The Low-Down on Low-Glycemic


Looking at the state of health these days is a bit depressing.  Yes, fit is the new thin, however that’s not always enough.  Chronic disease- all types –from arthritis to cancer to diabetes and heart disease is powerfully affected by sugar.  Cancer thrives on it, as does diabetes and on and on, like I said, it’s a downer.   The good news is that we can do something about our individpresented by Kitchen Therapyual lifestyles and nutrition regardless of what the remainder of the culture chooses.


Warding off the health mongers is preferable.  If you’re fortunate enough to be in good health, a low-glycemic lifestyle will serve to sustain your health.  If you’ve already been burdened with a diagnosis and it’s attendant life-complicating effects, a low-glycemic lifestyle will optimize the health you do have and may put the brakes on further complications.


So what is a low-glycemic lifestyle?  Other countries are more familiar with this than are we here in the United States.  Australia, for example, has labeled the products on their grocery store shelves with glycemic values, taking the guesswork out of low-glycemic shopping.  We are catching up and catching on.  A low-glycemic lifestyle minimizes the amount of sugar that enters the bloodstream and the pace at which that sugar is available in the bloodstream.  And, “sugar,” is not limited to those little white granules in the four-pound bags.  Rather, this reference to “sugar” is about whatever foods break down into blood glucose quickly. So, here’s the low-down on low-glycemic:


Carbohydrates are the elements in food that break down to glucose (blood sugar) in the bloodstream.  Most foods contain some carbohydrates.  For example, lobster, lamb chops, milk, and asparagus have carbohydrates, although they are low.  Most foods have protein, too.  Grapefruit, tomatoes, lemons and, our friend, asparagus are unexpected foods with protein, although the protein content is low.


The way the glycemic index for a food is determined is complex and time-consuming.  It is based on human testing.  A group of healthy people go into a lab and drink pure glucose. (YUCK!) Then blood sugar levels are measured every 10 minutes for the following two hours.  This sets the base line by which all other foods are measured. Ideally, the same group returns to the lab days later and consumes the food being measured for glycemic index.  Again, the rate at which their blood sugar rises is measured every 10 minutes for 2 hours.  When these results are compared to the pure glucose data, the glycemic index for that particular food is established.


Table 1 lists a sample of a few carbohydrates and their glycemic index. Table 1 also lists a newer concept known as the Glycemic Load. Not to confuse the matter, but it’s an important part of the low-glycemic life-style.


The glycemic load is the glycemic index of a particular food multiplied by the number of calories the food actually contains. A particular carbohydrate may have a high glycemic index but is low in calories and have lots of fiber, like carrots, or it may have a high glycemic index and be high in calories, with less fiber like potatoes. The fiber content of a food also affects the Glycemic Load.  Some carbohydrates like peanuts have a low glycemic index and a low glycemic load. This is not permission to go wild on peanuts; they are highly caloric.


protein                   fat                  carbs                  calories

Peanuts, 100 gms 25.8 gm 38.6 gm 21.9 gm  564


However, they are balanced between their protein, fat and carbohydrate composition.  (Take note, this is before being roasted in oil and salted.)


In general, most refined starchy foods and highly processed foods have a high glycemic index, whereas whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and legumes tend to have a low glycemic index.


Table 1 Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values of Representative Foods

Food Glycemic Index Glycemic Load
Glucose 100 21.0
Instant rice 91 24.8
Baked potato 85 20.3
Corn flakes 84 21.0
Carrot 71 3.8
Rye bread 65 19.5
Banana 53 13.3
Apple 36 8.1
Lentil beans 29 5.7
Milk 27 3.2
Peanuts 14 0.7


You can see from Table 1 that cornflakes and glucose have the same glycemic load.  Instant rice is even higher.  What does that tell you?


Following a high glycemic meal the blood glucose level rises quickly, which causes the pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin drives the glucose into cells to be used as energy or stored as glycogen or fat. With the emergency response of insulin, the blood sugar will then usually drop quickly and can become too low. This is called “functional hypoglycemia.” When blood sugar is too low, coma results, when it’s too high, coma results, take my word for it.  These precious bodies of ours do their best to keep the balance.  When “functional hypoglycemia” occurs, the body responds by releasing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol triggering our need to eat.  The limbic brain is now the commander.  Just like regulating our breathing, the “old brain” is in charge of body functions.  Therefore, will power (pre-frontal cortex, executive function, choice) is suspended.  The need to eat is the body’s way of preventing blood sugar levels from dropping too low, given all the insulin in the system.  So we inhale those cookies –chips–biscuits to satisfy that compulsion to eat, blood sugars rise again and the pattern is repeated.  This system of eating creates a biological crisis.  We stress our bodies by being in a state of emergency most of the time.  Given this, it’s no wonder that health issues result.


This cycle of high glycemic eating, insulin over-production, low blood sugar and the resulting cortisol and adrenaline response is what creates cravings for high glycemic foods. Even after our blood sugars are stabilized following a high glycemic meal or snack the adrenaline and cortisol in our system will command us to eat.


Repeating this cycle over weeks and months and years leads to insulin resistance –our system becomes immune to the hormone that lowers blood sugar leaving that blood sugar floating around in the blood stream at unhealthy levels; the ground is perfectly laid for Type 2 Diabetes.


Keeping meals and snacks low-glycemic – balancing complex carbohydrates, proteins, fiber and good fats, helps maintain functional energy, mood stability and clarity of thinking without setting off the emergency responses of insulin, adrenaline and cortisol.


My passion for this subject was inspired by my very own high blood sugar coma.  It’s a tough way to learn.  And, while my learning required a 2×4 to get my attention, my hope is that this feather of information inspires you to explore the low-glycemic lifestyle.

Posted in Food and Nutrition, Life Practices on 10/31/2013 05:29 pm

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