A low glycemic diet focuses on the glycemic index of what you eat, rather than on calories or fat.
What is the glycemic index? It’s a measurement of how quickly and thoroughly carbohydrates in foods convert to sugar. Donuts have a high glycemic index; they convert to sugars quickly. Oatmeal on the other hand has a low GI; it converts to sugars slowly, feeding energy into your system at a much lower rate.
Why Is the Glycemic Index Important?
Consider what happens when you eat something with a high GI, like donuts. You consume these, and they rapidly flood your system with sugar. Your body responds by spiking the hormone insulin to control blood sugar. This in turn causes your muscle and fat cells to soak up those sugars. When your muscles have taken all the sugars they can, they slam the door shut and refuse to take more.
If your muscles have been saturated in sugars – more than they can burn in short order – this can lead to insulin resistance, where your body cranks up insulin levels but only your fat cells respond – and they respond by taking in more sugar and refusing to give it up, and the body fat piles on.
Now look at the opposite process. You’ve eaten oatmeal for breakfast. It has a low GI, so its sugars flow into your body at a much slower rate. There is no sudden spike in blood sugar. There is no abrupt spike in insulin – and since insulin reduces fat burning, that’s helpful too. Instead, you have a steady flow of energy that can last for hours, energy delivered at a rate your muscles can use without closing the door on more.
Low glycemic index foods act as slow-trickling fuel. This gives your body energy, and makes you less likely to eat more since hunger is often triggered by sudden crashes in blood sugar levels. You don’t get the spikes, and you don’t get the crashes, so you may be able to manage your appetite better.
A Low Glycemic Diet
A low glycemic diet doesn’t focus on calories or on fat content. Instead it focuses on the GI of the foods you eat. A value of 55 or less is considered in the low range of the GI. Foods with an index of 56 to 69 are considered medium, and anything above that is high. So what foods have a low glycemic index? One trick is to look for higher fiber foods, which generally have a lower glycemic index.
Most vegetables have a low GI. There are always exceptions, though, such as parsnips or pumpkin, which are in the high range. But typically your table vegetables, from peas to tomatoes to carrots to onions, have a low glycemic values.
Most common fruits such as apples, peaches, and grapes have a low glycemic index. It’s a good idea to research what you eat, though, because some common fruits like bananas are much higher, falling into the medium category. Watermelon is high on the index at 80.
Plenty of breads have a low GI. Sourdough rye, for example. Pumpernickel. Whole wheat. At the other end of the scale, white bread is in the high range at 100!
It’s important to research breakfast cereals, because many can be very high in terms of their GI. Plain bran and rolled oats are in the low-GI category, while Cornflakes and Cheerios are high.
Meat and Fish
Meat and fish typically have extremely low glycemic values – in the range of 15 or less. But keep in mind, you typically don’t prepare beef, chicken, fish, or any other meat on its own. You may use sauces or breading, and the ingredients in those can have higher GI values.
Following The Low Glycemic Path
Building a low glycemic diet does not mean cutting variety. You will find a broad spectrum of foods fit the GI profile. Also, switching entirely to a low GI diet may not shock your system like other diets, because the foods you will eat are not dramatically reduced in calories. A low glycemic diet operates on the principle that if what you eat provides steady energy and reduces hunger throughout the day, you’re less likely to overeat. The low GI path is even something you can simply incorporate into your existing eating plan with ease.