Carbohydrates are not the enemy, as some news stories might have us believe. In fact, glucose– one of the main components of carbohydrates– is the main source of energy for our muscle cells and brain. So we need to eat carbs. The question is: how best to do it? Welcome to the glycemic index– your new best friend.
The “glycemic index,” or GI for short, is a tool that helps determine the degree to which carbohydrate-containing foods elevate blood sugar levels. While all carbohydrates raise blood sugar, understanding the effects of certain foods on blood sugar is important in maintaining a balanced diet. The real goal is to keep our blood sugar levels as constant and un-wild as possible.
Temporary spikes in blood sugar can cause an initial feeling of energy with a dramatic drop off, leading to lethargy and, in some cases, increased fat storage. Over time, prolonged excess or depletion of blood sugar can lead to serious health problems, like diabetes.
Low GI foods are scored from 0-55 on a 100 point scale. These foods do not spike blood sugar. Rolled and steel cut oatmeal, sweet potatoes, yams, lentils, and non-starchy vegetables are among the most common. Try Corner Store’s Muir Glen Savory Lentil Soup for a quick and easy low GI meal.
Medium GI foods are scored from 56-69 points and include whole wheat bread, pita bread, and quick cooking oats. Medium GI foods do not cause spikes in blood sugar and are a great way to keep fuller, longer. Start your day off right with a bowl of O.S.M. Hot Cereal for a hearty and healthy breakfast of champions.
High GI foods have a score of 70 or more and include white bread, cornflakes, white rice, russet potatoes, pumpkin, saltine crackers, popcorn, and melons.
While relegating white bread or white rice to special occasions is generally accepted as a great way to eat healthier, it should be noted that many high GI foods have nutritional benefits that are essential to a balanced diet. After all, russet potatoes are extremely high in antioxidants and popcorn is a whole grain!
The glycemic index helps us understand what kind of carbohydrates we’re eating, in much the same way we try to understand the calories we consume. Just today I contemplated indulging in a 250 calorie maple donut for lunch, but my saner mind prevailed and I opted for a chicken salad sandwich instead. Needless to say, I felt fuller longer than I would have had I given in to my sweet tooth. In this way, I like to think of the glycemic index as informed consent—it’s okay to eat that donut, just know what you’re getting yourself into so you can make adjustments to your meals for the remainder of the day.
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