One tool for creating a healthier diet is the Glycemic Index. Here’s how you can use it to improve your food choices and lower your risk of developing diabetes.
Carbohydrates are not bad for you – in fact, your body needs them in order to function. But not all carbohydrates are created equal. People at risk of diabetes – and even those just looking for a healthier lifestyle – should take care which carbohydrates they eat.
One tool in creating a healthier diet is the Glycemic Index. Here’s a look at what it is, and how you can apply it to improve your food choices and lower your risk of developing diabetes.
GI and blood sugar
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a way of looking at carbohydrates in relation to each other. It ranks carbohydrate-rich foods according to how much they raise blood sugar levels in comparison to sugar or white bread.
When you eat a carbohydrate-rich food, the glucose (sugar) breaks down as you digest it and gives you energy. Your body responds by raising your blood sugar levels. The speed at which this occurs is called the glycemic response, and it depends on many factors, including how much you have eaten, and which foods you have eaten together.
In diabetics or pre-diabetics, blood sugar is important because the body requires insulin in order to process carbohydrates. Diabetics and pre-diabetics don’t produce the right amount of insulin to process them and so their blood sugar levels become erratic. Learning to eat the right foods in the right combinations is an important tool in fighting diabetes.
The higher a GI rating a food has, the faster it raises your blood sugar level. Overall, this means that it’s best to stick to lower-GI foods – although that’s not an entirely hard and fast rule. Some higher GI foods, like white potatoes, still offer a lot of nutritional value and have their place within a balanced diet.
How to find the GI rating for foods
A great resource for exploring the GI ratings for different foods is the Glycemic Index database online at http://www.glycemicindex.com/ (it’s the first number in the table). Foods with a rating of 55 or less are considered lower-GI foods; from 56-69 are considered medium, and 70 and above are considered high. Here are some examples:
Low GI foods:
• Lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, and other legumes
• Oatmeal, barley
• Broccoli, cauliflower, and most other vegetables
• Apple, banana, and most other fruits
• 100 per cent stone ground bread
Medium GI foods:
• Basmati and brown rice
• Whole wheat, rye, and pita bread
• New/white potatoes (not Russet)
High GI foods:
• White bread and white rice
• French fries
Foods that are all or mostly protein such as cheese, chicken, beef, and so on are not rated on the GI index because they are not significant sources of carbohydrates.
Tips for lowering GI
It may sound intimidating, but a few key changes in your diet can have a big impact. The first is to begin to avoid sugar where possible – and that includes corn syrups, fructose, maltose, and lactose. Read the labels and avoid processed foods which contain these ingredients, particularly if they are listed within the first 6 ingredients.