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The Lowdown on the Glycemic Index

Is following a low-glycemic diet a good way to lose weight—or just another fad?

| July 27th, 2012
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By now, you’ve most likely heard of the glycemic index (GI). Maybe you’ve thought about trying a low GI diet in an effort to get back into your skinny jeans. Or maybe you’ve heard the name in passing, but still aren’t quite sure what it means and whether it’s just another gimmicky diet. Well. guess no more—we have the lowdown for you.

COLUMN: Which Weight-Loss Plan Is Your Best Bet?

Originally developed as a way to help diabetics manage their sugar intake, the glycemic index is a tool that measures how quickly a carbohydrate is digested and released as glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream. It works by assigning foods a number on a scale of zero to 100—the higher the number, the steeper the blood sugar response.

The theory behind this way of eating is that higher GI foods are digested quickly, causing a sugar spike, followed by that dreaded sugar crash—all of which leaves us in a vicious cycle of jonesing for more high GI foods (think: soda, white breads and chocolate cake) and being irritable in the process.

On the other hand, lower GI foods are broken down more slowly, releasing sugar at a steadier rate. As a result, you feel full and satisfied longer after you eat. And we all know what that means: reduced hunger and ultimately, a reduced waistline. Bring on the low GI foods, please!

So who should be following the glycemic index? Everyone, according to Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., YouBeauty Nutrition Expert, because it’s not really a diet. It’s a way of life.

“A lot of people think, I don’t have diabetes, so I don’t need that, but if you look at what consistently raising our blood sugar does to our health, you’ll change your mind,” notes Kirkpatrick. “Blood sugar is responsible for inflammation, weight control, heart disease and metabolic syndrome, so this is something that should be adapted into your lifestyle and something you should pay attention to, regardless of whether you’re diabetic or not.”

So how do you know what to look for? Many packaged food products list the glycemic index on their labels, although it’s not required. Here’s the general rule of thumb when it comes to interpreting those numbers:

  • Low (good) glycemic index levels: 55 or less
  • Medium glycemic index levels: 56 to 69
  • High (bad) glycemic index levels: 70 or higher

MORE: Three Delicious Low-Glycemic Breakfasts

It’s no surprise that high glycemic index foods include many simple carbohydrates, such as donuts, soda, baked goods and any white starches such as bread, pasta and rice. “Basically, anything that’s like a cookie or candy and anything where the first or second ingredient is sugar,” explains Kirkpatrick.

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