The Glycemic Index (G.I.) is a measure of how quickly our body’s metabolizes different carbohydrates.

All carbohydrates break down into sugars in the body, the higher the G.I. factor of a food the more rapidly it is broken down into sugars and the faster it will spike your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Foods that contain no carbohydrate, such as meat, fish, fats and oils, do not affect blood sugars and thus have no G.I. factor.

Foods that trigger high blood sugars are the carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, sugar, grains and anything containing wheat.

The G.I. measure is generally between 50 and 100. Any food under the measure of 55 is considered low and those over 70 are considered high. (Click on the link at the bottom of page for a list of low to high G.I. foods). To lose weight we want to keep our meals of a low count…

High G.I. meals lead to high blood sugar. If sugar levels rise too high and stay there, you will die. Therefore, to protect itself, the body has to find somewhere to put the sugar. The pancreas (producer of the hormone insulin), noting that the blood sugar is high elevates the insulin levels. Insulin is one of the primary hormones that stores fat and is known as the FAT-PRODUCING HORMONE! There are insulin receptors on the liver, muscles and fat cells. The first place the sugar is deposited is in the liver and muscles for short-term energy use. When these stores are full the insulin receptors take the excess sugar out of the bloodstream and, with nowhere else to safely put it, transport the sugar to the fat cells which in turn leads to fat and thus weight-gain!

If you do a lot of exercise or are naturally busy and are energetic throughout the day, you may burn off much of the excess sugar stored from eating high carb foods. However, the older we get, the harder this becomes and because the pancreas is constantly overworked, the excess sugar gets turned into body fat, leading to more weight gain with each passing year.

Carbohydrates have got a bad rap because they encourage excess insulin production, which in turn leads to excess fat, yet it is mainly the starchy carbohydrates such as potatoes, sugar, rice, pasta and anything containing wheat, that spike blood sugars. The good news is there is a way to eat starchy carbohydrates without gaining weight (with the exception of wheat) and this happens by lowering the overall glycemic count of a meal.

We do not have to avoid starchy carbohydrates to stop our blood sugars from soaring we need to combine them correctly to lower their glycemic count. By combining higher G.I. carbohydrates, with foods that are low or have no-count on the Glycemic Index, it will lower the G.I. factor of a meal and thus keep blood sugars stable.

Protein and fat (that do not contain carbohydrate) do not affect the blood sugar levels therefore do not have a glycemic index rating. This is why it is essential to combine protein and fat to lower the overall glycemic load of a meal, as it will stop blood sugars from spiking which in turn leads to fat storage.

The Perfect Combination

By combining quality protein, carbohydrate and fat in the correct balance it will go a long way to ensure the body gets a good supply of the 91 essential nutrients and energy it needs to perform optimally. This combination will also help prevent false hungers. For example: a large jacket potato, which is a good source of energy, vitamins and minerals, is high on the glycemic index and when eaten alone, or with a low-fat topping, will make blood-sugars soar, allow this to happen regularly and it will lead to weight gain. However, by reducing the size of the potato and adding butter (fat) and tuna (protein) , which do not register on the Glycemic Index and thus do not affect blood sugars, the overall glycemic load of the meal will be brought down to a level that prevents fat storage. This combination will also keep one feeling full for longer.

Snack Attack

The majority of snacks used to fill mid afternoon hunger pangs tend to do more damage than good. For example: crisps have a high G.I. and when eaten on their own or on an empty stomach will lead to a spike in blood sugars. This is the same story with cakes, biscuits, toast, crackers etc. Not only will these snacks encourage fat storage, they will do little to curb hunger and thus the desire to overeat.

There is nothing wrong with having snacks. It is not snacks that are the problem; it is the high carbohydrate proportion of the snack which leads to weight-gain through sugar spikes in the blood.

An apple is considered to be a low GI fruit, therefore ok to eat on its own. However, although most carbohydrates have been repeatedly tested for their glycemic ratings all published G.I. factors of foods are based on the average response. Meaning, for most, apples won’t spike blood sugars, but there are some for whom they may. Everyone is different and how one person metabolizes certain carbohydrates will not be the same as another. For this reason, it is safer to combine protein, carbohydrate and fat to ensure even blood sugars. E.g. an apple (carbohydrate) and a slice of cheese (protein and fat) creating the perfect filling and balanced snack.

A balanced, low G.I. meal is a serving of meat (or other source of protein) with one starch (e.g. rice or potato) and two non-starchy vegetable sources (e.g. carrots and cabbage), cooked in or served with a fat source (knob of butter or olive oil).

This way of eating is old school. It is not by chance that the old ways of eating a meal was ‘meat and two veg’, followed by a dessert. This way of eating ensured blood sugars remained even.

(If you are one who enjoys a pudding or something sweet after a meal, you should reduce the amount of starchy carbohydrate, such as potatoes or rice, with your meal. Desserts will always be higher on the Glycemic Index and by reducing the starchy content of your main meal; it will ensure that the blood sugars remain stable and prevent weight gain).

Individual Needs

For most, our starchy carbohydrate consumption is far too high for our sedentary lifestyles. Starchy, high G.I., carbs are sources of fuel. Yet for most of us, we barely do enough activity to burn off this fuel and it gets stored as fat. Many of us have sit down jobs and do little exercise. Even doing an hour’s workout at the gym, every day, is not enough to burn off the starchy carbs we eat. That said, when it comes to carbohydrate requirements, we are all different. The more active the person, the more fuel will be needed. If you work in a very physical job, do a lot of exercise or know you have a fast metabolic rate, you will probably need more carbohydrate. However, if you have already given up wheat, keep the G.I. factor of your meals low and are not losing weight when you want to, your starchy carbohydrate intake will be too high for your energy needs. If this is the case you can either reduce your starchy carb intake or vastly increase your exercise, to use up the excess energy.

When you give up wheat, you are already reduce your starchy carbohydrate intake massively (toast, pasta, pizza, cakes, crackers), but if you eat shop-bought, gluten-free replacements you will find you may put weight on, as they are higher on the G.I. scale than the wheat foods you’re replacing them with.

Glycemic Index Listing

©Diane Brown

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