Could a diet low in Glycemic Index be beneficial to you?
The Glycemic Index (GI) provides a measure of how quickly blood sugars rise after particular foods are eaten. The index is internationally recognized and ranks carbohydrates according to how they affect your blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrates include all foods made of grains, including: breads, cereals, rice, pasta, and noodles. They also include fruits, starchy vegetables, lentils, and dairy products. You can use the glycemic index to help you keep your carbohydrate intake in check, and as a result, your blood sugar steady.
According to Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller, director of the Glycemic Index Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Glebe, Australia, a low GI diet is helpful for people with diabetes. “A low GI diet means that the blood glucose response to meals is lower and therefore less taxing to their beta cells, the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin,” she explains.
She says because people with diabetes have trouble producing enough insulin to control their blood glucose, a low GI diet also improves insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes, she advises this sort of diet is something we should all aspire to do.
Brand-Miller’s research has also shown that a low GI diet is more nutritious with higher levels of micronutrients than a conventional healthy diet.
The traditional Diabetes Food Pyramid, which is very similar to the old USDA Food Pyramid, shows a person with diabetes should have 5-8 servings of bread, grains and other starches per day. Brand-Miller thinks this is reasonable, on the provision that these are nutritious, low GI choices.
Some, like New York Time’s Bestselling author, Dr. Mark Hyman, are vehemently opposed to dietary guidelines developed by the federal government and says they are “scientifically flawed.” On his website, he states for many years, we were told by experts to eat 6 to 11 servings of bread rice, cereal, and pasta every day he writes, “It shouldn’t have been called the food pyramid. It should have been called the food tombstone!”
The American Diabetes Association no longer offers diabetes food pyramid, and instead, encourages use of Create Your Plate, a tool which allows you choose the foods you want but changes the portion size so you are getting larger portions of non-starchy vegetables and a smaller portion of starchy foods.
“I know that low carbohydrate diets are popular at the moment,” Brand-Miller says. “They help people with diabetes to lose weight and to maintain weight loss up to 2 years.” The trouble, she notes is that other research suggests that low carb diets are not ideal in the longer term.
“They increase mortality and reduce lifespan in people without diabetes, especially if they are high in animal proteins and fats,” she states. “The best-bet is to eat a moderate amount of carbohydrate from low GI sources and focus on plant sources of fat and protein,” she advises.
On the whole, Brand-Miller does not think there is enough awareness in the United States on consuming low GI foods nor is it emphasized as part of a healthy diet. She says there is more awareness in Australia, where she practices, because their diabetes organizations have recommended low GI foods.
Australia also supports a GI Foundation and a symbol program (www.gisymbol.com) to help the food industry to market them. “I’d like to see it rolled out on a global scale,” she adds. “One drawback is the expense of GI testing, but we are working on a simpler, cheaper way to identify slowly digested starchy foods.”
According to the Glycemic Index Foundation, carbohydrates with a low GI index (55 or less) are more slowly digested and metabolized and cause a slower rise in blood sugar, and therefore insulin levels.
Classifications of Glycemic Index:
Individual Food Portion:
Low: 55 or less
Whole Day Classification:
Low: 45 or less
Some examples of low GI foods, with an index of 55 or less are the following: 100% stone-ground, whole wheat bread, rolled or steel cut oatmeal, pasta, barley, bulgar, sweet potato, corn, lima beans, peas, legumes and lentils. Most fruits, and non-starchy vegetables such as carrots.
Medium GI foods ranging from 56-69 include whole wheat and rye bread, quick oats, and brown or basmati rice.
High GI foods with an index of 70 or more are white bread, bagels, corn flakes, instant oatmeal, white rice, rice pasta, mac and cheese from a box, russet potato, pumpkin, pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, melons, mangoes, and pineapple.
You can view the American Diabetes Association’s International Tables of Glycemic Index and Load Values by clicking here.
1. American Diabetes Association. Create Your Plate. September 14, 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/create-your-plate/
2. Glycemic Index Foundation. What is GI? Retrieved from: https://www.gisymbol.com/
3. “International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008” by Fiona S. Atkinson, Kaye Foster-Powell, and Jennie C. Brand-Miller in the December 2008 issue of Diabetes Care, Vol. 31, number 12, pages 2281-2283.