What is the Glycemic Index (GI)?
Whenever you consume food, your blood sugar is affected. You ideally want to have a relatively stable blood sugar throughout the day, no big spikes, but no huge crashes either. This will help you maintain energy, improve your mood and immune system function, and help you maintain or lose weight.
A food’s Glycemic Index score measures how fast the carbohydrates in a food are broken down and released into your bloodstream. Foods that break down quickly (sugar, white bread, potatoes) have a high GI and trigger your body to rapidly release large amounts of insulin, causing a spike and subsequent crash in your blood sugar levels. Foods that break down more slowly (whole grains, legumes, most fruits and veggies, nuts, and animal products) have a lower GI and do not trigger as large of a response. Insulin causes your body to store fat, rather than use it is fuel. When your blood sugar crashes your brain no longer has the glucose it needs to function and craves highly refined, quick digesting carbohydrates (candy! soda!sugars!) to get glucose as soon as possible. The vicious cycle has been set in motion!
So what does all of this mean for you practically? Try to limit high GI foods in your diet! This is especially true for those of you who are trying to lose weight or need to keep a close eye on your insulin levels. Does this mean you can never have white rice again? No! The best time to consume high GI foods is right after a hard workout, when your glucose stores have been depleted. However, make sure you still exercise portion control, and also be realistic about what qualifies as a hard workout: a short, leisurely walk down the street doesn’t cut it.
Carbohydrates have gotten a really bad rap in the past few years, but carbohydrates in and of themselves are not bad, and in fact your body needs them to function. Refined carbohydrates that zap your energy and cause your body to store fat are the thing to stay away from. A thought for you to contemplate: refined white sugar has a GI of 70, white sandwich bread 85, and corn syrup 110. Considering what you now know about how your body responds to quickly digesting sugars, is it surprising that things like soda, which are chock full of corn syrups, high fructose and otherwise, are being implicated in our current health crisis?