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A complete guide to understanding the glycemic index

Food is Medicine

Have you wondered about the science behind how foods affect blood sugar? Or more importantly, which foods affect your blood sugar more than others? Read more to find out what foods you SHOULD be eating.

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What is the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load?

 You may have heard of the glycemic index in the news. It has been around a long time to provide insight on how our bodies process different foods in regard to sugar content.

Glycemic literally means “causing glucose (or sugar) in the blood.” The glycemic index was developed to help predict when eating a certain food how fast it converts to sugar and affects blood sugar levels.

In essence, the glycemic index helps to know not only how much sugar is in foods, but more importantly, how it affects your blood sugar levels.

 

In general, diets that are high on the glycemic index (GI) and high in glycemic load (GL), tend to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Below we will break down what the difference is between glycemic index and glycemic load to help you understand why you should eat certain foods over others. Remember, the key is to have consistent blood sugar levels and consume less processed and sugary foods to prevent diabetes and inflammation!

FUN FACT: Starches like those in potatoes and grains are digested into sugar; this is because starch is just a bunch of sugars linked together. Those sugars affect your body the same way that eating sugary foods do.

 

Let’s break it down: Glycemic Index (“how fast”)

The Glycemic Index scale categorizes the effect that different foods have on your blood sugar level. Then each food is given a score from 0 (no effect on blood sugar) to 100 (big spike on blood sugar). Foods that cause a fast increase in blood sugar have a high GI. That is because the sugar in them is quickly processed by your digestive system and absorbed into your blood. They cause a “spike” in your blood sugar.

So, you can probably guess that pure glucose is given a GI rating of 100. On the other hand, chickpeas are right down there at a GI of 10.

Regarding GI: low is anything under 55; moderate is 56-69, and 70+ is considered a high GI food.

Remember, this is a measure of how fast a carbohydrate containing food is digested and raised your blood sugar. It’s not a measure of the sugar content of the food.

The breakdown

How the carbohydrates in food affect your blood sugar level depend on other components of the food. Things like fiber and protein can slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, and this can make even a high-sugar food, low on the GI scale. The lower GI foods are better at keeping your blood sugar levels stable because they don’t increase your blood sugar level as fast.

FUN FACT: Can you guess which food has a GI of higher than 100? White potatoes! They have a GI of 111.

Understanding Glycemic Load (“how much”)

The glycemic load is different.

Glycemic load (GL) doesn’t take into account how quickly your blood sugar “spikes”, but it looks at how high that spike is. Basically, how much the food increases your blood sugar.

GL depends on two things. First, how much sugar is actually in the food. Second, how much of the food is typically eaten. Low GL would be 0-10, moderate GL would be 10-20, and high GL would 20+.

Let’s look at real example of GL and GI

(120 g) servings of bananas and oranges:

Food GI Serving size (g) GL per serving
Banana, average 48 120 11
Oranges, average 45 120 5
Excerpt from: Harvard Health Publications, Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods

 

As you can see, the banana and orange have almost the same glycemic index.; this means they both raise your blood sugar in about the same amount of time. But, the average banana raises the blood sugar twice as high (11) as the orange does (5). So, it contains more overall sugar than the same amount (120 g) of orange.

Of course, this is all relative. A GL of 11 is not high at all. Please keep eating whole fruits. 🙂

 

What does this all mean for your health?

Certain people should be aware of the effects that foods have on their blood sugar. People who have diabetes or pre-diabetes conditions like insulin resistance need to be aware of the glycemic index and glycemic load of foods they are eating regularly. Also, it is good to be aware how glucose affects the brain. Eating lower glycemic index foods can help to decrease inflammation.

Glycemic index and inflammation

Take a look at this flow chart on how high blood sugar leads to inflammation.

 

The GI and GL are just two factors to consider when it comes to blood sugar. Some high GI foods are pretty good for you but if you want to reduce the impact on your blood sugar, have them with a high-fiber or high-protein food.

 

Conclusion

If you have blood sugar imbalances or diabetes, you should probably be aware of the GI and GL of your food. If you are at risk of diabetes or heart disease, you might try swapping out some higher GI/GL foods and replacing with lower GI/GL foods. Key is to think whole foods based, gluten-free and Paleo eating!

 

If you or someone you know suffers from chronic pain or inflammation, give us a call today (425) 686-4498 to learn how we can help you find relief in an all-natural way!

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Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc, is a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist in Bothell, WA at her practice Starting Point Acupuncture. She is a pain specialist, seeing people who suffer from chronic pain, migraines, as well as digestive issues. Offering pain relief injections, acupuncture, facial rejuvenation, and nutrition consults. Most insurances accepted. Dr. Ellie Heintze is also the author of the book, A Starting Point Guide to Going Gluten-Free on Amazon.


Sources:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/glycemic-index-glycemic-load

 

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Call or Schedule Now!

(425) 686-4498

Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc

  • Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
    Bastyr University
  • Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
    Bastyr University
  • Master’s Degree in Chemistry
    Northern Arizona University
Doctor Ellie Heintze

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