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Glycemic Index

Glycemic Index

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The term Glycemic Index has been tossed around for years in the context of many different health factors.  This includes everything from diabetes management to weight loss.  That said, it can be important to understand what it is and the impact it can have on your nutrition choices.

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a guide for rating the effect that foods have on blood sugar levels, especially carbohydrates (rice, bread, potatoes, and pasta). This system of rating carbohydrate intake was developed in the early 1980’s by Canadian Dr. David Jenkins at the University of Toronto. The Glycemic Index measures how much your blood sugar rises after eating a specific food. The higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response.

How Are Foods Measured on the Glycemic Index?

Pure sugar or glucose rates 100 on the Glycemic Index scale and then all other foods are given a number relative to it. The GI value (number rating) of a food is determined by how quickly the body breaks it down and converts it into glucose (sugar) which is the body’s main source of energy. Foods that are high in GI value break down very quickly causing a rapid rise in blood sugar whereas foods with a low GI value take longer to breakdown resulting in a slower and steadier rise in blood sugar. 

Glycemic Index and Health

Using the Glycemic Index clearly helps to make better food choices that may prevent certain diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It is also used as a management tool for controlling adult diabetes and improving insulin sensitivity. The Glycemic Index is also a useful nutritional guide for people not suffering from a chronic disease. 

Using the GI for Weight Loss

The Glycemic Index is recommended by the World Health Organization and the American Diabetes Association as a “promising approach to healthy eating”, but the main drawback is its difficulty. Unless you are a theoretical physicist you will find the Glycemic Index hard to use because it is so complicated.

Many factors affect the Glycemic Index rating of a specific food, such as how the food is prepared and what’s eaten with it. Furthermore, the GI value of some foods is simply not known. So, for these reasons the American Diabetes Association does not recommend a low glycemic index diet for people with diabetes. However, eating foods with a low GI value provide a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time thereby reducing snack intake and aiding in weight loss. 

Glycemic Index Diet

Glycemic Index Diet will consist of 40% low GI value carbohydrates, 30% lean protein and 30% mostly unsaturated fats.NutriSystem is an example of a portion controlled weight loss program based on the Glycemic Index. eDiets has an on-line version of a glycemic index-based diet. For complete information on how to calculate and rate foods according to the Glycemic Index go to

Should You Use GI Dieting to Lose Weight?

The quick answer to the question of whether or not you should be looking to a Glycemic Index diet to lose weight is to talk to your doctor or health care provider.  This type of eating strategy can affect various health conditions, including diabetes but also others.  Adopting this type of eating strategy without first learning whether it’s right for you could place your short-term or even long-term health at risk.

Why it May Not Be for You (Other than for Medical Concerns)

It is true that a GI diet can help you to lose weight.  In fact, when done properly, it is possible to consistently drop pounds for several weeks.  However, there are concerns that extend beyond those weeks. This helps to explain why doctors aren’t recommending that everyone start monitoring the glycemic index position of every food they eat. 

The primary issue is that the vast majority of people would not be able to keep up this type of eating style over the long term.  As a result, all those dieting goal victories often turn into disappointment as weight balloons back on again once “cheating” starts or when the eating restrictions are abandoned.

This can be destructive not only to physical wellness, since yo-yoing weight is tough on many parts of the body, but also to motivation to try again.  Research has shown that trying restrictive and difficult diets only to have the weight return can be exceptionally harmful to an individual’s willingness to make weight loss a priority once again.

As a result, when doctors recommend weight loss diets, they don’t often tell their patients to learn GI values for everything they eat.  Not only is this complex, but it could set patients up for avoidable failures and future struggles. 

The Takeaway

A diet based on the Glycemic Index can help with short term weight loss and may also help with other issues such as controlling bad cholesterol.  However, when it comes to long-term adherence to a healthy lifestyle that will keep lost pounds from coming back, it doesn’t typically fit the bill.  Overall, balanced nutrition and paying attention to calories continue to be the top recommendations for successful long-term weight control. Still, only you and your doctor can decide what is best for your unique wellness needs.