Glycemic Index, What’s It All About?

By Dr. Rick Tague

Glycemic Index (GI) is an effective way to measure a carbohydrate-containing food’s effect on blood sugar. Some foods produce a higher blood sugar level than others. Low glycemic index foods generally have less of an impact on blood sugar levels because their carbohydrates break down more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream.

A sharp increase in blood sugar levels triggers the release of the hormone insulin, which takes sugar into muscle cells to be burned, or fat cells where it is stored. High levels of insulin can cause a rapid dip in blood sugar levels which will leave you feeling hungry. High insulin levels tends to lead to fat storage, especially in the abdomen.

If insulin levels rise too high, too often, the gland that produces the insulin, the pancreas, becomes worn out and doesn’t respond to high blood sugar levels effectively in the future. At this point, blood sugar levels then remain high (diabetes type 2) and can cause damage to cells in the body and increase the risk of conditions like heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Low and medium GI foods digest more slowly, produce a more steady, smaller rise in blood sugar, and help to keep hunger at bay.

  • Low GI = 55 or less. Most fruits and veggies (except potatoes and watermelon), whole grains, legumes, yogurt to name a few.
  • Medium GI = 56-69. Whole wheat products, sweet potato, table sugar.
  • High GI = 70 and above. Cereals, croissants, white bread, rice, etc.

Several factors can effect a foods glycemic index: other foods eaten at the same time, other components of a food (such as the amount of fat or protein it has), how the food was prepared, and an individual’s own reaction to the food. High blood glucose or repeated “spikes” in glucose levels may eventually result in not only type 2 diabetes, but coronary heart disease by increasing oxidative stress to the vasculature and also by the direct increase in insulin levels

(Diabetes Care 2000).

Some examples:

Most breads are not a low GI food. Whole grain and 100% stone-ground are lower GI choices. The less dense and fluffier the bread, thegreater the adverse effect on blood glucose levels. Lower GI breads should have 2-3 grams of fiber per slice.

  • Baguette French Bread 95 High
  • Bagel (white) 72 High
  • Rye Bread (whole grain) 58 Medium
  • Pita Bread 57 Medium
  • Many dairy foods have low GI because milk sugar takes time to digest and both the fat and protein lower it’s GI. It is recommended to choose the lower fat version.
  • Yogurt (non-fat) 24 Low
  • Soy Milk (reduced fat) 44 Low
  • Ice Cream 61 Medium

Nuts have a low GI value. Although low on the GI, nuts are calorie dense and should be consumed in moderation. Nuts also have a high satiety factor which means they satisfy appetite and make you feel full.

  • Almonds/Hazelnuts/Walnuts 0 Low
  • Peanuts 14 Low

Fruits can have high, medium and low GI values. For low GI, look for blackberries, cherries, oranges, raspberries and strawberries. Limit high GI fruits like cantaloupe, raisins and watermelon.

  • Cherries 22 Low
  • Strawberries 40 Low
  • Orange 42 Low
  • Cantaloupe 65 Medium
  • Watermelon 72 High

So, make wise choices when watching blood sugar levels….limit the “high” and look for the “low”!   Go to GIlisting.com for more information and GI values!

If you need help managing your weight…give the Center for Nutrition a call at  1-877-273-8446 and let our caring and professional staff set up a FREE consultation for you to review your health goals today!

Rick Tague, M.D., M.P.H. & T.M. is a nutrition & weight loss specialist and the Founder & Medical Director of the Center for Nutrition and Preventive Medicine, P.A.

Dr. Tague is an Alpha Omega Alpha honors graduate of Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. He also holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from Tulane. Dr. Tague is board certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Family Medicine. His medical practice has focused on optimum health, nutrition, and weight loss since 1996.

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