You’ve probably heard the term “glycemic index” thrown around during conversations about “good carbs” and “bad carbs.” If you’re anything like most of us who walk around without graduate degrees in nutrition, you probably aren’t sure what it means. But, you know that it’s important! Well breathe easy Proof Smart family, I’m here with the big, thick torch of truth and I’m going to shine light along the way as we penetrate deep, deep into the murky, shadowy depths of the confusing and downright esoteric cave of the Glycemic Index.
What IS the Glycemic Index (or GI for short)?
The Glycemic Index is a system that ranks foods on a scale from 1 to 100 based on the effect they have on blood-sugar levels. It is a measure of how dramatically a food causes your blood sugar levels to rise and how quickly it causes that elevation to occur. An increase in blood sugar is what causes your pancreas to secrete insulin. And insulin is what causes your body to store energy as fat (and energy is just another name for all that sugar in your blood). Foods with a high glycemic index make your blood sugar go up and that makes your body produce insulin and insulin means you’re storing fat.
Seems straightforward enough, right? Well, for the most part, it is. But as is the case with so many things in this world, being straightforward doesn’t mean being simple. So what characteristics affect the Glycemic Index of a given food? Many factors affect a food’s GI score. For example:
How refined is the carbohydrate? The process of refining foods strips most or all of the natural fibers and that leaves the food incapable of resisting or slowing digestion.
The chemical structure of the carbohydrate: Fructose and sucrose are both sugar but the body digests them differently, so fructose is 23 on the GI and sucrose is 65
The physical structure of the carbohydrate: Bread has a high GI not because of their chemical properties but because of its physical characteristics. Primarily, that wheat flour is highly refined making it easy for your body to digest. The increased surface area of bread due to the way it expands and puffs out during baking has an effect too.
The way the carbohydrate is cooked or prepared: Generally speaking, the less thoroughly cooked some thing is, the lower the glycemic index.
How Can Understanding the Glycemic Index Benefit You?
The lower the number, the less impact a given food will have on your blood-sugar levels. The higher the number, the greater the impact. Lower GI foods discourage insulin spikes and that in turn prevents the constant and unnecessary storing of energy as fat. Said plainly; “Eating in a way that is mindful of the Glycemic Index is an effective way to fight obesity and diabetes and generally live a better life.”
Until next time, keep your spirits high and your Glycemic Indexes low.
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