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» » » » » » What Is Glycemic Index And How Does It Affect Me?

I personally rely on the fact that, the basis to a healthy lifestyle is a well-balanced and nutritious meal. Believe it or not, your body works like a well serviced machine. When fed with 4 vital nutrients; carbohydrates, proteins, lipids and nucleic acids, you can remain healthy and feel your best.


The 21st century eating habits have led to a surge in fatal heart disorders, obesity and diabetes.


A collaborative study made by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that approximately 17 million people die of heart disorders and strokes worldwide.


Second to heart disorders, obesity is another chronic condition that rampantly prevails among Americans. According to the Journal of American Medical Association, 78.6 million US adults are obese.  This number only seems to get larger by the day.


Another disease on the rise is diabetes. Diabetes is prevalent in about 29.1 million Americans. With 1 in every 4 adults unaware of their diabetic condition, its time you up your game and maintain a healthy lifestyle to dodge this monster.


The CDC has estimated that by 2050, 1 in every 3 Americans will suffer from diabetes if the present food and nutrition trends continue. In 2007, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death and remains the leading cause of adult blindness, kidney failure and limb amputations to date.


Having researched and read a ton of published statistics and facts, I can safely state that, your lifestyle choices and healthy eating habits can help you prevent life threatening disorders.


The big problem these days that is keeping you away from a healthy diet is the inflation in your calorie intake and how large serving sizes have become over the years. You can go to any fast food restaurant and order a 24oz soda. I have also seen 64oz options in some rest areas and gas stations!


The International Journal of Obesity suggests the practice of portion control can aid in avoiding the development of obesity and becoming overweight. Obesity is direct consequence of repeated consumption of large servings.


In my previous article, “7 Scary Truths About Sugar” and other studies on the long-term effects of sugars, 10% of your typical calorie intake comes from the naturally occurring fructose. It is estimated that 75% is a result of added sugars in your restaurant meals and fast food binges.


Thus, portion control and a close calorie count are your rescue tools when it comes to combating the super sized portions at your favorite restaurant.


I am sure you are still trying to figure out what is glycemic index (GI) and where does it fit into this discussion?


Having spoken about the importance of healthy eating, its time to enlighten yourself with the nutritional concept of GI and its association with healthy food habits.


Healthy Diet: Is Glycemic Index The Key?


First, I want to explain to you what glycemic index is and how it affects your health.


Are you planning to maximize your daily diet regime? Are you interested in losing weight? Are you confused about the “good and the bad carbs” concept?


Paying attention to the glycemic index (GI) of foods, is one dietary tool that can help regulate your overall fitness and wellbeing.


To better understand what GI is and how it relates to your health, it’s important to understand exactly what carbohydrates are first.


What are Carbohydrates?

carbohydrates as a fruit and potato


Carbohydrates are one of the major nutrients required by the body for a healthy lifestyle. They are the most important source of energy for your body.


Common sources of carbs include:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Grains
  • Seeds
  • Legumes


Carbohydrates are extremely versatile and perform a series of crucial roles in your body. Over the past 5 decades some carbs are associated with weight gain while others are while others are promoted for their health benefits.


The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that 45% – 65% of your daily nutrition requirement of 2000 calories should come from carbohydrates. This amounts to about 900 – 1300 calories per day should be coming from carbohydrates.


Can you tell the difference between a sandwich made on white bread and a sandwich made with 100% whole grain bread?


Can you think of any reasons you would choose a side salad containing tomatoes, carrots and beans over a portion of french fries?


Though all the food items mentioned above contain carbohydrates, at some point in your life you must have been told to select one from another.


Do you know why?


To clear the ambiguity among various carbs, they are now separately listed as good carbs and bad carbs.


Good carbohydrates:

  • These are the healthiest form of carbs and are unprocessed or minimally processed such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans.
  • They promote a healthy lifestyle by providing a rich source of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber.

Bad carbohydrates:

  • These are the unhealthy version of carbs that are highly processed or refined such as white bread, sodas, pastas, french fries and others.
  • These carbs are easily digested and promote disorders such as weight gain, diabetes and heart diseases.


Choosing the healthier carbs on the basis of quality instead of deciding on their quantity per meal can help you boost your health.


There are two distinct classifications of carbs, simple and complex carbohydrates.


Simple carbohydrates include:

  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Sucrose.


These can be found in table sugar, milk, beer and malt liquors.


Complex Carbohydrates include:

  • Starch
  • Green vegetables
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Other polysaccharides (similar to a chain of simple carbs bound together).


These can be found in your potatoes, beans, vegetables and other dietary fibers.


The Theory of Good and Bad Carbohydrates

choosing good carbs or bad carbs. Concept of choice between two options marked as A and B. Letters are printed on note paper and attached to crope with clothes pins.


At this point you might be asking yourself, is there really something like good carbs and bad carbs? Should I completely exclude carbs from my daily meals? Will cutting out carbs help me reduce weight? What should these carbs be replaced with?


These are some great questions faced by dietitians and nutritionist all the time. Let’s take a look into this.


