Glycemic Index — Revisited

Article by Dr. Paul Kennedy
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It’s been nearly six years since I wrote about the glycemic index, or GI, as a factor in blood glucose control and weight control. The evidence at that time was still a bit speculative but in general showed that people that ate foods that were lower on the glycemic index (an index that measures how rapidly blood sugar can rise in relation to the consumption of a specific food), the greater the weight loss. But part of the issue back then also involved trying to measure how foods were mixed in the form of a meal. It appears now that the issue has been described in a little bit better detail with the development of a term now known as “glycemic load” or GL.

It’s little wonder that the average consumer is a bit confused about the sometimes differing results in many glycemic index studies and the advent of the term “GL” has perhaps allowed another factor to become part of the equation (prescription?) with respect to individual eating plans so that the effects of certain foods and their effect upon health can be more clearly understood. This “factor” is really pretty easy to understand since glycemic load (as opposed to glycemic index) also involves total calories in addition to just food choice or type. In other words, it’s not just quality of choice (choosing foods that are low on the glycemic scale), it’s also quantity of consumption with respect to serving size.

Over the years, I have counseled literally thousands of individuals concerning their eating plans. Most, of course, wish to lose fat weight and are looking for a magic food that will allow them to stuff themselves and still “slim down”. I am very frank with them when I explain that they are on a fool’s errand if they “load up” on foods that are

“good for them” as if these same foods are somehow magically devoid of calories. Although many foods that are low on the glycemic scale CAN be comparatively low in calories, it should not be considered a green light to ask for second and third helpings. For example, the glycemic INDEX of white bread and watermelon in about the same BUT a typical serving of each would show that white bread has a glycemic LOAD that is nearly three times as great! Confusing? Well, maybe a little but the bottom line in this example is that serving size and food quality are equally important. For example, simply switching to whole wheat bread from white bread can reduce the glycemic INDEX in your eating plan as well as the glycemic LOAD.

So which is the more important number? Both appear to be major players in weight control and blood glucose control (necessary for avoiding Type II diabetes). But two recent studies seem to indicate that lowering the glycemic index in one’s eating plan is the more relevant way to reduce body weight over time since foods lower on the glycemic scale tend to be lower in calories. However, as suggested above, the amount of food consumed (the “load”, in other words) still plays a major role in a healthy eating plan. Therefore, YOUR eating plan should involve choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats in moderate proportions, whole grain products and little, if any, foods containing refined sugar. And some regular exercise (including strength training) wouldn’t hurt either. The food is the calories “in” and the exercise is the calories “out”! Sometimes it’s just that simple.

The glycemic index (GI) and the glycemic load (GL) are important factors in keeping your weight and glucose level under control BUT common sense in food choices and total calories consumed is still the best way to determine if your plan is the right one for YOU. It should also be kept in mind that even with all the information about the glycemic index and the glycemic load, it has also been found in one study that those who lost large amounts of body weight on a lower glycemic LOAD eating plan lost more of their weight as FAT! That means that it’s a good idea to watch WHAT you eat and keep portions under control. Hmmm. Nothing new about that!

I’m Dr. Paul Kennedy and that’s the “Be Fit, Stay Fit” Topic of the Month for July 2009. Good luck with YOUR program. I KNOW you can do it!

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