on a scale of 0 to 100. Foods with a high glycemic index (GI), such as pizza (80) and baked potatoes without the skin (98), cause a rapid rise in blood sugar as they are quickly digested and absorbed.
Foods rich in fiber, protein and/or fat have a low GI and are digested and absorbed at a slower rate, causing a slow rise in blood sugar levels. Apples with a GI of 28 and peanuts with a GI of 7 are excellent examples of these. Don’t assume that foods which are low on GI are high on nutrients. You need to choose healthy foods from all five food groups for a balanced and healthy diet.
Consuming a diet rich in low-GI food is best suited to achieve and maintain a healthy weight as these foods help to keep us full for longer time periods. Low-GI diets have also been shown to improve insulin resistance and lower glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes and foods suitable for people affected by this disease are discussed in detail in the website www.firsteatright.com.
It is best suited to consume a low-GI diet except after an intense workout session. After these exercise schedules it is recommended to eat high-GI foods. High-GI foods are rapidly digested and hence, they aid in muscle recovery.
An Inexact but Helpful Measure
A food’s GI ranking denotes the value accurately only when the food is consumed on an empty stomach without any other type of food. But all of us are aware that this scenario is not practically possible. A pizza might be a stand-alone meal, but how often do we eat a plain potato without anything else? Add a side of broccoli, lean steak and a salad with low-fat dressing which would naturally fulfill your protein, fiber and fat requirements, thereby lowering the glycemic index.
The glycemic index is not dependent on the quantity of food we consume. The GI value of a food is determined by giving people a serving of the food that contains 50 grams of carbohydrate minus the fiber, then measuring the effect on their blood glucose levels over the next two hours.
Though a serving of 50 grams of carbs in one shot maybe reasonable for a food like rice, which contains 53 grams of carbs per cup, this is impractical for foods like beets. Though beets have a GI ranking of 64, they have just 13 grams of carbs per cup. This means that we need to consume nearly 4 cups of beets for the blood sugar levels to rise.
An Alternative to Glycemic Index
Glycemic load (GL) is a formula that corrects for potentially misleading GI by combining portion size and GI into one number. The carbohydrate content of the actual serving is multiplied by the food’s GI, then that number is divided by 100. So for a cup of beets, the GL would be: 13 times 64 = 832 divided by 100 = a GL of 8.3.
For reference, a GL having a value greater than 20 is considered high, between 11 and 19 is considered moderate and 10 or less is considered low.
In a nutshell: Though glycemic index is not a perfect system, it helps to spot low-glycemic foods that are more nutrient-dense and avoid foods high in refined carbohydrates.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.