The glycemic index has been referenced as a useful tool to help construct a diet for fat loss and for both Type I and Type II diabetics by controlling blood sugar levels and the resulting insulin response. The glycemic load may be a more relevant evaluator for assessing blood sugar levels, and thus, controlling the resulting insulin release. There is not a consensus on glycemic index versus glycemic load, or even an agreement among researchers of the accuracy of either index. The glycemic load is a calculation based on the glycemic index. This article will discuss both.
First, here is a review of terms:
- The glycemic index (GI) refers to the rate and amount of blood sugar (glucose) present in the blood stream upon digestion of an individual food. Typically 25 or 50 grams of carbohydrates are used. The GI was created in 1981 by Dr. Wolever and Dr. Jenkins of the University of Toronto.
- The glycemic load (GL) refers to the total grams of carbohydrates multiplied by the GI then divided by 100. The GL usually measures foods by weight, typically 100 grams (about 3 1/2 oz.) instead of the amount of actual carbohydrate. Obviously this is more complicated.
All carbohydrates are eventually broken down into its base constituents, and referred to as monosaccharides. Examples of monosaccharides are: fructose, galactose, xylose, ribose and the most important one, glucose (also called blood sugar).
Most foods are some combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrate, though a few may be primarily just one or two of the three. Upon inspection of GI food lists, you will find a range of GI scores for the same food, because apparently individual people digest foods at different rates. For instance, a white potato is listed at a GI range anywhere from 50 to 111!
The GI ranges are: 0-55 (low), 56-69 (medium), 70 and above (high)
The GL ranges are: 0-10 (low), 11-19 (medium), 20 and above (high)
Problems with Absolutes and the Glycemic Index and Load:
Obvious problems arise when relying solely on the glycemic index and glycemic load. A meal containing a low glycemic food combined with a large amount of fat may result in an overall low glycemic load number, but may actually lead to an increase in body fat. An example would be a bowl of black beans (low GI of 34) topped with cheese and butter. All of these are low glycemic foods resulting in a low glycemic load, but obviously someone who eats this dish frequently would rapidly expand their waistline.
A smarter approach would look at several other factors when constructing a fat-loss plan. In no particular order, these factors are:
- Limit refined and simple sugar. Any word ending with “-ose,” with the exception of cellulose, is a sugar. Also, honey, molasses, corn and rice syrup, any fruit juice, and most nectars are forms of sugar.
- Limit refined flour products, including most breads, pasta, rolls and baked goods.
- Limit saturated fat, with the exception of cold processed, unheated coconut oil, including milk fats like butter, cheese, and whole milk products.
Finally, consult with a nutritionist or dietician to determine the proper ratio of carbohydrate, fat, and protein, as well as proper calorie load for you, and maintain an active lifestyle.
Nutrition Speclialist, Ortho-Kinetics® Trainer
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