What is the Glycemic Index and Why should everyone know about it?

GI ImageThe Glycemic Index (GI) was developed in 1980 by Dr. David J. Jenkins. He was testing to see which foods were best for people with diabetes by measuring the blood glucose response to each food.

The GI is a useful tool for controlling blood glucose or for losing weight. It allows us to easily choose foods based on their ratings. High-GI foods are digested and absorbed quickly and cause blood glucose and insulin levels to rise quickly. Low-GI foods are digested and absorbed slowly, cause gradual rises in blood glucose and insulin levels. People who eat more high-GI foods tend to have a higher level of body fat (BMI). High BMIs are linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Glycemic Index Levels:
  • Low (good): 55 or less
  • Medium: 56–69
  • High (bad): 70 or higher

Your body performs best when your blood glucose operates within a narrow band. If your blood sugar drops too low, you will experience headaches, fatigue, hunger and cravings for sugar or carbohydrates . If it goes too high, your brain signals your pancreas to secrete more insulin. Insulin brings your blood glucose back down, by converting the excess glucose to fat. The higher the rate of increase of blood glucose the more chance that your body will release an excess amount of insulin which drops your blood sugar back down too low, creating a sugar roller coaster.

Although it started as a tool for diabetics, everyone can benefit from adjusting their diets to include more low glycemic foods. It is easy to look at the list and substitute an ingredient that has a lower GI. The idea is to choose foods from the low and medium range and avoid foods high on the glycemic index. Choosing to have steel cut oats for breakfast (GI: 52) instead of instant oatmeal (GI: 83) can make a big impact on everyone’s overall health. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates is ideal. Unprocessed foods have lower glycemic index values than refined foods, making it important to increase whole foods and whole grains, while reducing processed foods.

There are many benefits to eating low GI foods:

  • keeping your energy levels balanced
  • feel fuller for longer between meals
  • prolonged physical endurance
  • reduced inflammation
  • improved digestion
  • improved sleep
  • improved blood cholesterol levels
  • reduced insulin resistance
  • reduced risk of heart disease
  • improve management of diabetes
  • reduced aches & pains
  • reduced cravings
  • There are a few critics of the Glycemic Index because it is not exact. It will vary based on much the food is processed, how it is cooked and how ripe it is. It can still be a useful tool to get an idea of the impact of a food on the body. If you do not want to measure and track your eating, the GI can be a great guideline that helps you compare foods and choose the better option.


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    About Heather Lentz

    Your Journey Begins Here…We Be Healthy supports you in your journey towards a healthy lifestyle through Low-Glycemic Cooking (& Eating), High Quality Nutritional Supplements, Jumpstart 5-Day Carb Cleanse, Healthy Energy Drinks, Preservative-Free Skin Care, Reducing Your Toxic Load and Creating a Healthy Home. Although I am still on my healing journey, I am now taking others along with me.
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    33 Responses to What is the Glycemic Index and Why should everyone know about it?

    1. Kathleen says:

      LOVE this piece! thank you for going into the history and providing some very clear information on the glycemic index, as well as the list itself!

      I agree that it is for everyone. I am neither a diabetic or need to lose weight. But I AM challenged by energy erratic energy. What is interesting to note, is if you are eating a whole foods diet, you are already there! haha! but I do find it humurous to see lowfat icecream as low GI… because the sugar in it would make it HIGH! Must watch for these tricks! and… if one is eating well most of the time, once in a while, we can treat ourselves.

      • Thank you for the great comments Kathleen. I am glad you liked the article. I wanted to include some history without it being boring. I agree that we should strive to eat well and treat ourselves once in a while. After all, we do have to live our lives, right?

    2. Sammi says:

      This was really interesting for me – I am hypoglycemic so it was nice to learn the glycemic foods work as a balancer and not just for diabetics!
      I also never made the connection with processed foods effecting my blood sugar more than unprocessed. Thanks for the info!
      I can’t wait to see whats next! 🙂

    3. Great post Heather!
      I used to live and breathe GI information in the late 90’s, and it really changed the way I felt on a day to day basis, and it also changed my body shape. I’m so grateful for the time learning this information, because it helped create a framework for the next food challenges I would face several years later. Thank you for reminding me of these basic principles again. I’ve found myself being lax and allowing things into my diet that simply aren’t helping me to think clearly, sleep well, or perform at high capacity. I’m going to make a few simple changes starting today! Thanks, ~ Loralee

    4. Heather, what an informative post! My grandfather was diabetic and I always thought GI levels were mainly for tracking insulin levels. I now see how monitoring these levels benefits us all. I love the link to the list you provided and was pleased to see that because I have cut out wheat, gluten, dairy, processed foods and sugar, the majority of my food intake falls within the low and medium GI levels. Thanks for the great news! 🙂

    5. danielle says:

      heather
      this is great information! and i LOVE that picture… eye-grabbing..
      i have been a devote of the zone diet for years- it’s based on the glycemic index. I notice such a difference when i am following the program and when i slip.. like this week.. lol.
      my brain is foggy, my joints hurt, and i am always tired- (maybe i am getting old) ; )
      i def have a sugar issue, and find that once i start eating it, i crave it all the time..
      do you have any good suggestions for snacks that satisfy that sugar craving without making you want to eat a bag of cookies?

      • Great question!
        For satisfying low-glycemic snacks I would suggest eating:
        -raw vegetables dipped in hummus
        -a piece of fruit,
        -a handful of raw almonds
        -non-fat vanilla greek yogurt (w/o sugar) mixed with some fresh berries
        -a hard-boiled egg
        -edamame (fresh soybeans)
        -shelled peanuts or real peanut butter
        -air popped popcorn (w/o butter)

    6. Laura says:

      Thank you Heather. I have recently been paying a lot more attention to what goes in my mouth and this is a helpful article to help me better understand some of the concepts I am learning about. Thanks for your insight into this topic, which, as you say, has differing views!

