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An afternoon team lunch, yummy biryani, followed by a delicious ice-cream sundae for dessert. You get back to work after this and the next thing you know is that you start feeling sluggish and your eyes are shutting down. Sounds familiar? Ever wondered why this could happen after having such a good, heavy meal?
Well, one of the many reasons why this happened was because of the meal you had that comprised of high glycemic index foods, which caused spikes in your blood sugar levels. This, in turn, led to you feeling sleepy and tired. What could you have done differently to feel energetic and good after your meal? The answer could lie in you choosing wisely a few low glycemic index items in that meal. Now, read on to understand everything about glycemic index - right from what glycemic index is, to which are the foods that have low glycemic index and what are their benefits.
Decoding the glycemic index...
What Is Glycemic Index?
As per the American Diabetes Association, Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose levels. Accordingly, foods are ranked based on how they compare to a reference food (glucose), on a scale of 0 to 100, with pure glucose having a value of 100. This index was originally created by Dr David D Jenkins and his colleagues in 1980-81 during their studies on diabetes at the University of Toronto.
How Does GI Affect Your Health?
From the definition of GI, we understood that it is a ranking system for carbohydrate-containing foods. The GI ranking gives way to the categorisation of various foods into low, medium and high brackets. The higher glycemic index foods are digested rapidly and lead to a rise in blood glucose levels suddenly, causing spikes and fluctuations in one's blood glucose levels. This has an adverse effect on the body as higher blood glucose levels induce higher insulin secretion by the pancreas.
Persistent high insulin levels are usually associated with conditions like pre-diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension and obesity. In simple words, let's say you eat a slice of white bread. This has a GI of 70 and up, which is high. What this means is that the carbohydrates in this slice of bread are broken down into glucose through quick digestion. There's a sudden rise of glucose in your blood. Now, glucose is required by the cells to carry out regular bodily activities, similar to how fuel is required by an engine to be able to run.
To catalyse this, the hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas, as it detects an excess blood glucose level. If this situation is presented frequently to the body, by consuming high GI foods over and over again, the pancreas is under continuous pressure to supply insulin due to consistently elevated blood glucose levels. This, in other words, is how the body progresses towards health problems like diabetes, wherein the body has high blood sugar levels either due to inadequate insulin production or a failed response mechanism.
The key here is to prevent putting your body through such situations often by taking care of what you eat and by cautiously choosing low glycemic index foods, which in fact do good to the body. The human body works best when blood sugar levels are relatively constant and that's the very thought behind inculcating low GI foods in healthy eating habits.
What Are The Different GI Scores Of Common Foods?
Basing on the GI score of a food item between 0-100, there are three main categories of foods.
Low GI Foods (Below 55): Foods such as wholegrain breads; wholegrain cereals; most vegetables like sweet potato, broccoli, carrots, capsicum; many whole fruits like plums, apples and oranges; unsweetened yoghurt and the likes should be your preferred choices. These are gradually digested and absorbed by the body, thus maintaining moderate blood glucose levels.
Medium GI Foods (56-69): Foods like rye and pita bread, brown rice, raisins, prunes, couscous, bananas etc. fall in this category and can be wisely combined with low GI foods to form a balanced meal.
High GI Foods (70 and above): All food products like white bread, waffles, pasta, pastries etc. made from refined grains and flours; processed breakfast cereals; dates; fruits like melons and pineapple; sweetened beverages; fried foods etc., are the ones in the watch list and should definitely be limited.
What GI Is Best For You?
To reiterate, the human body works best when the blood sugar levels are stable. Either frequent drops or surges in the blood sugar levels are not good for it. Along the same thought, it is best for you to follow a low GI diet in combination with proteins and other essential nutrient sources. This ensures that all your blood sugar related health issues are prevented first hand, as you are limiting a major source of blood sugar fluctuation causing foods.
Why Resort To A Low GI Diet?
A low GI diet by supporting stable blood sugar levels, in turn, does good to the body in many other interdependent ways. It goes without saying that all metabolic activities are to be in sync for the overall wellness and good health of the body. The low GI diet exactly fits the bill in that sense. Several studies have proved with research data that a low GI diet proves effective in reducing blood sugar levels in diabetics. Not just that, but people who follow a low GI diet are less prone to Type 2 diabetes.
They have also shown to lose weight efficiently and improve their cholesterol levels largely, thus effectively cutting down the risk of heart diseases. To top it all, people on a low GI diet are generally active and energetic for longer hours, and so definitely happier for longer hours as well with reduced mood swings.
How To Make The Switch To A Low GI Diet?
First things first, make yourself aware of which are the low GI foods and chart it down. Here's a quick recap on the low GI foods: whole grain breads; wholegrain cereals; most vegetables like sweet potato, broccoli, carrots, capsicum; many whole fruits like plums, apples and oranges; and unsweetened yoghurt.
Few pointers to get you started are - skip any processed food, say no to any food with a high sugar content, start your meal with a green salad and include nuts and seeds as snacks. With that said, begin your low GI journey by taking these gradual steps and choose to eat wise and stay healthy.