Learning how to properly use a Glycemic Index Chart can have several positive benefits for your overall health and wellness. Unfortunately, most people have never heard of the Glycemic Index let alone know how to use the information found in the chart. Before I explain this information let me share a real life story.
When I was growing up my favorite breakfast cereal was Rice Krispies. I loved the taste and when you poured on the milk they made that neat “Snap, Crackle, Pop” sound. But one thing I noticed, even as a child, was that within two hours or less I was hungry again. As a kid I thought it was because of all the air holes in the cereal. The Glycemic Index hadn’t been developed so there was no chart to tell me that Rice Krispies has an index value of 82. This value makes it a high glycemic food, which causes your blood sugar to spike followed by a crash and extreme hunger.
The Glycemic Index and Blood Sugar Control
Unless you’re a diabetic most people never pay very much attention to their blood sugar or blood glucose levels. That’s unfortunate because elevated blood glucose levels are one of the greatest factors in aging, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol levels and damage to your skin.
Your body’s performance is optimized when your blood sugar levels are kept relatively consistent within a range of 80 to 110 mg/dl. If your blood sugar drops below 80 mg/dl then you will become lethargic and experience increased hunger. When your blood sugar levels exceed 110 mg/dl then your brain will signal your pancreas to secrete a hormone called insulin. Insulin will lower your blood sugar level by converting the excess sugar into stored fat.
Carbohydrates have the greatest effect on your blood sugar levels. Most medical professionals will categorize your carbohydrates as either simple or complex. It has long been assumed that simple sugars are rapidly absorbed by our bodies resulting in elevated blood glucose levels. Conversely, it was believed that complex carbohydrates took longer to break down and would then have less of an impact on your blood glucose levels.
Through the development of the Glycemic Index in 1981 and subsequent research, we now know that simple sugars do not make your blood glucose levels increase any more rapidly than some complex carbohydrates. Wheat is a prime example. A Glycemic Index Chart will help you better understand which carbohydrates – simple or complex – will have the greatest effect on your blood sugar levels.
The Glycemic Index
Simply stated the Glycemic Index places a numerical value on how foods affect your blood glucose levels. Since fats and proteins have less of an effect on your blood sugar, the Glycemic Index Chart will concentrate on foods that are high in carbohydrates. This chart provides a data base that ranks these foods based on how they affect your blood glucose levels.
The Glycemic Index uses a scale of 0 to 100. The higher the numerical value assigned to the food the greater its affect on elevating blood sugar levels. Pure glucose is used as a reference point and is given a Glycemic Index of 100.
This tool for ranking carbohydrates on how they elevate your blood sugar is extremely important. If you’re consuming foods that cause a rapid and large increase in your blood sugar, then your body will release an excess amount of insulin. This helps to drive your blood sugar level back down but usually too low causing hunger and a new desire for food. This process can create a dangerous cycle for two reasons:
First, it’s a recipe for weight gain. Although you may feel an elevation in energy and mood, the release of excess insulin causes your body to convert your elevated blood sugar into stored fat. As your blood sugar level drops too low you become lethargic, moody and hungry. This causes most people to eat. This eating cycle can become as rapid as every two hours. To solve their hunger, many people will choose foods that are high on the Glycemic Index Chart. This compounds the problem. Typically these foods are high in calories and continue this cycle of elevated blood sugar followed by an over-release of insulin which converts blood sugar to fat.
Second, the constant release of insulin to rebalance your blood glucose levels taxes your pancreas. Over time this can lead to type II diabetes or completely exhaust your pancreas’ ability to manufacture insulin leading to adult onset diabetes.
The Glycemic Index Chart!
The purpose of this article is to help you learn how to affectively use a Glycemic Index Chart. The University of Sydney has done extensive research in this area and offers some of the best data available.
Within each food category a Glycemic Index Chart generally listed foods from the highest to the lowest index. Based upon how they affect your blood glucose level, foods are categorized as:
70 – 100
50 – 70
The goal is to stabilize blood sugar levels to reduce the stress on the pancreas and be a tool in helping to prevent weight gain. Using data from The University of Sydney, I think you will find the following observations helpful in understanding how to make this work for you.
Observation 1 – Breakfast cereals. I already mentioned how Rice Krispies (glycemic index of 82) affected my hunger levels but what about Cheerios. If you watch American television you will see TV ads touting how Cheerios is a great food for a healthy heart because it can lower your cholesterol levels. I’m not here to dispute this but Cheerios has a glycemic index of 74 which makes it a high glycemic food. For most people it will affect their blood glucose levels, which can cause them to be hungry in a short period of time and potentially stress their pancreas. If you’re a person who starts their day with cereal than a better choice would be Special K which a glycemic index of 54 or All-Bran at 42.
Observation 2 – Vegetables. While most vegetables are in the low to medium category there are two that need special attention. Carrots have a glycemic index of 92! That’s almost equal to pure glucose in how it affects your blood sugar levels. I was shocked when I saw this in the Glycemic Index Chart until I looked closer. Raw carrots have a glycemic index of 16 but when you boil them the glycemic index can rise to 41 or 92 depending upon the type of carrot. This means that food preparation can have an effect on the glycemic index.
The other vegetable is potatoes with a glycemic index of 78. A better choice would be sweet potatoes with an index of 48. From a naming standpoint, who would have thought that sweet potatoes would be a low glycemic food while a baked potato is a high glycemic food.
Observation 3 – Snacks. I cannot tell you how many people I see on diets eating rice cakes. According to the Glycemic Index Chart rice cakes have an index value of 82 making them a high glycemic food. No wonder dieters are constantly hungry eating this as a snack to control their appetite. It doesn’t work. Popcorn, without the butter, has a glycemic index of 55 and would be a much better alternative.
Observation 4 – Liquid consumption. With advertising campaigns centered on athletes there has been a huge rise in the popularity of sports drinks. Unfortunately, many of them have a high glycemic index like Gatorade Orange with an index of 89. While they might provide some electrolytes the vast majority of them are stressing the pancreas while contributing to the overweight/obesity epidemic facing America. Coca Cola with a glycemic index of 63 is not a good alternative. To hydrate yourself and help maintain your blood glucose levels within their normal range, pure water is your best choice.
By using the Glycemic Index Chart, you can effectively limit insulin-related problems by avoiding those foods that have the greatest impact on your blood glucose levels while enjoy some of the following benefits:
Help you lose and control your weight!
Improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin to increase diabetes control!
Reduce your risk for heart disease!
Help you to lower your cholesterol levels!
Reduce your hunger while keeping you fuller for longer!
Help you prolong physical endurance!
Weight management and good health is all about making good choices. Cutting out carbohydrates is not a good choice. Cutting out high glycemic foods, limiting their consumption or replacing them with low glycemic foods are good choices. As you become more familiar with the Glycemic Index Chart you will see that foods like white bread, refined rice, refined cereals and many baked goods are high glycemic foods while most fruits, vegetables, whole grain pastas, and legumes (beans) are low glycemic foods.
Although the glycemic index should not be your only criteria for selecting what to eat, it can be a very useful tool in getting off of the daily blood sugar roller coaster that many people experience.