    7. Scott Powers says:

      Heather, great job articulating your knowledge in a clear and concise manner. I also thought the download of the GI list was an uber cool gift to your readers.
      I am not a calorie counter so I do somewhat navigate with GI in mind, especially since I have to stay pretty lean (it’s true that the camera really does add ten pounds, which sucks). Tim Ferriss talks about GI a lot in The Four Hour Body, thus my diet has a whole mess of black beans in it, which do a good job of keeping me full between meals. You have some really critical and beneficial information here, so great job in sharing it!

      • Scott, I’m glad you liked the list! Creating a low-glycemic lifestyle can be easy with the right information. I am not a fan of counting and measuring, that why I find this so helpful. I’m glad you found it beneficial too.

    8. Jessica says:

      Great post, Heather! I’d love to have a list of low GI foods. I have a terrible addicton to sugar, and crave it almost all the time. I’m on hiatus though – eating a lot less of it – but I still think about it alot. LOL I’m off candy, off soda, but still love eating fruit and drinking Crystal Light. One step at a time!

      • Jessica, you’re right it does take one step at a time. Try substituting one or two low-glycemic options per week and slowly getting into a low-glycemic life style. I would recommend water with a fresh lemon wedge in it instead of the crystal light. Fruit is fine as long as you watch the portion size. If you eat small low-glycemic snacks in between meals it will reduce your cravings. The idea is to keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day. If you want to email me I would love to help you in any way I can! Good luck!

    9. Jenny Shih says:

      This part was very helpful:
      “If it goes too high, your brain signals your pancreas to secrete more insulin. Insulin brings your blood glucose back down, by converting the excess glucose to fat.”

      I knew that eating low GI foods was good, but I didn’t quite know why. Thanks for sharing the facts–knowing the truth is always a good dose of motivation for me.

    10. Sheila says:

      Heather,
      Thank you for educating the masses to the importance of low glycemic eating. We have a lot in common as I also teach the benefits of living a low glycemic lifestyle. When you consider the number of health conditions and disease that can be treated with a change in diet and exercise, I find it an extremely noble profession. Thank you for being a partner in change.

    11. pat novak says:

      Very interesting and helpful article. I think you did a great job bringing in the facts
      and keeping it relevant. The image is very appealing and I appreciate the free download.
      I now want to read some of your previous articles you mentioned. It is so important to understand how this does effect us and what we can do about it.

      • Thanks Pat. I glad you found the article to be informative and relevant. I really liked the image too! Enjoy the Gi list! Feel free to check out my previous post and let me know what you think.

    12. Tanya says:

      Thank you for this useful information. My question for you: are you eating low glycemic? What are the results you’ve experienced if you have? What are some shockers where we may think it would be high, but it’s really low, or vice versa?

      • Tanya, great questions!!
        What got me started eating low-glycemic is when I tried a 5-day low-glycemic, high fiber sugar cleanse last fall. I was doing it for weight loss reasons, but after the first day I had a dramatic reduction in the residual pain I had from a car accident 1 1/2 years prior. What I learned is that sugar causes inflammation and when I removed the sugar from my diet the pain decreased.

        When you look at the GI, there are some foods that have been made villains by the food industry like eggs and avocados that are really quite good for you. The food that is most annoying for me is cereal. They market it as healthy and it just isn’t, it is highly processed and very high glycemic…even Cheerios and Corn Flakes.

        I am also really disappointed about the high GI of breads, because I love fresh baked bread. That was hard to give up.

    13. Fab info and clearly written. It has been a while since I looked at the GI information so it was great to be reminded of it again. Sugar has such an addictive hold over our society, hasn’t it?! I too am with you on my dislike of the promotion of cereals as healthy. I hate the way the high sugary foods are marketed and pushed upon us all the time especially as I have kids.
      I think the GI is therefore a very great tool to remind yourself of alternatives.

      • Nicely put Claire. Sugar has a huge addictive hold over society. I actually think of it as a legalized drug because of the way it is used by Americans. Hmmm, new blog idea perhaps?

        Also, Kids eat a ton of cereal, maybe there is a connection there with childhood obesity and the rise of dibetes in children.

        Glad you liked the post!

    14. Suki says:

      I printed the GI list and put it with my grocery shopping, thank you. I usually nibble things in the low GI list that you suggested to Danielle when I’m hungry, especially hard-boiled egg with soy sauce is my favorite. I boil 6 eggs and put them in a fridge so it’s handy to have them when I fell like nibbling.

      • Suki, I’m glad you liked the list. It’s a great idea to have snacks prepared in advance so you have them ready to just grab when you are hungry. I looove hard boiled eggs! I will have to try them with soy sauce, instead of salt. Sounds yummy!

    15. Love your simple, SHORT explanation of this life-changing (life-saving) information. I am hugely grateful for my growing awareness of low-GI foods and everyone in my family has felt the positive impact!

    16. Hi Heather,

      Great to meet you! Love the photo in your blog. When I started as a coach I was a holistic health coach and this info is so crucial for everyone to know. Sometimes people just don’t know. I mean I was clueless until I hired my own holistic health coach.

      It so important what you are doing. Thanks for sharing and spreading your knowledge with the world.

      xoxo
      Alara K. Castell
      Your Sassy Spiritual Guide
      http://www.alaracastell.com

    17. Barbara Badolati says:

      Beautifully written and captivating photo Heather!
      You saved me from mindless eating in front of my computer too. Although I did go for a bowl of organic strawberries!
      Good info and easy to understand…not always the case with GI
      thanks for sharing the Low-Glycemic Lifestyle !

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