Carb & Sugar Basics
The saying “death by sugar” may not be an overstatement. Evidence proves that sugar is THE major factor causing obesity and chronic disease. Knowing the Glycemic Index of foods can help combat this!
As you know, carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (the other two being protein and fat). But not all carbs are created equal. All carbohydrate containing food gets broken down into glucose once it’s digested and then raises blood glucose levels. This elevated blood glucose level signals the pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone that shuttles glucose into the cells where it is burned for energy, or, stored as fat.
Not All Created Equal
Some carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels very quickly. Others raise it more slowly. Most simple carbohydrate foods, like sugar, raise blood sugar levels rapidly. But so do some complex carbohydrates, like whole grain refined breads, cereals, and grains, because as you know from the previous lessons, these often get stripped of their nutrients. Carbs that contain fiber, protein, and/or fat raise blood sugar levels much slower, as these components affect the digestion and absorption of the food.
Sugar in the Body
Some of it is used for energy in the form of glucose all throughout the body. Some is stored as glycogen in the muscles for future energy. The remaining sugar gets stored as fat. Insulin is needed to allow those glucose cells into their respective cells throughout the body. Insulin helps our muscles, fat, and liver absorb the glucose. It also helps to lower blood sugar levels, and helps with the storage of glycogen. Remember, think of insulin as the key that helps open the door for glucose to go in.
When someone has insulin resistance, basically that key isn’t working properly, and they may use up many keys in order to allow that glucose in. The pancreas keeps pumping out more and more insulin trying to unlock it. If it finally gets to the point where the body cannot keep up with the need for insulin, or there is too much insulin and too much blood sugar in the bloodstream, then unfortunately, THIS is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance leads to diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and stroke.
A diet comprised of low Glycemic Index foods will not cause the same rapid jump in blood glucose levels as plain sugar, and has been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin resistance.
One way to quantify and classify how fast a food raises blood sugar levels is the Glycemic Index, or GI. The GI is a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Below this lesson you’ll find some apps for how to determine the Glycemic Index for foods you eat. Carbohydrates with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolized. They cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and, thus, a lower rise in insulin levels.
There are three classifications for the Glycemic Index:
- A Low = GI value 55 or less
- Medium = GI value of 56 – 69 inclusive
- High = GI 70 or more
Most of the time you want to aim for items with lower Glycemic Index rating. OR you want to pair a medium or higher ranking item with a source of fat or protein to help slow down the absorption and digestion process. So if you’re going to have a some grapes, for example, which have a high Glycemic Index of 59, pair them with a good source of protein and fat at that same meal.
Now, what about Glycemic Load?
The Glycemic Index just mentioned is one measurement. However, it doesn’t take into account how much of the food you consume. Because of that, the Glycemic Load was created. GL uses the quality of the food (the Glycemic Index) and the amount of food per meal (grams per serving).
Glycemic Load = GI x Carbohydrate (g) content per portion ÷ 100
Using an apple as an example: GI value = 38; Carbohydrate per serve = 15g
GL= 38 x 15 = 6 The GL of a typical apple is 6
Glycemic Load of a food is classified as low, medium, or high:
- Low: 10 or less
- Medium: 11 – 19
- High: 20 or more
Again, you want to aim for items with a lower Glycemic Load rating.
