The Glycemic Index - Your Weight and Your Health
Obesity is a known risk factor for health.
Weight loss can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and control
blood sugars for people living with diabetes. You don't have to
get to your "ideal" weight to be "healthy."
Working toward achieving a healthier/lower weight is what matters.
There's a big difference.
Several studies show that losing 5-10% of your current weight is
associated with improving overall health and lowering your risk
of certain diseases. Eating right and exercising regularly will
help you get closer to your weight loss goals.
People are always looking for the latest
trends in diets. We know about and maybe have even tried the "grapefruit
diet", the famous (or infamous) "low carb, high protein
diets", "the Bernstein diet", and so on.
More recently, there has been a lot of talk
about the "glycemic index" (GI) and it's role in weight
loss. The truth of the matter is that this is nothing new. The glycemic
index has been studied for years, but until recently, more people
have been interested in its role for managing diabetes, cholesterol
and now, weight loss.
So what is the glycemic index (GI) anyway?
The glycemic index is a rating scale. It ranks carbohydrate foods
(like potatoes, rice, noodles, pasta, bread, etc.) by how much they
raise your blood sugar. The ranking of foods is compared to a standard,
which is usually glucose. Glucose is rated at 100 on the GI scale.
Foods that have a GI rating of over 70 are considered high, while
moderate GI is 40-70, and low GI less than 40.
Foods that are high on the glycemic index
are considered fast-acting carbohydrates. Typically, highly refined
or processed foods have a very high GI rating, like instant mashed
potatoes or instant noodles, canned pasta, etc.. Most of the nutrients
have been stripped from these foods as a result of processing. It's
almost as if digestion has occurred even before the food has gotten
into your body. The grains are very fine. Typically, the more wholesome
and fibrous the food, the lower the glycemic index. Examples include,
legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils), pasta and whole grain
So, why is all this important and how does
this relate to weight loss?
Foods that are digested and absorbed quickly by the body are known
to be high on the GI scale. These foods cause blood sugars to rise
and fall quickly. A low blood sugar often triggers signs/symptoms
of hunger. You might find that eating high GI foods stimulates hunger
sooner. And, that means you may be tempted to eat more. Eating more
means taking in extra calories that you otherwise could have done
Foods that take longer to digest (ex. high
fibre foods) stay with you longer and increase satiety. These foods
are low on the GI scale and prevent your blood sugar from spiking.
In this way, it also helps to control and regulate blood sugar levels
in people with diabetes.
In my practice, I often hear my clients complain
that they feel hungry approximately 2-3 hours after they have eaten
breakfast. When I probe and ask them about what they are eating,
often they will tell me they are having cold cereal. Most cold cereals,
like cornflakes rank very high on the GI scale. Although a healthy
choice, cold cereals are processed. It takes very little effort
for your body to digest and break down cold cereal. So it doesn't
surprise me when my clients complain that they are not satisfied.
I will often recommend switching to a high
fibre cereal, such as All Bran buds, Optimum, 100% All Bran sticks
or oatmeal that are typically low on the GI scale. The high fibre
content not only satisfies your hunger, (which may help with weight
loss,) but it can also assist in lowering cholesterol and improving
blood sugar control. It's a win-win situation!
Although the glycemic index can provide us
with a better understanding of certain foods, it should not be looked
at as yet another fad diet. There is no magic bullet out there.
The key to weight loss and managing your health is to make better
food choices. Avoid fast food restaurants. Don't include ready-prepared,
processed or refined food products in your diet. Emphasize and include
vegetables every day. Good eating habits must be accompanied by
regular exercise for overall health and fitness.
For years, dietitians have been promoting
and encouraging people to include more wholesome and fibrous foods
in their diet. Typically these foods rank low on the GI scale, so
choose them more often. The message hasn't changed. Now there's
just a fancier title for it.
The table below outlines some examples of foods that are high, moderate
and low on the GI scale:
GI Value (70-100)
GI Value (40-70)
buds with psyllium
GI Value (< 40)
flavoured, low fat
Foster-Powell, K and J. Brand Miller. "International
tables of glycemic index," Amer J of Clin Nut 1995;62:871S-893S.
CCRF would like to thank the Rouge Valley Health System - Cardiac Rehabilitation Services for their contribution to the website.
The articles, on the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada website, are presented with the understanding that the Foundation is providing information only and not rendering medical advise. Please check with your family physician, specialist or health care professional before implementing any of the ideas expressed in these articles.
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