Patients frequently tell me they eat a healthy breakfast every morning – they eat Cheerios. Cheerios are advertised on TV as “heart healthy”. We are told to eat more cheerios as they “can help lower our cholesterol and may reduce our risk of heart disease”. So if we eat more cheerios, will we become healthier? Unfortunately, the answer appears to be no. In fact, Cheerios may be making you fat and contributing to your diabetes. How is this possible? The carbohydrates in processed cereals are digested quickly, which increases their glycemic index. As we explained in the prior article, the glycemic index is a way of measuring how much and how quickly a food raises your blood sugar. Cheerios has a glycemic index (GI) rating of 74. For comparison, table sugar has a GI of 65. Remember, the glycemic index lists foods on a scale from zero to 100, with zero being the foods that are digested slowly, resulting in gradual rises in blood sugar levels, and 100 being foods that are rapidly digested, resulting in rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. Foods with a GI of 55 or less are considered low. Conversely, foods with a GI of 70 or more are considered high. By starting your day with a bowl of Cheerios, you are causing a spike in your blood sugar and thus a spike in your insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels are what lead to obesity and makes weight loss so difficult. Therefore, even tough Cheerios have a small amount of fiber, they are likely doing more harm than good. So what would be a good alternative breakfast to keep your insulin levels from spiking? Good low glycemic options include an omelet with vegetables, scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, unsweetened yogurt with berries, nuts, turkey sausage, or even some roasted turkey and cheese.
Obesity is a significant problem in our society. Losing weight and maintaining weight loss is incredibly difficult for most people. A major cause of weight gain in many people is elevated insulin levels. As described in prior articles, insulin is the “get fat and stay fat hormone”. If your insulin levels are high you will gain weight, which tends to be deposited in your belly. This is the dangerous fat, which leads to many diseases. Furthermore, high insulin levels lock in the fat already in your fat cells making weight loss extremely difficult, even with exercise. The glycemic index and glycemic loads are tools you can use to help you decide which foods to eat to help lower your insulin levels. Lower insulin levels will lead to weight loss and help to maintain weight.
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food causes our blood sugar levels to rise and how persistent the blood sugar remains elevated. The glycemic index (GI) ranks food on a scale from 0 to 100. Foods with a high GI are quickly digested and absorbed, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar. This leads to a large and persistent increase in insulin secretion. Insulin is the storage hormone that leads to weight gain and prevents weight loss. The foods that rank high on the GI scale tend to be high in processed carbohydrates and sugars. Pretzels, for example, have a GI of 83 and a baked potato without the skin has a GI of 98.
On the other hand, foods with a low GI are digested and absorbed at a slower rate and, subsequently, cause a slower rise in blood sugar levels. This causes low or minimal increase in insulin levels. Low insulin levels lead to weight loss. Low GI foods are typically rich in fiber, protein and/or fat. Examples of these include apples with a glycemic index of 28, unsweetened Greek-style yogurt at 11, and peanuts at 7. Keep in mind that a low GI doesn’t necessarily mean that a food is high in nutrients or healthy. You still need to choose healthy foods high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Following a low GI diet can make it easier to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, since these foods keep us feeling fuller, longer. Low-GI diets have also been shown to improve insulin resistance, and lower glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with type 2 diabetes.
One criticism of the glycemic index is that since the scale was created on a standard amount of carbohydrate per food (50 grams), it does not give people information about the amount of food they are actually eating. A common example is carrots. Carrots have a high glycemic index, but to get 50 grams of carbohydrate from carrots, you have to eat 4 cups of chopped carrot. Most people cannot eat this amount of carrots at one sitting. For this reason, the concept of Glycemic load was created, which takes serving size into account. 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. As a frame of reference, a GL higher than 20 is considered high, between 11 and 19 is considered moderate, and 10 or less is considered low.
If you are trying to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, lower your blood sugar, or lower you triglycerides naturally try to eliminate high glycemic foods from your diet. Many people are “carbohydrate intolerant”, that is their bodies cannot tolerate the large amount of simple carbs they are ingesting on a daily basis. A lower GI diet which eliminates many processed carbs from the diet is a good natural way to improve your health.
Click on these links to tables listing foods and their glycemic index/load:
Many people know they are intolerant to lactose. They will get sick if they consume milk products. Others are intolerant to gluten. They will get sick if they consume wheat products. But how would you know if you are intolerant to carbohydrates? Here are several clues:
- Abdominal fat: if you are packing extra pounds around your belly this is a good sign that you may be intolerant to carbohydrates.
- Elevated blood sugar: if your resting blood sugars are running high, you are most likely intolerant to carbohydrates.
- Elevated hemoglobin A1c: this goes along with number 2. An elevated hemoglobin A1c on your blood panel signifies your blood sugar has been running high over the preceding 3 months. This is a good indicator that you are intolerant to carbohydrates.
- Elevated triglycerides: elevated triglycerides on a blood panel can be due to carbohydrate intolerance.
- Low HDL cholesterol: this is your good cholesterol. Low HDL can be due to consuming too many carbohydrates and carbohydrate intolerance
- Elevated BMI/Obesity: if you are overweight this may be due to carbohydrate intolerance
- Hypertension: if your blood pressure is running high, this can be a sign of carbohydrate intolerance
- Metabolic syndrome: if your doctor tells you that you have this syndrome, you most likely are carbohydrate intolerant
- Prediabetes: this goes along with number 8, and suggests you are intolerant to carbohydrates.
- Diabetes mellitus: if you have been diagnosed with this disease, you are most likely intolerant to carbohydrates
So do you have any of these markers? If you do, the treatment may be to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet, especially the simple carbohydrates. It means you are eating too much sugar, bread, pasta, rice, and flour in your diet. Just as reducing milk products will help those who are lactose intolerant, cutting back on carbohydrates will help those intolerant to carbohydrates. In fact, reducing carbohydrates in your diet is a great natural way to help cure all ten of the “symptoms” above.