The glycemic index measures the tendency of carbohydrates in a given food to create a spike in blood glucose levels. A low glycemic index indicates that the body digests and absorbs the carbohydrates in that food slowly, causing a sustained release of sugars into the blood over time. Low glycemic foods produce little to no spike in circulating blood sugar levels, allowing tighter control for patients with diabetes. Furthermore, low glycemic foods produce less body fat, lower lipid levels in the blood, and fewer hunger pangs between meals.
Studies have shown that dieters increase their caloric intake by 60 to 70 percent when they eat high glycemic foods. On average, they eat about 200 more calories at the next meal than dieters who eat low glycemic foods. When the digestion process releases glucose into the blood quickly, the body releases a surge of insulin to handle the excess blood sugar. In response to the insulin, the blood sugar then plummets. The subsequent low blood sugar increases the hunger drive, resulting in excess consumption of food at the next meal.
Nutrition specialists recommend diets with low glycemic foods for diabetics, hypoglycemic patients, dieters, and athletes. Research indicates that diets rich in low glycemic foods lead to more rapid normalization of blood sugar levels and less production of the hunger hormones, such as neuropeptide Y. Some studies have shown that even hypertension, or high blood pressure, responds favorably to a low glycemic diet. The slow release of blood sugar associated with low glycemic foods enhances sports performance, increasing stamina and strength.
Low glycemic foods have glycemic indices of 55 or below. Foods with low glycemic indices include vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain breads and pastas. Fats and dietary fiber slow the digestion process, thereby lowering the overall glycemic index. Consuming carbohydrates with proteins will also mitigate the blood sugar spike that would normally occur. Interestingly, the consumption of an alcoholic drink, with the exception of beer, prior to a meal reduces the meal’s glycemic index by about 15 percent.
There are some drawbacks to using the glycemic index to develop a diet plan. Other factors may influence the blood sugar levels, such as the body’s response to insulin. Carbohydrate foods affect the blood sugar vastly more than other food types, and carbohydrate and calorie restrictions provide a better stabilization of the blood sugar. The glycemic index is dependent on the processing, storage time, cooking practices, and variety of food, often producing a wide range of glycemic indices for the same food. Nonetheless, a low glycemic diet with the same number of calories as a high glycemic diet will still produce more effective weight management, insulin use, and glucose stability.