When trying to lose weight or improve overall health, we all know that diet plays a large if not one of the biggest roles. However, not all ‘natural’ or healthy foods are created equal; one of the most commonly overlooked considerations is the impact a food has on our blood sugar levels.
Blood sugar is something that we often hear talked about in terms of diabetes but it is something we should all be paying attention to no matter what our goals are – whether it’s to lower stress and anxiety, lose weight, manage cravings or improve the condition of a chronic disease e.g. thyroid disease, high blood pressure.
What Is The Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index measures how fast a food turns into blood sugar (ie. glucose in the blood), on a scale from 0-100. The higher the number on the glycemic index the faster the food turns into sugar and this has harmful effects on the body.
Below are some examples of foods high on the glycemic index:
- White potato: 82
- White rice: 63
- Raisins: 64
When blood sugar levels goes up, the body secretes insulin which helps to lower blood sugar by pulling sugar into the cells. Once the cells are full the remaining sugar is transferred to the liver to be stored in the liver and the muscles for future use. If these stores are full, the sugar is turned into fat (our long term energy storage).
When you eat a food high on the glycemic index, it leads to a large insulin release. This large insulin release then causes a sharp drop in blood sugar which causes us to feel sleepy and lethargic. It can also cause us to feel irritable and stressed because our body pumps out stress hormones to help bring the blood sugar levels up to a better level.
In my high stress and unhealthy days, I used to love eating high glycemic foods like sugary granola bars because they would give me to get a boost of energy but then my blood sugar would crash and I would feel terrible. I would then crave more sweets and high glycemic foods to push my blood sugar up and once I had then it would keep this vicious cycle going all day long.
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The only way out of this and to feel good all day long is to manage blood sugar levels by eating lower glycemic foods throughout the day. For example, foods that are higher in protein and fibre will have a lower effect on our blood sugar levels and a lower glycemic index.
The Glycemic Load – A More Accurate Tool Than Glycemic Index
While the glycemic index can be a useful starting point, at times it can be quite deceiving. For example, a snickers bar is a 51 on the glycemic index while quinoa is a 53, obviously we shouldn’t be reaching for snickers over quinoa so in order to know what we should be having we can use something called the glycemic load.
While the glycemic index only takes into account how fast a food turns into blood sugar the glycemic load also takes into account serving size, which is a much more accurate measurement for us to use.
If we look at quinoa vs snickers again we can see a more honest picture
|Food||Glycemic Index||Serving Size (grams)||Glycemic Load|
As we can see from the table above a snickers bar has a higher glycemic load at almost a third of the serving size of quinoa. That means we could eat almost three times as much quinoa and still have a lower glycemic load.
The glycemic load is a better marker to use because it gives us a more accurate picture of the foods we are eating by showing us what kind of effect the food is truly having on our system. We can use the glycemic load to help manage our goals and to help keep us healthy, by focusing on foods that have a lower glycemic load we can keep our blood sugar stable and avoid the big peaks and crashes.
We can also use the glycemic load to help us towards our goals for example if we looking to lose weight keeping our glycemic load at a 40 or lower will support that. If we are not looking to lose weight then we want to keep our glycemic load intake at around 50 per day.
A Handy Chart of All Foods Ranked Against GI and GL
Here is a sample list of some of foods which are low, medium and high in terms of glycemic load. This is not even close to an exhaustive list but it is a sample to show some of the rankings of different foods.
|Category||Food||Glycemic Index||Serving Size (g)||Glycemic Load||Ranking|
|Bean||Soy beans, average||15||150||1||Low|
|Fruits||Pear, raw, average||38||120||4||Low|
|Fruits||Oranges, raw, average||45||120||5||Low|
|Fruits||Pear, canned in pear juice||44||120||5||Low|
|Fruits||Peach, canned in light syrup||52||120||9||Medium|
|Bean||Chickpeas, canned in brine||42||150||9||Medium|
|Bean||Kidney beans, average||34||150||9||Medium|
|Fruits||Banana, raw, average||48||120||11||Medium|
|Grain||Pearled barley, average||25||150||11||Medium|
|Bean||Navy beans, average||39||150||12||Medium|
|Grain||Sweet corn on the cob||48||60||14||Medium|
|Grain||Parboiled Converted white rice (Uncle Ben’s®)||38||150||14||Medium|
|Grain||Whole wheat kernels, average||45||50||15||High|
|Grain||Brown rice, steamed||50||150||16||High|
|Vegetables||Instant mashed potato, average||87||150||17||High|
|Fruits||Dates, dried, average||42||60||18||High|
|Vegetables||Boiled white potato, average||82||150||21||High|
|Vegetables||Sweet potato, average||70||150||22||High|
|Grain||Quick cooking white basmati||63||150||26||High|
|Grain||White rice, boiled, type non-specified||72||150||29||High|
|Vegetables||Baked russet potato||111||150||33||High|
Tips To Keep Blood Sugar Levels Low
The best way to keep blood sugar level throughout the day is to focus on eating whole foods and lots of low carbohydrate vegetables like cucumber, celery, radish, peppers, tomatoes, etc.
Also, protein, fibre and fat containing foods are great at helping to manage blood sugar too. Some great options are fish, nuts and lentils.
The worst offender for spiking blood sugar of all is regular white sugar so we want to minimize (if not avoid) it completely. That means no sugar into our coffee or teas and avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages (ex. soda) as well as sugar laden foods (ex. baked goods). These foods have little nutritional value and are not good for our blood sugar levels, and therefore are harmful to overall health.
This fantastic article was written by The Healthy Happy Coach, Joshua Graham (Fitness Expert and Nutritionist). Connect with him on Facebook at The Healthy Happy Coach .
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