The Glycemic Index

By Bret Burquest


Whenever you eat, food is converted to blood sugar, called glucose. This is particularly true when eating carbohydrates. Blood sugar is the fuel that makes the body go. Every cell in your body depends on blood sugar for energy to stay alive and perform its function. Without it, you would go into a coma and soon die.


The pancreas creates insulin which is released into the blood stream in response to elevated glucose levels. Without the insulin, blood glucose levels would rise excessively, creating a condition known as hypoglycemia.


If your insulin production is defective you may be subject to diabetes. Type-1 diabetes is when your body doesn't produce enough insulin. Type-2 diabetes occurs when you produce sufficient amounts of insulin but your cells have developed a resistance to it, potentially damaging your system (kidneys, eyes, nerves, vital organs).


A diet low in carbohydrates is helpful for managing glucose levels and losing weight but it isn't that simple.


The key to good health and losing weight is to avoid spikes in insulin levels.


If you skip meals and compensate for it with high-carbohydrate snacks, you're putting you body on a blood sugar roller-coaster ride. The same is true if you eat one or two huge meals per day and little else in between. Your blood sugar spikes upward, causing your insulin levels to spike upward.


Twenty-five percent of all the glucose in your bloodstream goes to your brain. When these levels spike, you can become sluggish and forgetful. If you eat a lot of the wrong carbohydrates for breakfast you become lethargic by mid morning. Then you need a donut or some pastry to give you another temporary quick fix.


Spikes in glucose and insulin levels turn on the "hunger switch." And everything you eat that is not burned up as energy is stored as fat. It's a lot easier to control weight if you're not hungry most of the time.


In 1981, Dr. David Jenkins, a Professor of Nutrition at the University of Toronto, attempted to establish the type of foods that were best for people suffering from diabetes. He found that certain foods traditionally defined as complex carbohydrates, such as potatoes, led to a rapid rise in blood glucose while some foods high in sugar appeared to digest more slowly leading to a more gradual rise in blood glucose.


This discovery led to an additional method of classifying foods (carbohydrates) called the Glycemic Index.


Foods that digest rapidly, leading to a rapid release of glucose into the bloodstream, thereby causing spikes in glucose and insulin levels, are known as high glycemic index foods. Foods that digest more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream, are known as low glycemic index foods.


In order to stabilize blood glucose, reduce body fat and boost energy levels, it's important to consider the types of carbohydrates you eat. Foods that contain low glycemic levels will minimize the production of insulin. As an added bonus, this will decrease hunger and increase energy levels, encouraging your body to burn more fat.


You can get a Glycemic Index chart on the Internet or in many health books. Generally, almost all grains (bread, rice, etc.) are high glycemic. Except for bananas, dates, figs, mangoes, papayas and raisins, most fruit is low glycemic. Except for carrots, corn, squash, parsnips and potatoes, most vegetables are low glycemic. Since meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy products are low in carbohydrates they are also low glycemic.


I am not a nutritionist. Whenever it comes to your personal health, always check with an expert; then get a second opinion from another expert. If your health is important to you, this may be something to explore.


By the way, food is also psychologically addictive. It's a substitute for love. If you feel empty inside, you satisfy it by filling up inside. This can only be overcome by recognizing the problem and getting over it.


I've apparently spent much of my life substituting for love. To overcome it, I got a new puppy.


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Bret Burquest is an award-winning columns and author of four novels. Contact





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