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What is a High-Glycemic Diet?

By D. Waldman
Updated May 17, 2024
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A high-glycemic diet is one that includes large quantities of carbohydrates that tend to create significant changes in the body's glucose levels. Foods are ranked on the glycemic index according to how fast they break down in the body and release glucose into the blood stream. Most foods are ranked from zero to 100 on the glycemic index, with the lower numbers having a minimal affect on glucose levels and higher numbers having the largest impact on glucose levels. High-glycemic diets are known for their reliance on foods such as white bread, pasta, cereals, and potatoes.

In general, a high-glycemic diet is also a high-calorie diet. Since the majority of foods that are high on the glycemic index are carbohydrates and high-sugar items, focusing on them with a high-glycemic diet can give two to three times the recommended caloric intake per day. Likewise, when trying to stick to the correct caloric intake with a high-glycemic diet, low energy levels, poor nutrition, and decreased feelings of well-being are likely to occur.

The majority of health professionals recommend that individuals choose to follow a low-glycemic diet. A high-glycemic diet tends to cause obesity and other health issues. The higher amounts of glucose in the blood stream can also increase the risk of developing diabetes. Heart disease, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol levels can also be side effects of a high-glycemic diet.

Following a low-glycemic diet can have several health benefits. Unlike a high-glycemic diet, it can actually help reduce bad cholesterol levels and decrease blood pressure. Low-glycemic foods also give a sense of fullness quicker, reducing the temptation for overeating and making it easier to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Such diets are also known to help alleviate the symptoms of many hormonal imbalances, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, and help manage diabetes, potentially reducing or eliminating the need for insulin shots.

While high-glycemic foods can still be consumed, they should be kept to a minimum. Low-glycemic index foods include beans, vegetables, most fruits, and dairy products. There are also numerous low-glycemic foods that can easily take the place of higher-glycemic ones. Wheat bread can be substituted for white bread, whole grain pasta can replace traditional white pasta, and cereals containing bran and oats can replace the standard high-sugar cereals at breakfast. Potatoes are one of the few components of a high-glycemic diet that do not have a close substitute and should be used sparingly.

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