Do you know the difference between high glycemic foods and low glycemic foods? If you’ve ever felt light-headed or shaky (and very hungry) a few hours after eating certain foods, then you’ve experienced the “roller-coaster ride” of high glycemic foods. You’ve probably noticed that all foods don’t have this effect on you, and those that don’t are most likely low glycemic foods.
The Glycemic Index or GI is a scale that ranks high-carbohydrate foods according to how much they raise your blood glucose levels after eating. The GI ranges from 0 to 100. Foods with a high GI are digested quickly and cause a significant spike in our blood sugar levels. This increase in blood sugar causes a corresponding increase in insulin to bring those sugar levels back down. Low glycemic foods have less of an impact on your body because they are digested and absorbed more slowly, so you need less insulin to control your blood sugar levels. When sugar and insulin aren’t spiking, you won’t get that light-headed or weak feeling. You just feel normal.
There are many more advantages to choosing a low glycemic diet. Low glycemic foods are beneficial to our health because controlling blood sugar and insulin levels is one of the keys to reducing our risk of heart disease and diabetes. Low GI diets are also useful for controlling our appetite and aiding in weight loss.
When our blood sugar levels are maintained relatively stable, our bodies perform better. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrated that high GI diets are strongly linked to an increase in the risk of Type II diabetes and heart disease. The World Health Organization recommends that people in developed countries eat as many low-GI foods as possible, to prevent heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
A hundred years ago, our foods simply took longer to digest. They came straight from the farm to our table, in its natural state, containing the original fiber and other natural components they were grown with. Modern food processing practices have stripped our food of many of its natural properties, making it easy to package and store, and extremely quick to digest. And the faster we digest the food, the quicker we get hungry again.
This is the “roller coaster” that happens when we consume too many high GI foods. High glycemic index foods may give you a burst of energy, but this is followed by a “crash” as the insulin takes the blood sugar back down and you feel hungry again. To make things worse, these insulin spikes turn all that excess blood sugar into fat, which is usually stored right around the abdomen. On the other hand, when we consume low glycemic foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, the rise in blood sugar is slower and more sustained over time. That means you feel fuller longer and are less tempted to eat again so soon. Our energy levels are maintained throughout the day, which not only provides health benefits but also makes us feel better, because we’re not on that up and down cycle from morning to night.
If you would like to increase your consumption of low glycemic foods, here are some suggestions.
Eat less of the following:
Avoid sugary snacks, especially those made with refined sugar. Not only are they high GI foods, they are mostly empty calories.
Many salad dressings are very high GI foods.
While potatoes are nutritious, especially with their skins intact, they are also very high GI foods.
Eat more of the following:
Fruits and vegetables in their natural state, preferably organic. Many commercially grown fruits and vegetables have a higher sugar content than organic. Commercially grown foods also have added chemicals and pesticides.
Eat foods with lots of fiber, which tends to lower the glycemic index of everything you eat.
Choose breakfast cereals with whole grain barley, bran, and oats.
Interestingly, the cooking method can affect the GI rating of a food. For example, boiled potatoes are rated an 81 on the glycemic index, while baked potatoes rate as 119 and mashed potatoes 104.
However, rather than obsess about individual GI food ratings, remember that the most important goal is to have a low glycemic diet overall. Eating the occasional high GI food is OK, especially if you also eat a low glycemic food along with it. Try to focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet including a wide variety of whole, natural, and fresh foods. By doing so, you won’t even have to consult the GI scale, because you’ll be eating a relatively low glycemic diet and gaining all the benefits described here.
Fiber is important in your diet for a number of reasons, the main ones being that it improves digestion and lowers your risk of contracting diabetes, cancer and heart disease. It is recommended that adults get from 25 to 30 grams of fiber in their diet every day.
There are two types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water (and digestive juices), forming a gel-like substance that helps to lower cholesterol levels and reduce high blood sugar, while insoluble fiber is an indigestible bulking agent that keeps things moving in the digestive tract, aiding in elimination, and reducing occurrences of constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulosis.
