WHY IS GLYCEMIC INDEX IMPORTANT?
The glycemic index is an invaluable tool in making snack and meal choices. Choosing foods that are lower glycemic can help to:
- stabilize blood glucose levels
- minimize stress on the body
- reduce body fat
- fuel the brain for optimal performance
- balance energy
- improve your blood profile as it relates to cholesterol, triglycerides, and glucose levels
WHAT IS THE GLYCEMIC INDEX?
Glucose is a form of energy you metabolize from food and is the fuel for your brain and muscles. Glucose levels need to be in an ideal range in order for your body to function optimally. Any time glucose levels become too high or too low it increases stress on the organs associated with processing glucose. Glucose levels also affect your lean body mass, fat mass, energy, performance, and health.
Insulin plays a critical role in stabilizing blood glucose levels. Once glucose enters the bloodstream, insulin is released to facilitate its the entry into the brain, muscle and fat cells, decreasing the amount of circulating glucose in the blood stream. Insulin also affects whether or not energy is transported and stored in the fat cells or used by the brain and muscle cells.
The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods we eat get broken down into glucose (energy) and released into the blood stream. High glycemic foods get released into the blood stream very quickly resulting in a glucose spike, whereas low glycemic foods are released more slowly over time.
HOW DOES IT AFFECT STRESS AND RESILIENCY?
The massive spike in blood glucose from a high-glycemic food results in a correspondingly high output of insulin. Frequently consuming high-glycemic foods forces the pancreas to work hard to produce adequate amounts of insulin, placing undue stress on it.
It’s a bit like leaving the front door of your house open on a really hot or cold day, making the air conditioner or furnace run more often. To add insult to injury, continuously high levels of insulin make us less sensitive to its effects, and the pancreas has to work even harder to produce enough insulin to bring glucose levels back into the ideal range. Eventually this decreased sensitivity leads to insulin resistance and diabetes.
A rebound effect also often happens when we consume high-glycemic foods. A large amount of insulin is needed to lower the glucose spike, but it can actually push levels down too far. When this happens, glucagon is released to stimulate the intake of more glucose. That means we end up craving another high-glycemic food to boost blood glucose levels back up. This results in a glucose roller coaster, where there’s not enough glucose, then too much glucose, then too much insulin, then not enough glucose, then too much glucose, and so on. It’s also like an endless cycle of the air conditioner working really hard to make it cold, then the furnace working really hard to make it hot.
HOW DO I KNOW IF A FOOD IS LOW GLYCEMIC?
There are 3 things that will make a food lower glycemic:
The more fat, fiber and protein a food contains, the lower its glycemic index value. The fat, fiber and protein are broken down into energy and released into the body more slowly, so there’s no glucose spike and you will feel fuller longer. Whole grains, most fresh fruits and vegetables, many dairy products, nuts, and meats are lower glycemic.
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
- Keep blood glucose levels stabilized by eating several small meals and snacks throughout the day.
- Meals should be a combination of protein, carbohydrate and a small amount of healthy fats.
- Snacks should ideally be low glycemic, and in the 100-150 calorie range.
GLYCEMIC INDEX EXAMPLES
Chocolate covered nuts
Lettuce, all varieties
Nutrition bars and shakes
Oatmeal – steel cut
Peppers, all varieties
Breads – most
Cereals – most non-sweetened
Crackers – most
Oatmeal – instant
Whole wheat bread
Cream of Wheat, instant
Jellies and jams
Sugar sweetened beverages