The Glycemic Index and Dieting
The field of nutrition is awash with charts, tables, diagrams, models, acronyms, and abbreviations; more than the average person can memorize. As such, one often comes across someone who has simply burnt out trying to keep track of how much to eat, when to eat it, how to find the calories from fat, the RDI, the DV, and so on. There is an overkill of useful information within the nutrition field, and it can ironically provoke one to grow weary and exhausted, tune out, and go grab a fast food burger.
Yet every once in a while, a concept within the nutrition field emerges that truly demands attention. Over a decade ago, the USDA's "Food Pyramid" was one such concept because it helped eaters discover how many gaps existed in their typical daily diet. Now, as the Food Pyramid begins to take a new shape, and as the nutrition field works to establishes itself as the most important branch of health care in the 21st century, an invention called the Glycemic Index is taking center stage.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is not new; it has been around for more than 2 decades. Yet until recently, its exposure beyond the world of diabetes has been limited [i].
The Glycemic Index indicates how "high" or "low" blood sugar levels change in response to carbohydrate intake. A "high" Glycemic Index indicates carbohydrates with a swift breakdown, whereas a "low" Glycemic Index indicates carbohydrates with slow, gradual breakdown. Both terms are of equal importance to diabetics, because there are times with high Glycemic Index foods are required, and times where low Glycemic Index foods are required.
Indeed, the Glycemic Index itself is not new, but its application far beyond the borders of a diabetic dialogue is notable; especially for dieters.
People striving to lose weight often face a nemesis much tougher than establishing an exercise regimen or introducing healthier foods into their diet. The problem is one of energy. Many dieters are surprised - and disturbed - to learn that their diet program is causing them to lose more than inches and pounds: they are losing energy.
This is often expressed as a complaint, as in "I'm feeling weak", or even "I can't stay awake". Many dieters and those advising them have erroneously chalked this up to a matter of attitude, or will power, or some non-biological cause.
The plain truth is that many dieters have been oblivious to the Glycemic Index, and hence, to the fact that many of the diet foods they have eaten -- or are eating right now -- score very high Glycemic Index levels. As such, these foods are providing a quick boost to blood sugar levels, and then setting up the dieter for the inevitable fall. This is because high GI foods typically increase blood sugar values, which in turn trigger the hormone insulin to clear sugar from the blood. Since blood sugar (a.k.a. glucose) largely dictates the body's energy levels, it stands to reason that this process manifests as an initial boost in energy, and then as a depletion of energy. This rise and fall of blood sugar -- and energy -- is often described by dieters using a "roller-coaster" analogy: one minute they feel confident and strong, and the next, they are about to pass out and require some kind of stimulant in order to make it through the day.
Regrettably for many dieters, that stimulant is usually more high Glycemic Index foods, such as sugary snacks or soft drinks. It is easy to see how this experience can lead an individual to stop dieting. After all, before the diet, the individual was merely gaining weight. On the diet, the individual is gaining weight and is exhausted for most of the day. It is better to quit the diet.
The above scenario only takes place, however, when a dieter unwittingly eats high Glycemic Index foods. Research has shown that low Glycemic Index foods, which raise blood sugar levels much more gradually than high Glycemic Index foods, are very helpful for dieters [ii]. This is because a dieter will experience less of a "roller-coaster" ride while on the diet, and furthermore, will be less inclined to snack because energy in the form of blood glucose is being released slowly and gradually. Low Glycemic Index foods are much more efficient sources of energy than high Glycemic Index foods, because the body needs less insulin to convert food into energy [iii].
Despite the growing awareness that low Glycemic Index foods are beneficial, the world of diet foods has not kept pace. This is because many manufacturers are searching frantically to find low Glycemic Index carbohydrates sources for their products, and overlooking a basic, simple fact: the lowest possibly Glycemic Index is no carbohydrates at all.
These zero-carbohydrate/zero sugar nutritional supplements - which are quite rare in the market - do not deliver any sugar to the bloodstream. As a result, dieters do not have to worry about riding the "roller coaster" of energy spikes and pitfalls.
Yet there is an even greater benefit for dieters who choose a "zero sugar" nutritional supplement. If that low Glycemic Index nutritional supplement is rich in complete protein, then it will act as a sort of antidote to high GI foods by helping to combat their adverse consequences.
For example, a dieter who eats a high Glycemic Index candy car can mitigate the roller-coaster spike in blood sugar levels by eating a nutritional supplement that has very low Glycemic Index and has a rich source of complete protein. This is because the protein in the nutritional supplement mixes with the high Glycemic Index of the candy bar, and effectively lowers the overall Glycemic Index. This is welcome news to dieters who would otherwise be seeing those extra carbohydrates transformed by insulin into triglycerides, and stored in adipose tissue; also known as body fat.
Currently, only a handful of nutritional supplements are designed to offer zero carbohydrates and thus score as low as possible on the Glycemic Index. And of these zero-carbohydrate products, even fewer offer a rich source of complete protein that effectively helps counter the blood sugar spike impact of high Glycemic Index foods.
It is inspiring to note that Glycemic Index is getting some well-deserved attention from outside the diabetic community, where it has helped millions of people eat wisely. Now, dieters and obese people can enjoy the wisdom that this index promotes.
[i] Source: "The G.I. Diet: A Food Drill". CBS News.
[ii] Source: "The Glycemic Index". The Healthy Weight Forum.
[iii] Source "Glycemic Index". WebMD.