A Few Good Carbs - The New Glycemic Index Diet
Sick of counting carbs? A steamy, hot bowl of pasta or just a piece of fruit
starts to look pretty good after another bunless burger. If you have these
cravings, another trend in dieting may be for youóthe low glycemic index (GI)
Not all carbs are evil is the motto of the low GI diet. As a measurement of how
quickly a particular carbohydrate is used by the body, the glycemic index is
already found on nutritional labels in Europe and Australia, but has yet to be
endorsed any American organization. The GI classifies carbohydrates on a scale
to indicate which ones are better to consume if you are trying to lose weight.
"Thatís whatís so different about glycemic index." says David Grotto, RD, LD,
spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Itís not low carbohydrate,
itís more selective carbohydrate, if you will.
Keeping You Full
Begun as a diet to help people control their diabetes, the general rule of the
GI diet is: the higher the glycemic index, the faster a food is metabolized by
the body. If a food is digested and broken down by the body quickly, your blood
glucose (commonly referred to as blood sugar) levels rise rapidly, leading to a
quick insulin response, making you feel tired and hungry sooner. Foods with low
GI are metabolized slower, meaning they sit in your digestive track longer and
are gradually absorbed by the body. This leads to a more gradual blood glucose
increase, keeping your hunger satiated longer.
While a few studies have shown that following a low GI diet will keep you
feeling fuller longer, helping you lose weight, there is no conclusive
understanding of how this diet works. Keeping track of the GI of foods can get
tricky, but this early evidence suggests that it may prove to be a useful tool
for dietary planning.
GI assigns a value to a food based on the average bodyís metabolism of a simple
carbohydrate: usually table sugar or white bread, assigned a value of 100. All
other foods are then ranked according to how 50 grams of it, as compared to how
50 grams of sugar or white bread, affects oneís blood glucose levels after a
period of time. A value below 55 would be considered a low GI; a value from 56
to 69 would be a moderate range; anything above 70 is considered to have a high
glycemic index. While such values provide a handy guide, they have not been
standardized, so two different charts may show a different GI value for the same
Related to GI, glycemic load is a measurement that not only takes into account
the glycemic index of a food, but also how much of it is there. Since, no matter
what, you still canít eat heaping portions of any kind of food, glycemic load
may be a better dietary tool than GI alone. Glycemic load can be assigned to an
entire meal or to the food eaten over an entire day, for example.
"The thinking is, if you have a high glycemic index food, but you have a smaller
amount of it, it may have pretty much the same effect of having a low glycemic
index food but a larger quantity of it." Grotto said. "So that gets back to
looking at portion size."
White Potatoes vs. Sweet Potatoes
A diet based on GI or glycemic load acknowledges that not all carbs act the same
way, a new thought in the world of weight loss. However, it says nothing about
how much protein or fat people should consume on these diets. These forms of
nutrition have been shown numerous times to have a large influence on body
weight and, no matter how meticulous you are about sticking to a lowĖGI diet,
may impede weight loss.
Making matters worse, different people, different eating situations and the
foods you eat with your carbohydrates can provoke greatly varying glycemic
responses, that is, how the body responds to the ingestion of carbohydrates.
"If you have a high glycemic-index food such as a baked potato, for example, but
you also have something with protein and fat, and you eat that meal slowly and
not under stressÖthat can actually slow up that glycemic response." Grotto said.
And to complicate things more, the variety of a particular food and the way itís
prepared also greatly impact its GI. Depending upon the variety, a potato can
have a GI ranging from 55, for a sweet potato, to 110, for a boiled white
potato. And the GI of a potato can be decreased, for example, if you prepare the
potato the night before and let it sit in the fridge before you eat it, because
the starch becomes less digestible.
The Next Dietary Trend?
These complications, however, lead to a fairly flexible diet that is less about
prohibitions and more about adapting a diet to your needs and cravings. If you
like your bowl of cereal in the morning, thatís fine, just make it a high
fiberĖtype of cereal, which tends to have a lower GI. And if you like to eat
fruit, thatís great, too, just stick to non-tropical fruits that tend to have
Keeping to a low GI diet means that you can eat a carb-crammed bowl of pasta, if
you keep the portion size reasonable and balance it out with low glycemic foods
for the rest of the day. And cooking it alĖdente will help to lower the overall
GI of the pasta, making you digest it more slowly.
"Those that want to follow lower glycemic index, the good news is you can do
that and still eat some higher glycemic index foods." Grotto said. "Itís
watching the quantity of them and having them as a smaller portion of what
So thereís the catch that you canít avoid in any diet: itís all about
"Unfortunately, itís not a real sexy message, but thatís exactly what this boils
down to." Grotto said. "Itís not eating as much as you want to."