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Glycemic Index and Weight Loss

There has been a lot of talk in the field of nutrition and weight loss about the glycemic index of certain foods. Here we will cover what is the glycemic index (GI) and how could it help us lose or maintain our ideal body weight. The glycemic index is a measure of the effects that carbohydrates have on our blood glucose (sugar) levels. Carbohydrates are made up of individual sugar molecules linked together. After a meal our body starts to breakdown carbohydrates into simpler sugars. How quickly that break down occurs during digestion affects how fast and how high sugar is released into the blood. The faster a carbohydrate raises blood sugar, the higher its glycemic index. Using the same concept, carbohydrates that are broken down slowly, release sugar gradually into the blood and have a lesser effect on overall blood sugar levels (these carbohydrates have a low GI).

So what is the big deal whether a particular food causes quicker and higher elevation in your blood sugar or not. The answer is insulin. Insulin is a hormone that functions to help keep your blood sugars within a safe range. When someone’s blood sugar rises (after a meal), this signals the body to make more insulin. The insulin then helps drive the excess blood sugar into the body’s cells and consequently starts to lower the blood sugar levels back to a normal range. How does insulin affect weight loss? Insulin has other functions in the body besides decreasing sugar, it also drives the storage of excess calories from the diet into different systems including your fat cells. Eating excessive calories, high in carbohydrates (especially high GI) increase insulin which leads to storage of calories in the form of sugar and fats (triglycerides). If insulin is kept lower, such as in an Adkins diet, the signal for storage of calories is not triggered and instead the break down of fat is switched on (this occurs at lower insulin levels).

What are some of the ways we can help lower the glycemic index of foods, which will lead to lower insulin levels and improved weight management? The glycemic effect of foods may be affected by a number of factors, such as, fiber and protein. Fiber leads to entrapment of carbohydrates within it (since we do not absorb fiber) and delays the body’s ability to get to and breakdown carbohydrates. The content of proteins in a meal compete against carbohydrates for absorption, thereby decreasing how rapidly carbohydrates are absorbed. These simple steps, adding fiber and protein to each meal will help in lowering the glycemic index of a particular carbohydrate. Here are some simple tips to help minimize spikes in blood sugar and therefore insulin throughout the day that play a major role in weight gain.

  • Never eat carbohydrates alone, always combine it with fiber or protein or a combination (remember this helps blunt the sugar impact of carbohydrates)

  • Stay away from manufactured carbohydrates i.e., cookies, pastries, donuts, candy, potato chips, etc…these generally have very high glycemic index

  • Best carbohydrates are from natural sources, such as, fruits and vegetables which generally have a lower glycemic index than manufactured carbohydrates because they are naturally packaged with fiber

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