There is an easy explanation to “is there a such thing as good and bad carbs?” I came across an interesting comparison to explain this concept. Let’s refer to some carbohydrates as “gushers” and others we will call “tricklers”.


Gushers are your high GI carbohydrate foods. These are the carbs that enter your bloodstream quickly which causes a surge in glucose. When this happens, your pancreas releases a surge of insulin. Insulin transports the excess glucose into your muscles and fat cells. They then get stored for future use.


This results in an overcompensation of glucose being stored. This leaves you with a low blood glucose level. Have you ever felt dizziness, shakiness, difficulty paying attention, hungry, have a headache, a little clumsy or jerky movements, and sudden moodiness like crying after eating? This would be referred to as hypoglycemic.


This leaves your body feeling hungry and fatigued, while inducing fat storage rather than fat burning.


Tricklers on the other hand, are your low GI carbohydrates. These are those carbs that metabolize into glucose and enter the bloodstream at a much slower rate than the gushers do. The metabolism of these low GI carbohydrates are extended over a longer period of time.


Smaller infusion of glucose in the bloodstream leads to reduced insulin hormone release. This allows a steady energy release readily available to your body to perform all its activities as opposed to the gushers. Instead of a glycemic “surge”, there’s a glycemic “trickle.”


By eating trickle carbs, your body experiences a steady supply of readily available energy. You don’t get any hunger cravings, energy lulls, or any fat storing. This is your body’s “comfort zone”.


So, what carbohydrates should I be eating?


Great question! Choosing carbohydrates wisely is an essential part of a healthy diet. In order to make carbohydrates work for you as a part of your balanced diet, be sure to:


  • Emphasize fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Try and pick whole fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables without added sugars. These are better options than your fruit juices and dried fruits. Fruit juices and dried fruits are heavily concentrated sources of natural sugars. As a result, they have more calories. Also, by adding whole fruits and vegetables you also are adding more fibers.  This can help you feel fuller on fewer calories.
  • Pick you whole grains. Whole grains are my favorite source of fiber and other important nutrients. Try and stay away from refined grains such as white bread and white rice. These go through a process that strips out parts of the grain — along with some of the nutrients and fibers.
  • Eat more beans and legumes. Beans, peas and lentils, are among the most nutritious foods available. Legumes are usually low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. They also have beneficial fats such as soluble and insoluble fibers too!


Why Do Carbohydrates Matter?

carbs on a plate with fork and knife. Carbs are healthy when you watch glycemic index


Now that you know what carbohydrates are, the next logical question that arises is “why should you include carbs in your diet?


Here’s why!


Carbohydrates are the most reliable source of glycemic energy required for the normal functioning of your brain, kidney, medulla, red blood cells, and reproductive tissues. Of all these organs, the brain alone takes up about 20-25% of the glycemic carbs to function properly.


To add to the glycemic requirements of the brain, the red blood cells need 20 grams of glucose per day directly from the blood stream.


Dietary carbohydrates perform some vital functions for the human body including:

  • supply energy to your muscles
  • supplies your brain with energy
  • prevents the breakdown of proteins for energy (ketones)
  • helps with fat metabolism


The Carbohydrate Ranking Tool

glycemic index ranking tool


According to the Cambridge English dictionary, a scale is defined as “A set of numbers or amounts used to measure or compare the level of something”. Similarly, glycemic index is a scale that is used to measure how different carbohydrate rich foods affect normal blood sugar levels.


This glycemic index ranges from 0 to 100; on the basis of how quickly the different forms of carbs are metabolized once ingested. The carbs are broadly divided into three categories based on their position on the GI chart.


  • LOW = GI value 55 or less
  • MEDIUM = GI value of 56 – 69 inclusive
  • HIGH = GI 70 or more


What Is Glycemic Index?

high Glycemic indexed fruits and grains. What is glycemic index?


What is glycemic index? Glycemic index is a ranking system of all of the carbohydrates I just talked about. This system is based on how quickly the carbohydrates you eat can be metabolized into glucose.


The International Table of Glycemic Index that was first published in 1995 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It is a list of different carbs that are ranked based on their ability to increase blood sugar levels.


Based on previous research, glycemic index can be used as a primary tool to monitor the blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.


The glycemic index scales from 0 to 100, with pure glucose being ranked as 100.


Carbohydrates ranking higher on the GI scale have a higher glycemic index and lead to a surging increase in your blood glucose levels.


Several large-scale studies performed at Harvard University indicate that foods with a high glycemic index significantly contribute to the development and progression of diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.


Other evidence has been shown to validate foods with a low glycemic index protect against diseases such as:

  • Obesity
  • Colon cancer
  • Breast cancer


In a 6 month controlled study, participants were split into two groups. One group was required to eat a high–glycemic load diet (60% carbohydrate, 20% protein, 20% fat) with a GI score of 86 for 6 months. The other group required to eat a low glycemic diet (40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat) with a GI score of 53 for 6 months.


This study indicated that participants on the low GI diets lost more weight than those subjected to a high GI diet.


