What is the Glycemic Index and what role does it play in my diet?
One of the reasons you hear so much about the glycemic index (GI) is because it has a direct impact on your blood sugar levels. The GI measures how quickly a carbohydrate is digested. Unfortunately, we already live in a carb-fearing society, so for some folks, learning about the GI only makes them warier of these controversial nutrients. But the truth is your cells need carbs because your blood sugar balance controls the release of insulin, also known as the “wellness hormone” or the “health hormone” in the Sears family.
They refer to this hormone as such because when your insulin levels are good and balanced, you just feel better! Think of insulin as the gatekeeper to your cells. It opens the door and lets in sugar when it is required for energy or ushers it to the waiting room for when your body requires it. This, essentially, is what happens when your body has a steady, balanced blood sugar level. It’s when your blood sugar levels are out of balance that your body starts running into trouble; as these levels rise and fall like a roller coaster, your body and your mind become stressed. This ultimately can lead you down the path of type-2 diabetes as well as other diseases…
While this may be a high-level explanation, it should give you a better sense of why people focus so much on the glycemic index. Blood sugar does matter, so having a measurement or scale to determine which foods keep your blood sugar in better balance is a really handy tool.
Slow and steady keeps you in balance.
Low GI foods, which include most veggies and proteins (meat, fish and dairy) and some fruits, enter your bloodstream slowly. This triggers a less-intense insulin response, and results in steadier blood-sugar levels. High GI foods, which include processed foods and sweetened beverages, generally lack fiber and protein, so they storm the bloodstream quickly and jolt your body into producing insulin. To maintain the balance, you want to remember to keep your carbs low and slow. You can look up a food’s GI in books on nutrition or on the internet (as always, Google wisely), but try to remember this general principle: healthy carbs – those packaged with fiber, protein, or fat –tend to have a low GI, and junky carbs – the ones that go it alone – tend to be the high-GI carbs. Choose whole foods and minimally processed foods to keep your blood sugar levels happy and healthy.