Adjusting the Glycemic Index of your diet

Adjusting the Glycemic Index of your diet

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To cut back on your high GI foods and reduce the carbohydrate load of your diet overall, here are some switches you can easily make.

Instead of white rice and potatoes, switch to brown rice or other whole grains like cracked wheat, barley, millet or quinoa. Or substitute beans, lentils or sweet potatoes. Rather than drinking a lot of calories from high Glycemic Index fruit juices, eat whole fresh fruits instead. Have berries on cereal or a whole piece of fruit for a snack or dessert. Switch from refined white breads, crackers and snack foods to products that are made with 100% whole grain—or try nuts instead of chips for snacks.

Whole and lightly processed low GI foods are more bulky and filling than their refined cousins, which means they retain their natural vitamins, minerals and healthy antioxidant phytonutrients, too. That means that you get more nutrition for your calories. By swapping out the high GI foods and replacing with more low GI items, you can greatly reduce the overall carbohydrate load of your diet—which can help you with calorie control while providing a healthy nutrient boost.

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Which foods have a low Glycemic Index?

On the other hand, the lowest GI foods are those carbohydrate-rich foods that are whole and unprocessed. So, vegetables, whole fruits, beans, and most 100% whole grain foods—like brown rice, rolled oats, barley, quinoa and 100% whole grain bread—have relatively low Glycemic Index rankings. That’s because they’re high in fiber, which means they take longer to digest so your blood sugar rises more gently after you eat them.

Rather than a big spike in blood sugar, these wholesome foods lead to a slower release into your bloodstream, which provides you with more sustained energy. Thanks to their high-fiber content, they’re also more filling. So, a diet that emphasizes low GI foods can be a good strategy for weight control.

What really matters: the total carbohydrate load of your diet

If you use the GI as a guide to choosing what to eat, it can steer you towards foods that are less ‘carb heavy’ (like whole grains and veggies), with fewer calories per bite. But you should know that this isn’t always the case. Some foods (like ice cream) have a low Glycemic Index because their high fat content slows digestion, which means they don’t cause a big spike in blood sugar after they’re eaten. On the basis of GI alone, you might conclude that ice cream was a good thing to include in your low GI diet.

On the other hand, some healthy foods have a high Glycemic Index value, which can be a bit misleading if you don’t consider portion size. Take watermelon, for example: you’d need to eat 5 servings of watermelon to get the 50 grams of carbohydrate needed to determine the GI. But a typical serving doesn’t contain nearly that much, and it doesn’t contribute much to the overall carbohydrate load of your diet. If you were to focus on GI values alone, you might end up unnecessarily omitting some healthy fruits.

That’s why it’s better to look at the Glycemic Index of your diet as a whole, rather than getting hung up on individual foods.