Foods with a low glycemic index (GI) can promote better health, so it’s important to be aware of the contents of what you are eating.
Although glycemic index (GI) may be a scary-sounding medical term, it’s not as intimidating as it seems. The concept of GI is important to understand, particularly for those looking to eat more healthily. It also helps explain the biology of why the Caveman Diet is so effective for many.
Simply put, the glycemic index is how much each gram of a particular carbohydrate raises the blood glucose level, as compared to a gram of pure glucose.
Lower GI numbers are better than higher ones, as they indicate foods that take longer for the body to digest. This usually equates to a lower insulin demand.
There are different ways of interpreting the data, but the common scale would categorize as “low glycemic” foods any that carry a GI range of 55 or less.
Examples of foods that fall into this category are most fruits and vegetables, some whole grains, nuts, some beans and chickpeas. Medium GI foods include potatoes, basmati rice and whole wheat products. On the other hand, processed foods like white bread, corn flakes and most forms of white rice are high GI foods.
Do you notice a pattern? Though it’s not perfect, foods with a low glycemic index are the ones that our ancestors would have recognized.
Humans have been getting their nutrition from fruits and vegetables for thousands of years, so it’s natural that the human body would process them most efficiently.
By contrast, humans have been consuming white bread and snack foods for a relatively short span of time, and these foods have a more negative effect on the body.
Switching to a low GI diet doesn’t always involve radical change in eating habits. For example, eating oatmeal and drinking grapefruit juice instead of having corn flakes and a high-glucose breakfast drink in the mornings can go a long way towards better health.
Numerous studies have attempted to ascertain what effects this might have on human health. Some medical studies have shown that following a low glycemic diet may be beneficial in treating Type II diabetes, and it also may help with weight control.
Other studies have shown promising results in a low-GI diet reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and age-related macular degradation.
It’s important to note that a low GI number isn’t necessarily an indication that a food is healthy. Chocolate cake, for one, has a GI in the upper 30s, but falls short in other respects for obvious reasons. In fact, eating food strictly based on its GI might lead someone to pick M&M peanut candies over carrot sticks, which isn’t a good idea.
Using GI works best with foods that have a substantial content of carbohydrates, which is why fruits and vegetables score so low. Meat, fish, chicken and dairy products don’t carry a GI number at all because they contain too few carbohydrates to test.
One related concept to consider when making food choices is something referred to as “glycemic load.” It’s a number based on the GI, but also takes into account the amount of a carbohydrate that is consumed in one serving.
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