See the Glycemic Index & Load Chart Below…
Glycemic Index & Glycemic Load of Foods
|· FOOD||Glycemic index (glucose = 100)||Serving size (grams)||Glycemic load per serving|
BAKERY ITEMS/ BREADS
|Bagel, white, frozen||72||70||25|
|50% cracked wheat kernel bread||58||30||12|
|White wheat flour bread, average||75||30||11|
|Wonder® bread, average||73||30||10|
|Whole wheat bread, average||69||30||9|
|100% Whole Grain bread||51||30||7|
|Pita bread, white||68||30||10|
|Instant oatmeal, average||79||250||21|
|Puffed wheat cereal||80||30||17|
|Sweet corn on the cob||48||60||14|
|White rice, boiled||72||150||29|
|Brown rice, steamed||50||150||16|
|Parboiled Converted white rice (Uncle Ben’s®)||38||150||14|
|Whole wheat kernels, average||45||50||15|
COOKIES & CRACKERS
|Rice cakes, average||82||25||17|
DAIRY & ALTERNATIVES
|Ice cream, regular, average||62||50||8|
|Milk, full-fat, average||31||250 mL||4|
|Milk, skim, average||31||250 mL||4|
|Reduced-fat yogurt with fruit, average||33||200||11|
|Banana, raw, average||48||120||11|
|Dates, dried, average||42||60||18|
|Oranges, raw, average||45||120||5|
|Peach, canned in light syrup||52||120||9|
|Pear, raw, average||38||120||4|
|Pear, canned in pear juice||44||120||5|
BEANS & NUTS
|Chickpeas, canned in brine||42||150||9|
|Hummus (chickpea salad dip)||6||30||0|
|Navy beans, average||39||150||12|
|Kidney beans, average||34||150||9|
|Soy beans, average||15||150||1|
PASTA & NOODLES
|Spaghetti, white, boiled||46||180||22|
|Spaghetti, whole-grain, boiled||42||180||17|
|Baked russet potato||111||150||33|
|Boiled white potato, average||82||150||21|
|Instant mashed potato, average||87||150||17|
|Sweet potato, average||70||150||22|
How this Affects Disease Risk, Health & Nutrition
Research shows that people with lower GI and GL diets have lower risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and reduced body weight.
How fast a specific food raises your blood sugar also depends on other factors, like your own digestive enzymes, speed/motility of your digestion, and some structural components about the carb itself- how refined is it? How was it cooked? Are there other substances?
If a carbohydrate is more refined, meaning most of the natural fibers have been stripped away during processing, these items are quickly absorbed, giving these items a high GI rating. When there is more fiber in the carbohydrate, or when combined with fat or protein, or when acid is present, this helps slow down the digestion, and also gives the food a lower Glycemic Index rating.
So combining foods with healthy fats such as avocados, healthy oils, grass fed butters, nuts, seeds, and also items like vinegar, lemon juice, pickles, etc., assist with a lower GI rating.
As with all of the recommendations and education in the 131 Method, we strive to help you make the best choices possible. The more you know about how certain carbs affect you, the better able you are to make the best choices moving forward! Start learning the foods on the Glycemic Index chart. Know which to pair with protein and/or fat. Take control of your health.
Research /More Resources
- Bhupathiraju SN, Tobias DK, Malik VS, et al. Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from 3 large US cohorts and an updated meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(1):218-232. (PubMed)
- Ma XY, Liu JP, Song ZY. Glycemic load, glycemic index and risk of cardiovascular diseases: meta-analyses of prospective studies. Atherosclerosis. 2012;223(2):491-496. (PubMed)
- Rossi M, Turati F, Lagiou P, Trichopoulos D, La Vecchia C, Trichopoulou A. Relation of dietary glycemic load with ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke: a cohort study in Greece and a meta-analysis. Eur J Nutr. 2015;54(2):215-222. (PubMed)
- Turati F, Galeone C, Gandini S, et al. High glycemic index and glycemic load are associated with moderately increased cancer risk. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2015;59(7):1384-1394. (PubMed)
- Diabetes and the Brain. Contemporary Diabetes. 2009, Part 5, 433-457 JACC March 9, 2010. Volume 55, Issue 10A. Cancer Science. Vol 101(5), pages 1073–1079, May 2010
- Gutschall, M., Miller, C., Mitchell, D., & Lawrence, F. (2009). A randomized behavioural trial targeting glycaemic index improves dietary, weight and metabolic outcomes in patients with type 2 diabetes. Public Health Nutrition, 12(10), 1846-1854. doi:10.1017/S1368980008004680