Soluble fiber can be found such foods as oats, apples, pears, lentils and carrots, while insoluble fiber is typically found in whole grain flour, nuts, broccoli, seeds and wheat bran. Beans may be one of the best sources, as they contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Fiber has been found to:
Lower blood cholesterol – Studies have found that soluble fiber lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or the “bad” cholesterol in the blood, which can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. The fiber binds to bile acids, allowing for the elimination of cholesterol from the system.
Control blood sugar levels – Fiber slows the rate at which sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream after a meal, helping to avoid insulin spikes and keeping your blood sugar at moderate levels, also reducing your risk of diabetes.
Help you lose weight – The more fiber a food has, the more likely you are to feel full after eating and not become hungry as quickly. High-fiber foods are also usually lower in calories, so eating the same volume of high-fiber food will provide you with fewer calories to burn than its low-fiber counterpart.
Maintain bowel health – Because fiber absorbs water it increases bulk and softens the stool, making elimination easier, and reducing hemorrhoids. Studies have also shown that it can also help relieve irritable bowel syndrome.
Try to avoid eating processed foods, as these are usually quite low in fiber. Your best choice is to eat whole foods such as fresh vegetables and whole grains, which will provide you with a high-fiber diet.
It’s easy to incorporate high-fiber foods into your diet. Oatmeal at breakfast (preferably the steel cut variety, which has considerably more fiber than the instant kind) with a little fresh fruit added makes a great high-fiber start to your day. If you get hungry at work, instead of heading for the candy machine, try bringing some dried fruit or a handful of nuts. You can also add beans or chopped vegetables to soups and stews for extra taste and fiber. Your body will thank you!
Honey is not just a gooey, sticky, golden syrup that tastes good on pancakes and your morning oatmeal. Honey has been used for centuries by healers from many different cultures across the world for everything from treating coughs to healing wounds. But is honey really good for you? Recent medical research has found that those ancient physicians may just have been right all along.
In its raw form, honey is a powerful source of antioxidants, along with having antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Its antioxidants keep free radicals from causing oxidative damage to the body’s cells. In a study done at the University of California, Davis, researchers gave four tablespoons of buckwheat honey daily to 25 study subjects over a period of 29 days, and their results found a positive link between honey consumption and increased levels of antioxidant polyphenols in their blood.
Honey promotes faster healing of wounds and burns. Its hygroscopic (water-attracting) properties help heal wounds by drawing out excess fluid. As bacteria thrive in wet environments, the application of honey helps keep wounds drier, and thus freer from bacteria. An Indian study found honey to be more effective for treatment of burns than the standard medical treatment (with silver sulfadiazine). The study’s researchers found that 91 percent of 104 patients with first-degree burns were free of infection after a week of treatment with honey, whereas only 7 percent of the conventionally treated patients were infection-free. Burns also healed more quickly with the honey than with conventional treatment.
In 2008, the International Symposium on Honey and Human Health presented some of the most recent research findings. Among them were:
A study of 105 children with upper respiratory tract infection demonstrated that a single dose of buckwheat honey before bed is more effective in treating their night-time coughs and accompanying sleep difficulty than a single dose of dextromethorphan.
Honey boosts the immune system. A study done in several Israeli hospitals found that it stimulates the production of white blood cells, and a study of cancer patients found those who ate honey had fewer infections. Studies found six different forms of lactobacilli and four different types of bifidobacteria in various types of honey, which strengthens both the immune and digestive systems.
The body processes honey more easily than it does sugar. Honey’s ratio of fructose to glucose is ideal for the way in which the liver metabolizes glucose, leading to more even blood sugar levels, and reducing insulin sensitivity. A year-long study done on rats, comparing the effects of honey, sucrose and a low-glycemic diet found that the rats on the honey diet had a lower percentage of body fat, reduced weight gain, better memory, less anxiety, higher levels of “good” cholesterol, better blood sugar levels and reduced damage from oxidation than rats fed the other two diets.
Raw honey offers the most benefits, as processing removes many of the healthful phytonutrients honey provides. You can usually find raw honey at your local health food store or at a farmers’ market. And remember that children under one year of age should not be given honey due to the risk of infantile botulism. Never has good health tasted so sweet!