Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load, Blood Sugar

The body functions at its most efficient rate when blood sugar levels are maintained within a healthy range.  A spike in blood sugar levels can cause the body to produce excess insulin, which, over time, can lead to insulin resistance.  Allowing blood sugar to drop too low can cause lethargy, increased hunger, and, if it gets too low, even seizures and loss of consciousness.  Using the glycemic index can help determine what foods will keep blood sugar levels from rising too high or falling too low, and therefore can help maintain a healthy blood sugar level.

The glycemic index is a database that ranks foods by the amount they increase blood glucose levels after a meal.  The ranking runs from 0 to 100; the higher the number, the faster the carbohydrate is absorbed and the greater the spike in blood sugar.  Low glycemic index foods are more slowly digested and therefore increase blood sugar levels less.  To get a glycemic index rating, carbohydrates are fed to healthy subjects after a long fast.  Over the next few hours, blood sugars are monitored frequently and are studied to determine how the food affects the body’s blood sugar.  Foods with a glycemic index rating of 55 or less are the healthiest choices.

The glycemic load was instituted after the glycemic index to improve upon the model.  The carbohydrates in any individual food serving convert to sugar at a different rate depending on how much fiber is in that particular food serving.  To account for this, the glycemic load adjusts for the fiber content of a given food item.  A glycemic load of 10 or less is considered healthy.

Maintaining a healthy diet full of foods low on the glycemic index scale has myriad benefits.  Believers in the glycemic index diet claim that this type of diet reduces risk for serious and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cholesterol.  A diet full of low glycemic index foods improves blood sugar and lipid levels, while also helping control weight and reducing insulin resistance.  These added benefits of eating low glycemic index foods can be enough to prevent diabetes or reverse prediabetes, insulin resistance, or metabolic disorders in some people by promoting healthy blood sugar and decreasing risk factors that make some people more susceptible to disease.

Many charts are available that go into extensive detail about the glycemic index and glycemic loads of individual food items.  However, because people are impacted differently by different foods, each individual diet plan will be unique.  Some general rules that may be helpful are to focus on breakfast cereals that are based in barley, bran, and oats and always choose whole grain, stone-ground flour instead of refined white flours.  Also, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables while lowering intake of potatoes, and limit rice, pasta, and noodles.

Healthy blood sugar levels are essential to efficient body functioning.  Fortunately, there are plenty of tools available for maintaining these levels.  The glycemic index and the glycemic load are two such tools that would prove an asset to any monitoring regimen.

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