Glycemic Index: The ‘How’ and ‘Why’ to use it?
For long time diabetes patients have only been concerned about the carbohydrate contents of the food that they are consuming. However, rather than the amount of carbohydrate contents present in any food in its raw form, the amount that is impacting on our blood sugar level after consumption, is to be calculated. This is a simple measurement that can be well calculated by the GI value of any food or the Glycemic Index.
The carbohydrate that is present in the food that we consume, is converted into glucose and then gets incorporated and assimilated into the body. However, not the entire amount of carbohydrate consumed, gets converted. Only a portion of this carbohydrate is converted into glucose and this glucose is the sole responsible factor in increasing the blood sugar level. Hence, it would be inappropriate to consider that eating carbohydrates will increase the blood sugar. Different foods have different amounts of carbohydrate that gets converted into glucose. This amount is known as the GI or calculated in the measurement parameter called Glycemic Index. The Glycemic Index helps to know which food item is at higher risk for blood sugar increase and which is not.
Definition of Glycemic Index:
The Glycemic Index or GI is an index that numerically ranks different carbohydrates, depending on their glycemic response.
The index is a scale that ranks food items on a scale of 0 to 100. Pure glucose is considered to be a parameter or a reference point that is considered to be completely assimilated into the body and hence, is given a GI of 100. Any other food item that ranks higher on this scale is more rapid in increasing the blood sugar level and the food items that rank low on this index is less likely to increase the blood sugar level.
About Glycemic Index:
Two different food items that contain the same amount of carbohydrate may have two different GI. It is a number that denotes how fast or how slow the carbohydrate is converted into glucose by our body. The higher is this index number, the more impact the carbohydrate has on the body. Hence, it is always important to find the carbohydrates that have low GI. This will ensure that the body take more time to convert the carbohydrate into glucose and thereby, increase of the blood sugar level will also take more time.
The average Glycemic Index that indicates which carbohydrates are good and which are not, can be understood with this number –
- 55 or less Glycemic Index = Low on GI, meaning good carbohydrate
- 56- 69 Glycemic Index = Medium on GI
- 70 or higher Glycemic Index = High on GI, meaning bad carbohydrate.
Factors on which the Glycemic Index Depends:
Different foods have different kinds of carbohydrates and all do not take the same time to be digested, absorbed and metabolised by the body. Hence, those carbohydrate rich foods that take a long time to be digested and converted into glucose, are considered to have low-GI and be good for the body as they can make you feel fuller and reduce your appetite. Those carbs that easily get converted into glucose are not good for health. However, there are many factors on which the GI of different foods depends. These are –
- Ripeness – The riper is the food or fruit, the higher will be its GI. Hence, eating unripe and raw fruits and vegetables is comparatively better.
- Longer Preparation Time – This will increase the GI levels of food.
- Processing – Processing increases the GI of any and every food. Whole fruits have lower GI than fruit juice. Whole baked potatoes have lower GI than mashed potato.
How is Glycemic Index Used?
Glycemic Index or GI is used by health conscious people, dieticians and should be used by individuals, in order to choose a diet that does not contain any food that can have a harmful and bad impact on the blood sugar level. The Glycemic Index or GI will help to understand which carbohydrates are bad for the health. Hence, avoiding those will make sure that the diet plan is devoid of bad carbs.
If your diet plan has carbs with high Glycemic Index or GI, it must be balanced with carbs with medium and low Glycemic Index or GI. In some cases, there is a problem if only Glycemic Index or GI is considered to be the sole determiner of the diet plan. This is because; carrots and watermelons are fruits that have a very high level of GI. Hence, eating them is not good for blood sugar. However, since they are served in such a small portion in a meal that it would not impact the blood glucose level much; rather the antioxidants and vitamins would be assimilated by the body.
The foods that can be easily categorised into the three Glycemic Index or GI categories are –
- Low Glycemic Index Food– Most vegetables, fruits; beans like peas, legumes, lentils; low fat dairy products, unprocessed or minimally processed grains like stone ground oat meals, oat bran, whole wheat bread, muesli, bulgur, pasta, barley and nuts.
- Foods Having Moderate or Medium Glycemic Index or GI – Rice, yam and potatoes, corn, couscous, breakfast cereals, rye, quick oats and pita bread.
- High Glycemic Index Food – Rice cakes, bagels, white bread, cakes, croissants, doughnuts, waffles, corn flakes, puffed rice, cheese, melons, pineapple, pumpkin, carrots, crackers, macaroni, pasta, popcorn etc.
When to Use the Glycemic Index?
There is no particular moment to start to switch to a diet that is good for health and low on Glycemic Index. As soon as your concern is developed, you must start to get rid of your old food habit and switch to a good low Glycemic Index diet. It can be difficult at first to start this diet, but with following easy steps, it will be easier for you.
- Cut short on your regular diet that has a high Glycemic Index food. Eating smaller portions will make it easier for you to decrease the amount of high Glycemic Index foods in your diet that load your overall meal with high carbohydrate content.
- Include at least one low Glycemic Index food or snack in your diet at every meal.
- Switch to a low Glycemic Index food instead of a similar high Glycemic Index food.
In that case, brown rice can be chosen over white rice, peas and leafy greens are better than corn, whole grain bread is better than white breads and whole wheat pasta is always a good choice over baked potatoes.
Benefits of Using Glycemic Index:
Glycemic Index is a key to understand not only which foods are bad to increase blood sugar levels and which are not, but also helps to avoid many of the foods that can cause many other health problems. Since foods with high Glycemic Index levels are associated with prostate, pancreatic, breast and colorectal cancers, switching to low Glycemic Index food will help you to avoid these foods.
The best part of the Glycemic Index is that it indicates and categorises the foods that can help you to lose weight significantly and maintain a steady weight loss. Of course, lower blood sugar levels and insulin levels is an additional benefit that you can also get by incorporating foods into your regular diet, depending on the Glycemic Index.
Following the GI and Glycemic Index is a must for every individual. The index will make it easier to understand which foods are good for health and which are not. It can help to avoid many diseases that are associated with bad food habits and diets.