Sugar and the Glycemic Index

The Basics: glycemic index and glycemic load

To unlock energy from food and meet your basic energy needs, the body must convert starches and sugars and food into glucose. The glycemic index or G.I. is a measure of how quickly the starches and sugars in a food or beverage are broken down into glucose and a release of the bloodstream after food or beverages consumed. The glycemic load or GL is determined by multiplying a food's glycemic index by the amount of carbohydrate it contains.

Glycemic Index Glycemic Load

The whole truth about sugar

Nature's original sweetener is sugar and has a moderate GI similar to wheat bread. There is a table that provides all this information for common foods and shows that despite this sugar is not a high glycemic food.

Instead of coming in with a GI of 58, sugars are only three points above the GI range of 55 or below so it has a low glycemic load. There is a premise that sugar causes a rapid rise in blood glucose, which triggers an abnormal production of insulin followed by an atypical drop in blood glucose but this is not a physiological or scientific reality. Sugar ranks somewhere in the middle of carbohydrate foods when it comes to raising blood glucose.

The glycemic index diet, debunked

The theory behind using GI is an indicting tool fails to recognize the foods are not eaten alone or in isolation. A person's glycemic response to a food is impacted by numerous factors and varies greatly amongst individuals so it is a controversial benchmark for a food's nutritional value. To go even deeper, the same food that affects one individual differently depends on the activity level before consumption whether it's after sleep or exercise.

Glycemic Index Chart

Factors influencing a foods glycemic index

- Other foods consumed during the same eating occasion

- Cooking method

- Ripeness and storage time

- Processing

- Variety for example short grain or long grain rice

What did the experts have to say about glycemic index?

Many health-focused organizations including the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the Institute of Medicine have evaluated the value of glycemic index and glycemic load. Some of them acknowledge limited utility of these measures and that glycemic index is not a stand-alone tool for which to base dietary changes. Rather, calorie balance and reduction leads to a more profound, positive impact on health and that includes people with diabetes.

Diabetes Meal Plan

There is no one a diet or meal plan that works for everyone with diabetes. You need to follow a meal plan that is tailored to your personal preferences and lifestyle, which will help achieve goals for blood glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and weight management. Research can show that both the amount and type of carbohydrate and food will affect a blood glucose level. They show that the total amount of carbohydrates in food is a strong predictor for blood glucose response, stronger than the glycemic index. So based on research for most people with diabetes, the first tool for managing blood glucose is the type of carbohydrate they are consuming.

A food's glycemic ranking applies when a food is consumed on an empty stomach without any other type of food. For example we usually don't eat just one food at a time. Sometimes a bag of pretzels can be a standalone snack but how often do you just eat a plain potato with nothing else? When you add a lean steak or a piece of salmon, a side of broccoli and a salad with vinaigrette, the protein, fiber and fat all serve to lower the glycemic index. Additionally the glycemic index doesn't take into account how much you are actually consuming.

Healthy Eating Pattern

The big picture

The moral of this story is that using measures like glycemic index and glycemic load can be useful in determining how quickly a food item, when it's eaten alone breaks down in the body. A recent study shows that glycemic index is not the best approach for food guidance. A nutritious diet actually comes down to balance in a variety of food choices. A healthy eating pattern includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and protein foods and allows the flexibility to also add sugar.

What links all this advice together is at the end of the day all foods in a healthy eating pattern must fit within a recommended number of calories.

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