Studies Supporting the Right Carbohydrates

table full of carbohydrates help risks of diabetes


The correlation between prevalence of Diabetes and the refined carbohydrate content is examined via the clinical trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study indicates that an increase in the carbohydrate content leads to an upward trend in the prevalence of diabetes.


In another clinical study, 108 volunteering men and women between the ages of 18 and 60 were analyzed to determine the relationship between the parameters of metabolic control and quality of carbohydrates of the diet in individuals with type 2 diabetes.  It was concluded that the quality of the carbohydrate (especially its glycemic index) is closely associated with the progression of metabolic disorders.


The Journal of Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders performed a trial on 901 diabetic patients and stated that including carbs with a low glycemic index helps regulate daily blood-sugar levels in people suffering from diabetes.


It is important to eat foods that have a low glycemic index. Be sure to add more of these foods to your diet to be healthier.


How Can Counting Carbs Help Fight Diabetes?

carb counting with pen and paper helps fight diabetes


Carbohydrates directly influence diseases by affecting physiological and metabolic processes, thus minimizing the risk factors for the diseases itself. Keeping track of what you eat if you are a diabetic patient can help with maintaining the proper blood sugar levels. One tactic is carb counting and writing the amounts down.


The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and other components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) conduct and support healthy meals for diabetic patients. This was a really good source I found while doing research. If you are or know someone who struggles with diabetes, be sure to check that link out.


Carbohydrate counting can help you control your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, levels because carbohydrates affect your blood glucose more than other nutrients.


Healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are an important part of a healthy eating plan because they can provide both energy and nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and fiber.


Since 2003, clinical trials have authenticated that reducing carbohydrates with low glycemic index is still preferred over reducing fat in decreasing body weight and improving glucose control.


Carbs Can Help You Lose Weight

carbs help lose weight. Tape measure squeezing scales to form waist


Restricting your type and quantity of carbohydrate intake can help you lose weight. Among the 80% of participants who completed a specific clinical trial, the average weight loss was 4 kg; 14 to 15% of the participants had a reduction of at least 10% of their initial body weight with an emphasis on what carbohydrates were eaten.


In the same 2009 trial, researchers found that a combination of a higher protein and low-carbohydrate diet offers a greater advantage in terms of weight loss when practiced over a long-term.


Keep in mind that in all of the clinical trials, the key to a well-balanced nutritious diet is based on the choice of the carbohydrates included in your daily meal.

What’s In It For You?

man on a beach running. Counting carbs is healthy


An optimum blood sugar level is what your body needs for maximum performance. Low levels can make you lethargic and generate hunger feelings.


Furthermore, high blood sugar levels signal your nervous system to release the blood sugar reducing hormone called insulin. Excess sugars in your bloodstream are a problem. Anytime you have filled your body with more fuel than it needs, your liver sugar storage capacity is exceeded.


When your liver is full with more sugar than it needs, the excess sugar is converted by your liver into fatty acids. These fatty acids are returned to your bloodstream then taken throughout your body and stored. Ever wonder why your belly is fat? These excess fatty acids get stored in your belly, your butt, your breasts, etc. 


The issue with high blood sugar is worse if you suffer from diabetes. Diabetic patients’ inability to produce enough insulin hormones leads to many medicinal complications, in order to maintain their blood sugar levels.


Thus, the idea behind the glycemic index is simply to minimize insulin related problems. Make sure you are keeping a close eye on the foods that you eat. This has an immense effect on your blood sugar levels.


Factors That Affect The Glycemic Index Of Your Foods

apple, a marker and a paper with a glycemic index


Apart from the fiber and sugar content of your carbohydrate rich food, you also need to remember that there are other factors that contribute to an increase in the glycemic index of your carbohydrates.


  • Ripe fruits and veggies have a higher glycemic index as compared to fresh ones.


  • Processed foods have a higher GI than their original sources. For example, juice has a higher GI than the original whole fruit.


  • Cooking food for longer durations could also increase the glycemic index of the meal. For example, Al dente pasta is lower on the GI as opposed to soft cooked pasta.


  • The glycemic index also varies with change in the shape and size of a particular grain. For example, while the long rice grain has a lower GI than brown rice, the short grain white rice has a higher GI than brown rice.


Points To Be Noted About Glycemic Index

a-woman-shopping-for-apples-at-a-grocery-store-2 paying attention to glycemic index


For non-diabetic people, sometimes strenuous physical activities or a rigorous workout schedule may demand foods that have a higher glycemic index. Be sure to ask your doctor, nutritionist, or a clinical diabetic educator what works best for you. 


Also, it is important to acknowledge the fact that, blood sugar can be affected by other factors such as the amount of food consumed per meal. The easiest way to look for food choices with a lower glycemic index is to look for the low GI symbol on your food items.  


Giving up foods with a high glycemic index is not the answer to all blood sugar related disorders. 


Eating low GI foods will help you regulate your blood sugar fluctuations and keep you full for longer periods of time. Remember! Everybody is different. What may work for someone may not always work for you.


Get in touch with your physician and find out if a low GI diet can work wonders for you!


Comment in the section below your experiences with counting carbs and paying close attention to glycemic index of your foods. I would love to hear what you have to say!



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