Nutrition

How to Use the Glycemic Index for Weight Loss

One thing I have learned about myself – and I believe that this is true of most people – is that my state of being in every way (physically, emotionally, mentally) is largely effected by the choices I make in my carbohydrates. I can feel when I’ve been eating too much sugar or white bread. I’m sluggish, hungry more often, and mood swings become the norm. It’s not pretty.

Oh, yeah. I also gain weight. So that’s kind of a bummer.

I’ve always been intrigued by different ways to control blood sugar for weight loss as well as mood stability. One of those ways was the ketogenic diet. Although extremely effective and beneficial health wise, it is pretty extreme. Although many people have adopted the ketogenic diet as a lifestyle and love it, for many people (including myself) choosing the right carbs at the right time is much more feasible (as opposed to no carbs at no time!)

Why should we regulate blood sugar?

One very important goal of any healthy lifestyle is to keep blood sugar levels consistent – not too low, not too high. When our blood sugar drops too low, we become tired and hangry. 

When our blood sugar levels spike up too high and too quickly, changes take place in our bodies that take a huge toll on our health.

After eating food that spikes our blood sugar, the pancreas releases high amounts of insulin (a hormone) into our blood stream. Insulin allows the body to turn the excess sugar into body fat as a way to bring our blood sugar levels back down to normal. The sudden decrease in blood sugar causes us to feel hungry again, making us eat even more. 

What is the Glycemic Index?

At some point most of us have heard that we should be choosing complex carbs (such as sweet potato and whole grains) as opposed to simple carbs (such as candy and white bread) in order to maintain health. Although this is a great place to start, it doesn’t exactly paint the complete picture.

The Glycemic Index works by ranking individual foods on a 0-100 scale based on how much they raise our blood sugar. The research of this concept is conducted on actual human beings (instead of rats or cute little bunny rabbits), which is pretty darn cool and surprisingly rare.

Many people associate The Glycemic Index with the diabetic diet, which would be accurate. However, non-diabetics can apply this concept to easily regulate blood sugar and control appetite, keep energy levels consistent, lose weight, and prevent disease.

How to use the Glycemic Index

If you are interested in incorporating use of the Glycemic Index into your everyday life, the first step would be to purchase a guidebook which lists the GI rating of individual foods.

Because each food has to be tested individually, not all have been researched as of yet. Human trials are expensive and time consuming. Despite this, most of the more common foods that we find in our daily lives have been listed. Some guidebooks contain more foods than others, ranging from 800 up to 1,200 different items. The list continues to grow as more research is conducted over time.

If you want to check out a shorter list of foods before investing in your own guide, Harvard University has published a list of GI ratings for what they believe to be the 100 most common foods.

As a general rule, GI ratings of 55 or less are ideal. 56-69 is the medium range, and ratings of 7o or more are considered very high and should be limited.

 0-55 = GOOD

56-69 = MEDIUM

70+ = BAD

You will find that through the GI index some “bad” carbs can have a lower or equal GI rating than “good” carbs. For example, white sourdough bread ranks just as low as regular whole wheat bread. If you have already been following the good carb/bad carb philosophy, incorporating the GI will provide you much more accuracy in choosing which carbs to eat.

When using the Glycemic Index, pair higher GI foods with lower GI foods to lower the GI of the entire meal, because that is ultimately all that matters as far as your blood sugar goes. Other ways of lowering the GI of an entire meal include adding extra sources of fiber, healthy fats (coconut oil, avocado, etc.), and an acid such as vinegar or citrus juice.

Other Factors to Consider

  • Just because a food has a low GI, does not necessarily mean it is also low calorie. Weight loss is a simple matter of whether or not you are burning more calories than you are consuming. No matter how low of a GI your foods have, if you are eating too many of them you will not lose weight. 
  • Be sure to also consider your activity level. High endurance athletes often prefer to consume high GI foods before exercise to provide a quick burst of energy, or for recovery purposes.
  • As fruits ripen, their GI goes up. This is because the complex sugars in the fruit begin to break down into smaller pieces that are easier for your body to process quickly.
  • The GI of pasta also tends to go up the longer it is cooked. Only cook to al-dente (firm, but no crunch) to keep its GI at the rating listed.

There is obviously so much more to be said and to be learned about the Glycemic Index that cannot be summed up in one post, but with a little bit of practice and your own guidebook you can most certainly make huge improvements to your health and make your weight loss journey that much easier.

Have you ever considered the Glycemic Index in your diet? If so, how was it for you? If not, how do you think using the GI could help you take control of your health?

Until next time,

Emily

Sources: 

Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods, http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods

Glycemic Index, http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index

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3 thoughts on “How to Use the Glycemic Index for Weight Loss

  1. Love the blog! One of the problems with the glycemic index however is the quantity of food it refers to when stating their effects on blood sugar. Getting people to understand the importance of portions is a good way to understand the glycemic index to the full extent 🙂

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