So now you know what carbohydrates are…but are all carbs created equal?
What is the difference between a simple carbohydrate and a complex one? When you should you eat them? Which ones are good and bad?
The glycemic index is one of the major keys to determining the carbs that we should have as a regular part of our diet each day…but it takes more than just the index to make the right choices.
If you don’t know what carbohydrates are, or if you don’t understand how they affect your body, then I recommend checking out part 1 on carbohydrates.
I mention glycemic index fairly often when talking about nutrition and carbohydrates with my clients. Most of us have heard of the term glycemic index (GI) before, but few people know what is it, and what it has to do with our health.
GI is the measure of how certain foods (mainly those with high carbohydrate content) affect blood sugar levels.
The idea behind GI is that scientists give 10 people equal portions of a food and then measure their blood glucose levels, several times, over the next two hours.
Foods that create a higher blood sugar level or a spike of blood sugar levels inside the two hour window are rated with a higher GI, while foods that have a lower effect on blood sugar levels are considered low GI.
The standard GI scale rates glucose at 100 (pure sugar in its simplest form), and all other foods are based off of this baseline. For example: white bread is generally rated around 70 on the GI scale, while an apple is around 40. Foods are generally classified as either: high GI (70 and above), medium GI (56-69), and low GI (1-55).
Various things affect the GI of the foods we eat like: fiber content, protein, and fat content.
Considering the glycemic index of the foods we eat is a great way to positively influence our health, help us lose weight, and even help manage diabetes and high cholesterol.
By consuming foods with a lower GI you can better control your blood sugar levels: this provides you with several benefits.
Lower blood sugar levels mean less insulin is being produced,and less insulin production ultimately equals less fat storage; consistently elevated blood sugar levels can lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and lower blood sugar levels are also linked with lower levels of cancer and cholesterol.
There are many factors that can affect blood sugar levels such as: the time of day you eat, the amount of carbohydrates you eat (glycemic load), what other foods you eat with the carbohydrates, and even supplements and medications can also affect blood sugar levels.
Choosing foods with a lower GIs can better control blood sugar levels and improve your general health.
As a general rule, we should always try to choose: whole wheat bread over white bread, whole grain brown rice over white rice, sweet potatoes over white potatoes, whole wheat pasta over regular pasta, and to always try to avoid added sugar in our diet: just by making these small changes, we can look and feel significantly better each day.
Not all high GI foods are bad, especially not in small amounts, for example: watermelon is generally considered high GI, but it has a low glycemic load per serving (watermelon is made up of mostly water). Glycemic load refers to the actual amount of carbohydrates in a serving of food, while GI is only the speed at which your body absorbs the carbohydrates.
The GI is the speed sugar hits the blood stream, Gylemic load is the amount (in grams) of carbohydrates that are entering the blood stream in total.
Carbohydrates are not the evil that some nutritionists and trainers portray them to be, but understanding carbohydrates and how they affect your metabolism and hormones is one of the keys to controlling your weight.
Carbohydrates are a vital part of the diet, and an adequate carbohydrate intake is generally considered a requirement for maximal fat loss during exercise (this has to do with the way that our body produces energy from breaking down fat).
By using both glycemic load and glycemic index together in planning your meals, you can have better control of your blood sugar levels and ultimately your weight.
While a diet with no carbohydrates is extreme and perhaps even unhealthy, by choosing low GI carbohydrates and by keeping our Glycemic load at a healthy level we can better maintain healthy blood sugar levels and a healthy weight.
In part 3 I will cover more about Glycemic load and how the amount of carbs we consume has an even greater effect on blood sugar levels than Glycemic index alone.
Until then just try to eat carbs that are lower in glycemic index, this helps to ensure that blood sugar levels remain more stable, and thus insulin levels will tend to remain lower as well.
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