A Simple Guide to Hacking the Glycemic Index

It’s the end of the year (thank goodness), and it’s time to fire up the “new year, new you” blogs.

You’ll soon find a cornucopia of weblogs sharing all kinds of tips and tricks promising to turn that quarantine body into a “dang, I’m lean” physique. A few may even mention the glycemic index and how it can help you lose weight and get your diet back on track.

But what is the glycemic index (GI)? And why is everyone talking about it? Well, you’re in luck! Find the answers to these questions, and more, right here. Use the GI to your advantage to make 2021 the year you’ll definitely, for sure, no kidding, follow through with your New Year’s resolutions.

GI Basics

Let’s start at the beginning.

The glycemic index is a guide to help predict how a certain food will affect your blood sugar—the amount of glucose in your blood—by looking at the rate carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars. Foods that increase your blood sugar levels quickly are considered high glycemic, while foods that increase your levels slowly are low glycemic.

Glucose is vital to your health and is used by organs, like your brain, to function. But too much glucose in your bloodstream can negatively affect your cells and lead to complications, such as diabetes. Too little glucose can lead to hypoglycemia, which brings its own set of nasty side effects.

The GI scale is from 1 to 100, with 100 being pure glucose. High GI foods are rated 70 or above and include white bread, baked potatoes, donuts, and pretzels—vittles with a lot of carbs and sugar.

Foods ranked from 56–70 on the GI scale are considered “medium” and consist of comfort foods like bran muffins, macaroni and cheese, pita bread, pineapples, and bananas.

Highly sought-after low GI foods fall below 55 on the scale. These carbs are digested and absorbed more slowly, resulting in a less severe spike in blood sugar. They include peanuts, low-fat yogurt, cherries, beans, corn, milk, and most other vegetables and fruits.

If you’re interested in a deeper dive down the GI rabbit hole, check out this article.

The Glycemic Load

While the glycemic index is a great tool, it lacks portion size recommendations. You may notice a few healthier foods are high on the GI—but when eaten in moderation, they are perfectly good for your body. Luckily, the glycemic load bridges this gap.

The glycemic load (GL), when used in addition to the GI, provides an estimate of how much a serving of food will raise your blood sugar. This gives you a more accurate picture of how your meal and your blood sugar will interact.

For example, the GI score of watermelon is quite high, but the actual number of carbs consumed in a typical serving is fairly low. The GL calculates the impact on your blood sugar to show watermelon is okay to eat on a low-GI meal plan.

On the GL scale, scores of 20 or more are considered high, 11–19 are medium, and 10 or below is low. Foods like peanuts, grapefruit, carrots, and whole wheat bread are all considered low GL.

Tipping the Scale in Your Favor

Beyond blood sugar levels, why’s a low-GI meal plan a good idea?

First, it’s important to remember the GI isn’t a diet like Keto or Paleo, but rather a different way to introduce foods into your diet. Think of it more like calorie- or carb-counting.

More low-GI foods in your diet leads to better satiation. Because they are broken down slowly, they help give you sustained energy and feel fuller, longer than, say, a donut would.

A boost of energy and feeling fuller is a great combo, especially during the holidays.

Over-eating is a major cause of weight gain—the less hungry you feel, the less likely you are to be swayed by that Gollum-like voice in the back of your head telling you to sneak a snack. Low-GI foods are also shown to have a positive effect on your cholesterol levels, thanks in large part to the whole grains and high fiber foods found on the “low” side of the scale.

Ring in the new year and enjoy your stay-at-home New Year’s Eve celebrations. 2021 is your time to focus on your new resolutions. If one of your goals is to lose a few extra pounds, or to eat healthier, using the glycemic index and the glycemic load as your guide is a great place to start.

No more crash diets, depriving your body of nutrients or happiness, or feeling guilty for savoring a cookie every now and then. Together the GI and GL will introduce your body to healthier and cleaner eating for years to come.

As one last reminder, please consult with your healthcare provider before making any lifestyle or diet changes.

Happy New Year to all, and to all a good bite.

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