Managing Diabetes Magazine - diabetes
The Glycemic Index
A unique tool for achieving a healthy weight
The obesity epidemic is the greatest health care crisis to hit the modern western world. Even more alarming, it is now predicted that over 30 per cent of the next generation will develop diabetes sometime in their lives. We have become an overfed, undernourished nation because of poor lifestyle habits. High glycemic index (GI) diets and lack of exercise are largely to blame.
What is the glycemic index?
In general, the lower the GI rating, the better the quality of carbohydrate and overall nutritional benefit.
Dr. David Jenkins, a Canadian nutritional sciences professor, developed this index in the early 1980s. It ranks carbohydrate-rich foods by how much they raise blood glucose levels in comparison with glucose or white bread.
When you eat food that contains carbohydrates, the sugar (glucose) breaks down during digestion and gives you energy. After you eat, your blood glucose level rises. The speed at which food increases your blood glucose level is called the glycemic response.
The glycemic index ranks carbohydrate-rich foods according to this response. Those that raise blood glucose quickly have a higher GI rating. Foods that do so more slowly have a lower one. Generally, the lower the rating, the better the quality of carbohydrate and overall nutritional benefit.
Low GI foods are usually low in calories and fat, while high in fibre, nutrients and antioxidants. Choosing low GI foods more often has many health benefits.
What are the benefits of eating low GI foods?
Prevent obesity – Low GI foods digest more slowly and stay in your stomach longer. This makes you feel full longer. As a result, you may eat less and consume fewer calories making it easier to control weight. In addition, low GI foods do not spike your blood glucose.
Prevent type 2 diabetes – High GI foods may increase the body’s demand for insulin and raise the workload of the pancreas. Some researchers think that eating a diet rich in high GI foods for many years may wear out the pancreas, resulting in type 2 diabetes. Eating low GI foods can ease the demand on the pancreas, so it does not work as hard.
Manage diabetes better – Eating low-GI foods helps control blood glucose and improves the body's sensitivity to insulin. These foods do not break down into sugar as quickly and so may keep blood glucose from spiking. Your body is more able to keep up with insulin demands. Controlling blood glucose levels is particularly important for helping those with diabetes to avoid serious complications of the disease.
Avert heart disease – Elevated insulin levels may be one driving factor for heart disease. High GI foods spike blood glucose levels and insulin demand. This may raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels, contributing to heart disease. In contrast, consuming low GI foods keeps blood glucose and insulin levels in check. Some evidence suggests this reduces total blood cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol, while increasing your heart-friendly, good HDL cholesterol.
Select low and medium GI foods more oftenthan high GI foods. A GI of 55 or less ranks as low, a GI of 56 to 69 is medium, and a GI of 70 or more ranks as high. Use the chart to help you make healthier choices.
Low glycemic index foods (55 or less)
– choose most often
Medium glycemic index foods (56 to 69) – choose more often
High glycemic index foods (greater than 70) – choose less often
Apple, plum and orange
Apricots, cherries, grapefruit
Peach, pear, plums
Sprouted wheat bread or tortilla Pumpernickel bread
Oatmeal (slow cook oats)
Lentils, kidney and baked beans
Fruits canned in light syrup
Split pea or green pea soup
Brown and Basmati rice
Shredded wheat cereal
Whole grain bread (coarse)
Pasta and noodles, cooked to al dente (firm)
Sweet corn niblets
White and whole wheat breads and bagels
Instant mashed potatoes
Baked white potato
Instant rice and noodles
Table sugar (sucrose)
What are some simple ways to include lower GI foods into my diet?
- Choose breads that contain a high proportion of whole or cracked grains, stone-ground whole wheat flour, oats, bran and seeds. The lowest GI (and recommended) bread is made from whole sprouted wheat.
- Select unrefined cereals like large-flake rolled oats, oat bran, wheat bran, muesli and cereals made with psyllium.
- Serve brown, wild, Basmati or converted (parboiled) rice.
- Try sweet potatoes or yams for dinner instead of regular white potatoes. (See recipe for Sweet Potato Fries.)
- Eat fresh fruit and vegetables. They have a low GI and break down into sugar slowly. Canada's Food Guide recommends five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Enjoy a variety!
- When baking, choose recipes that call for whole grain flours, oat bran, wheat bran, rolled oats or ground flaxseeds instead of, or along with, all-purpose flour.
- Snack on fruit, vegetables, yogurt or a handful of nuts. (Almonds, preferably non-salted, peanuts and walnuts are good choices because they also add healthy fats to your diet.)
- Choose fruit and dairy-based desserts, such as berries with plain yogurt.
- Enjoy more whole grain pasta, legumes, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
- Try tofu, barley, quinoa, and bulgur. (See recipes for Quinoa & Black Bean Salad and Tofu Pizza.)
- Use vinaigrette instead of a creamy salad dressing.
- It is lower in fat, plus the acidity of the vinegar slows digestion, lowering the meal's GI.
- Try to include at least one low GI food at each meal.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2012, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [DI_MDa10]