Healthy Living

How To Interpret The Glycemic Index (GI)

Have you ever been to the store and noticed the phrase “glycemic index” on packages or signs? Glycemic Index (GI) refers to the ability of the food to raise glycemic levels in your blood. When you digest food, your liver and pancreas have a big job.  And that job is to properly break down the food you are eating so your body can use it to function and grow.

How does the glycemic index relate to nutrition? The higher the glycemic index, the harder those organs have to work to process the food. If your pancreas has to produce larger amounts of insulin to process the food you are eating, it can cause a spike in your blood sugar that is unhealthy. When it comes back down, you will start to feel the effects. Effects can include fatigue, inability to focus, hunger, irritability, headaches, heart palpitations, and many others. Over time, eating these types of foods contribute to weight gain, health problems, and degenerative disease.

Those who rely on the glycemic index to decide about healthy food choices might say that although white bread would cause a spike in blood sugar, eating a protein with it would balance it out. The biggest problem with this thought is that using the glycemic index may cause people to believe that as long as they eat some protein with their processed white bread, it is okay to eat it. The truth is, the white bread is still unhealthy to consume on many levels.

One example of a processed, high glycemic food might be a loaf of bread. If you have ever looked at the nutritional information on the wrapper of an average loaf of bread, you can easily see that grams of carbohydrates can range anywhere from 25 to 40 grams per serving.

The nutrition label to the left shows information for a loaf of Filone bread – a type of white Italian bread. This bread contains a whopping 33 grams per serving. It is also made with processed, white flour that has not been sprouted, soaked, or fermented.

By contrast, (see label shown on the  lower right) a loaf of sprouted grain bread such as Ezekiel (or another type of sprouted grain bread such as the kind you would make at home), contains less carbohydrates – approximately 15 to 20 grams per serving.

Carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars by the body, transported in the blood, and then moved into the cells with the help of insulin. Carbohydrates give us energy to do the things we do every day. But if we have an unnaturally balanced amount of excess carbohydrates (such as those contained in processed breads), they can cause problems such as being stored in the body as fat which causes weight gain.

Natural, whole foods contain the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Processed, refined foods do not. If you are eating real, whole foods, there is no need to count calories, fat grams, or worry about the glycemic load in your food.

The glycemic index was created to provide people with yet one more way to justify eating unhealthy foods. If you rely on this scale for eating foods,  it is likely you will end up eating more processed foods – although you may be under the mistaken impression that you are making healthy choices. The only way to make healthy choices and keep blood sugars level is to eat foods that are the least processed and refined. Remember that even though a food may show a low glycemic index ranking, it may still be processed and unnatural.

Foods ranking low on the glycemic index take a longer period of time to digest. This gives the body a slow, steady stream of energy and provides a feeling of fullness and satisfaction for an extended period of time.  It prevents overeating, and promotes healthy cholesterol levels which lowers your risk of degenerative disease.

Many foods higher in glycemic load contain enough carbohydrates to spike your blood sugar unnaturally high. It takes much less time for your body to digest these foods, so it causes a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar and insulin levels.  This leads to frequent hunger, a a feeling of dissatisfaction, and the release of more stress hormones in the body. It’s those frequent irregularities in blood sugar that contribute to weight gain, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and so much more.

So when you see labels on food or signs in the store referring to “glycemic index”, remember that many foods with a higher glycemic index are more often than not produced unnaturally – in other words, they are processed or refined – and can create the unnatural high spike in your blood sugar that can cause health problems later on down the road.