Weight Loss Diet

Glycemic Index Diet for Weight Loss

The glycemic index (GI) was devised as a means to rank foods according to how much they raise blood sugar levels. The system was designed as a tool for diabetic patients to control harmful fluctuations in their blood sugar levels and avoid complications associated with the disease. Now, the glycemic index has gone mainstream, with many diet books concerning the glycemic index and weight loss filling the shelves of book stores. Understanding how the glycemic index works, and the pros and cons of following a low GI diet, can aid in weight reduction in otherwise healthy people, as well as giving the diabetic patient some control over his condition.

The standard for comparison is pure glucose (GI=100). Foods with high GI levels, over 70, metabolize quickly and cause high spikes in blood sugar levels. These spikes are especially dangerous to diabetics, whose insulin system doesn't effectively remove sugar from the blood. Foods with low GI levels, below 55, metabolize more slowly, and keep blood glucose level stable. Foods between 55 and 70 are considered moderate.

How Blood Glucose Levels Affect Your Body

At one time, nutritionists believed that consuming simple carbohydrates (like honey or table sugar) caused a rapid rise in blood glucose levels, but that the opposite was true for complex carbohydrates. New research indicates that this is not always the case; complex carbohydrates like white potatoes and white bread may score even higher on the glycemic index than simple sugars.

In non-diabetics high blood glucose levels create an insulin response which moves the excess sugar to the liver, where it is metabolized, stored, and released as our bodies require more energy. Once the liver is filled to capacity, the excess sugar is converted to fatty acids that are released back into the blood stream.

Besides settling in our waistline, hips, and thighs, these fatty acids also invade the active organs of our bodies, including the heart and kidneys. These toxic metabolites don't allow cells to receive enough oxygen to function normally, leading to cell death and degenerative disease. The parasympathetic nervous system can be affected, decreasing brain function. Valuable vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and calcium, are leached from our body tissues and bones, as our body makes an effort to return blood sugar levels to a healthy level. Eventually, every organ in our body is affected by high glucose levels.

Many people consume sports drinks or sugary snacks which give them a burst of energy as blood glucose levels rise. As levels crash back to normal, we begin to feel lethargic and hunger pangs return, urging us to eat when (or what) we probably don't need to! We often end up binging on the sweets our body now craves, and end up in a vicious cycle of sugar addiction: the excess sugar and calories contribute to weight gain, and being overweight contributes to high blood glucose levels, as well as other health risks.

Pros of a Low Glycemic Index Diet

A low glycemic index diet can help diabetic patients keep their blood glucose levels at a healthy level, and those with prediabetic symptoms can decrease their risk of full-blown diabetes.

Regulating blood glucose levels results in a healthier, more energetic body that can carry us through our busy day. Low GI foods metabolize more slowly and don't create the "sugar buzz" and corresponding crash of higher GI foods. The appetite is kept under control since the blood sugar fluctuations are small.

A low GI diet improves triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels, decreasing your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Cons of a Low Glycemic Index Diet

While the glycemic index measures single foods in fixed portions, it does not address the issue of mealtime, when more than one food is eaten. For example, a high-GI baked potato becomes low GI when a pat of butter is added, since fat slows carbohydrate absorption. This can make the low GI diet confusing for many people.

The glycemic index does not measure how quickly blood glucose levels rise, only how much they increase. Some research indicates that blood sugar peaks at about the same time with most foods, and the differences are often small.

A low GI diet has shown promise as a weight-loss aid for those who are apple-shaped (that is, they carry their extra weight around their abdomen), but may not be as effective for pear-shaped dieters (those who carry extra weight around the hips and thighs).

The body's response to glucose varies widely from person to person, and the response may even vary in the same person from day to day. Insulin response (the amount of insulin each individual produces), or insulin resistance (the inability of insulin to carry sugar to the body cells) can affect how each person responds to the consumption of glucose.

The glycemic index charts indicate a general score, but the actual GI of the food itself can be affected by how it is cooked, how much is eaten at a serving, its stage of ripeness, and the fiber and fat content of the food.

Making the Glycemic Index Work For You

A low score does not necessarily indicate a healthy food product. Even a high GI white potato has some nutrition; a moderate GI Snickers bar is full of empty calories. Soft drinks, potato chips, and even some candies have low glycemic index scores.

Control your portions of both high and low GI foods. Low GI foods can still have calories, and even healthy choices can cause weight gain if you overeat!

Combine low and high glycemic index foods in the same meal or snack. Adding low GI foods brings down the total glycemic index load of the entire meal. Adding some fat or protein to the meal brings the score down, too, but don't fool yourself into thinking that you can load up on fats if you eat a low GI diet.

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, even the ones with higher GI scores. You'd have to eat pounds of high GI produce to affect blood sugar levels. Most fruits and vegetables are highly nutritious, and rich in fiber which slows down metabolism and also helps regulate blood glucose levels.

Add plenty of whole grains, legumes, and beans to your diet, which are generally low on the glycemic index chart and supply protein and fiber.

Buy foods that are as close to nature as possible, that haven't been processed, sweetened, and refined. Natural foods are always better for you than processed food products, no matter where they fall on the chart.

Replace snack foods that contain empty calories with nutritious snacks that are naturally sweet, but enjoy the occasional candy bar or a handful of potato chips. Depriving yourself of foods you love can lead to binging in the long run and negate all your healthy efforts!

Use the Glycemic Index chart as a guideline to choosing the foods you eat, but don't obsess over the numbers! Eating only low GI foods isn't a suitable substitute for eating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of healthy foods, regardless of their glycemic index scores.

NutriSystem: Low GI Made Simple

If it all sounds too complicated for you, do not distress. There are some very simple and popular diet programs that make use of the Glycemic Index to be more effective. For example, NutriSystem uses the Glycemic Index in the science behind their weight-loss program, incorporating "good carbs" into their menu, which are foods that have a low glycemic value. Since NutriSystem is so simple and easy, with their delicious fresh-frozen meals, you can take advantage of the benefits of low GI food without understanding what the Glycemic Index is, how the body metabolizes carbohydrates, or even what the glycemic index is for various foods.

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