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 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 glycemic index 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 glycemic index: From 1 to 55.
- Medium glycemic index: From 56 to 69.
- High glycemic index: 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 glycemic index.
- Combine high glycemic index foods with low glycemic index 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 glycemic index.
- 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 glycemic index. 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 glycemic index.
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:
- Glycemic index 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 glycemic index 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 glycemic index foods as well as high glycemic index foods. And the other way around. For example, the glycemic index of some fruits is high and yet they are very necessary. However, a sweetened soft drink is very low glycemic index and very unhealthy.
- There is also no relationship between glycemic index and the number of calories. This is independent data.
- The three types of factors that determine the glycemic index 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 glycemic index 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 glycemic index and which ones have a low glycemic index. 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 glycemic index 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 glycemic index 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 glycemic 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 glycemic index 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 glycemic index. They have less impact on blood glucose, which allows us to provide sustained energy without generating hypoglycemia.
“If hypoglycemia occurs, your performance will drop”.
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 glycemic index 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 glycemic index 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 glycemic index. 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.
Frequently asked questions about the glycemic index
How much should the glycemic index be?
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure used to evaluate how quickly a food raises blood sugar levels after being consumed. The GI is expressed on a numerical scale and is compared to the blood sugar-raising effect of an equivalent amount of pure glucose (which has a GI of 100). High GI foods raise blood sugar levels quickly, while low GI foods do so more gradually.
There is no specific GI value that should be met universally, as nutritional needs and health goals can vary from person to person. However, foods with a low GI (below 55) are generally considered preferable, especially for people looking to control blood sugar levels, such as people with diabetes. Foods with a high GI (above 70) tend to raise blood sugar levels quickly and can cause spikes and drops in energy and blood sugar levels.
It is important to remember that the GI of a food can vary depending on how it is prepared and combined with other foods. Additionally, other factors, such as the total amount of carbohydrates and the presence of fiber and fat, can also influence how a food affects blood sugar levels. Therefore, rather than focusing exclusively on the GI, it is advisable to consider the overall quality of your diet, including the quantity and variety of foods you consume, and consult with a health professional or dietitian if you have specific concerns about blood sugar levels.
What to have for breakfast with a low glycemic index?
A low glycemic index (GI) breakfast is a healthy option to maintain stable blood sugar levels and provide sustained energy throughout the morning. Here are some ideas for foods and combinations that tend to have a low GI:
- Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a great low GI breakfast option. Opt for whole oats and prepare a bowl of cooked oats with water or low-fat milk. You can add fresh fruits, nuts or seeds for flavor and texture.
- Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is high in protein and generally has a lower GI than regular yogurt. Combine Greek yogurt with fresh fruits or nuts for a balanced breakfast.
- Eggs: Eggs are an excellent source of protein and have a very low GI. You can make scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, or an omelet with vegetables for a healthy and filling breakfast.
- Whole wheat or rye bread: Opt for whole wheat or rye bread instead of white bread, as these have a lower GI. You can make toast with avocado, poached egg or nut butter.
- Green Smoothies: Make a green smoothie with spinach, kale, or any other leafy greens, along with protein powder, low-sugar fruits like berries, and a liquid like water or milk with no added sugar.
- Low GI fruits: Some fruits have a low GI, such as apples, pears, strawberries and plums. You can eat them alone or add them to your yogurt or oatmeal.
- Nuts and seeds: Walnuts, almonds, chia seeds and flax seeds are options rich in healthy fats and proteins with a low GI. You can add them to your oatmeal, yogurt or smoothie.
- Tofu: If you prefer vegetarian or vegan options, tofu is an excellent source of low GI protein. You can prepare sautéed tofu with vegetables or include it in a scramble.
Remember that combining low GI foods with sources of protein, healthy fats and fiber can help maintain a more stable blood sugar level and provide a longer-lasting feeling of fullness. Additionally, adjust portions according to your individual calorie needs and nutritional goals. If you have specific concerns about your diet or blood sugar levels, it is advisable to consult a dietician or health professional.
What vegetable does not raise blood sugar?
The answer to whether or not a vegetable increases blood glucose levels depends largely on the amount consumed and the way it is prepared. In general, most vegetables contain carbohydrates, but many of these carbohydrates are slowly digested and have a minor impact on blood glucose levels. Additionally, vegetables are often rich in fiber, which also helps control the glycemic response.
Vegetables that tend to have a low impact on blood glucose levels include:
- Leafy Greens: Examples include spinach, lettuce, kale, chard, and mustard greens.
- Broccoli: Broccoli is low in carbohydrates and high in fiber.
- Asparagus: Asparagus is a low-carb, high-fiber option.
- Cauliflower: Cauliflower is a good alternative to high-carb foods, such as rice and mashed potatoes, as it can be used to make low-carb substitutes.
- Cucumbers: Cucumbers are refreshing, low in carbohydrates and have a high water content.
- Peppers: Peppers, whether green, red or yellow, are a good source of fiber and contain relatively few carbohydrates.
- Zucchini: Zucchini is low in carbohydrates and versatile in cooking.
- Eggplant: Eggplant is another low carb option and can be used in a variety of recipes.
It is important to remember that although these vegetables tend to have a low impact on blood glucose levels, the amount and preparation can influence individual effects. If you are managing your blood sugar levels or have specific concerns about your diet, it is advisable to speak with a dietician or health professional for personalized guidance. Additionally, combining vegetables with sources of protein and healthy fats can help maintain a more stable glycemic response.