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: