The study of healthy eating is becoming increasingly more widespread and precise. New information, references and specific diets for different purposes are constantly appearing. The glycemic index is a very valuable guideline to organize a healthy eating plan around. Do you want to know how to do it?
What is the Glycemic Index?
The Glycemic Index is also known as GI, and refers to the rate at which a food is able to raise your blood glucose (sugar) level. It focuses specifically, therefore, on foods that include carbohydrates.
The truth is that different carbohydrates affect the body differently, because they work in different ways inside the body. You can find foods that raise your blood sugar level quickly, while others do it much more slowly, without causing these effects.
This index takes into account and classifies these differences, and it does so by assigning certain values according to a food’s similarity or difference to a reference food in terms of the behavior of glucose in blood: pure sugar.
That’s how a GI scale is established, with figures fluctuating between 0 and 100, which precisely corresponds to the previously mentioned pure sugar.
According to this guideline, there are three categories:
- Low GI: From 1 to 55.
- Medium GI: From 56 to 69.
- High GI: From 70 to 100.
In addition to being very useful reference data for people suffering from diabetes and other similar diseases, these indicators help to establish a recommended dietary plan.
How to diet based on the Glycemic Index?
There are two main guidelines to consider when considering a diet focused on glycemic indicators:
- Preferably consume foods with a medium or low GI.
- Combine high GI foods with low GI foods to balance final glucose levels.
It is also important to consider other factors that condition the quality of the food based on these data. Specifically:
- Portion size is also important, as is total carbohydrate intake. Don’t forget that calorie intake is still key.
- As a general guideline, keep in mind that the more processed the food, the higher the GI.
- The type of processing or cooking alters the final index.
- The more fiber or fat a food has, the lower its glycemic value.
- Even foods of the same class differ in their GI. For example, long-grain white rice is not the same as short-grain white rice.
- It makes sense to eat healthy foods in a varied way: consider the nutritional value alongside the GI.
This diet is actually based on a system of allocating carbohydrate foods with regard to how they increase blood sugar.
It is, therefore, a useful tool rather than a strict type of diet. The goal is to eat fewer foods that dangerously alter blood glucose. Its purpose is for losing weight and preventing chronic diseases linked to obesity, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
In any case, it helps to follow a healthier diet which, accompanied by exercise allows you to feel much better.
You may also want to learn about these important concepts before you start this healthy way of eating:
- GI and glycemic load are not the same thing. This second element takes into account the intensity of the insulin response that the food will produce.
- More important than the isolated GI of each food that you are going to consume is the total effect of all of them in your intake.
- High blood sugar spikes can be harmful and are best avoided.
- There are healthy low GI foods as well as high GI foods. And the other way around. For example, the GI of some fruits is high and yet they are very necessary. However, a sweetened soft drink is very low GI and very unhealthy.
- There is also no relationship between GI and the number of calories. This is independent data.
- The three types of factors that determine the GI are composition, processing and speed of digestion. Consequently, the index position can be altered depending on how we cook the food. For reference? Finely chopped or liquid products increase the GI because they are absorbed more quickly.
Glycemic Index Diet Table
At this point, it is useful to know what the glycemic references of the main foods are. In other words, which ones have a high GI and which ones have a low GI. It is the fundamental basis of the selection criteria for different meal plans if you follow this diet.
Foods with a high Glycemic Index
What are the products with high GI, i.e. more than 70? In general, and regardless of the cooking processes applied, memorize the following products:
- White bread.
- White rice.
- Almost all processed cereals.
- Instant oatmeal.
Foods with low Glycemic Index
On the other hand, foods with a GI between 0 and 55 include the following:
- Non-starchy green vegetables and greens.
- Raw carrots.
- Bran cereals for breakfast.
- Parboiled rice.
Let’s not forget that there is an intermediate category in which foods with a moderate index are placed, of between 56 and 69. Do you want some more examples? Rye or pita bread, raisins, brown rice and couscous are in this range.
To finish this section, it is important to mention the existence of foods that barely include carbohydrates. For practical purposes, they’re considered as belonging to the low GI category. They are fish, seafood, meat (pork, chicken, lamb and beef), eggs, nuts (pistachios, almonds, chestnuts and walnuts), olive oil, avocado, butter and different herbs and spices, such as dill, basil, garlic, salt and pepper.
Food intake for exercise
When we play sport, it is important to choose when and what we eat very carefully. The glycemic indicator has a major impact on sports efficiency and performance. It is, therefore, an important factor to consider before, during and after each exercise or competition.
The general advice is to consume plenty of carbohydrates before being active. However, sometimes it doesn’t work out. It is best to eat foods with a reduced GI. They have less impact on blood glucose, which allows us to provide sustained energy without generating hypoglycemia.
When products with a high index are consumed, the appearance of insulin is triggered. This prevents fat from being used as an energy source, so the muscle uses the carbohydrates and glucose ends up dropping. If hypoglycemia occurs, your performance will drop.
Another common, recommended practice is to consume carbohydrates while competing or training intensely. At this stage, it’s best to eat high GI options: they’ll give you energy directly and immediately.
It is essential, especially if you are close to hypoglycemia: think, for example, of the low blood pressure that cyclists suffer.
And what happens at the end of the physically demanding activity? It is very important to recover muscle glycogen reserves correctly and efficiently. You need, therefore, to consume carbohydrates with a high glycemic indicator. This will store more glycogen in your muscles!
Benefits of the Glycemic Index diet
What are the main advantages of this method of healthy eating? While it is true that studies are still underway, there are some ideas that seem to be absolutely clear. Remember, in any case, that this diet is a tool that we have to use correctly.
These are the benefits you can achieve from this way of eating:
- Keep your blood sugar at healthy levels.
- Prevent and postpone the onset of heart, kidney or nerve diseases.
- Improve cholesterol levels.
- Reduce the risk of cancer.
- Control or reduce your weight.
- Manage your body’s muscle mass.
- Control appetite.
However, not everything is positive. Among the disadvantages to be taken into account are the following:
- The GI does not give a complete picture of your nutrition. Therefore, we must combine its application with control of the protein, fat, fiber and sugar in each intake.
- Also, as we have already mentioned, it provides data for each food separately. But, in practice, these are eaten in mixed meals, along with other foods that have their own different GIs. The interrelationship between all of them is not, as yet, controllable.
- Finally, the glycemic indicator does not take into account the amount of carbohydrates consumed. However, it is a fact that also influences the final effect on the blood.
In short, the glycemic diet is a valuable tool for controlling and managing a healthy diet. It is also a good resource for controlling the amount of sugar in the blood and it helps to prevent certain diseases, and even to lose weight.
However, the glycemic index is not enough to create a unique diet in itself, as it must be related to more considerations and guidelines. When it does come in handy is when deciding what to eat before, during and after sport to perform better and recover more effectively.