While a whole bunch of words get bandied around when talking about weight loss and healthy living, the glycaemic index (or GI) is one which we should all be clued up on.
Our bodies use carbs as their primary source of energy, making them an important inclusion in any diet, including when you are trying to lose weight.
All carbs are not created equal however. This is where the glycaemic index comes into play and can be used as an excellent tool to work out what foods will best fuel your body for optimum energy levels and/or weight loss.
Simply put, the glycaemic index measures carbohydrates according to how quickly they are absorbed by the body and raise the glucose level of the blood.
Some foods are absorbed and broken down into simple sugars, like glucose, very quickly by the digestive system, where as others take longer. Once broken down, this glucose travels through your body, via your blood, into each cell.
To help this glucose move from the blood stream into the cells, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin buddies up with our old pal glucose and helps escort him into the cells where he will be ‘burnt’ off to create life sustaining energy.
The speed with which this process takes place is dependent on the type of carbs you eat. The GI index ranks carbohydrate containing foods as low, medium and high GI, based on the way they effect your blood sugar over a period of time.
A high GI food, like white bread, pasta or processed cereal will break down quickly, and release their glucose into the bloodstream at a rapid pace, causing blood sugar levels to spike, then return to normal.
This is why elite athletes taking part in endurance events, like a half marathon, grab snacks that contain high levels of glucose.
As soon as these snacks are digested, they give the athlete a burst of extra energy needed to keep pushing through to the finish line.
A low GI food, like porridge, rye bread or basmati rice is broken down slowly, and released gradually into the blood stream. These kinds of foods keep your blood sugar level stable, preventing sudden spikes and crashes.
When trying to lose weight, especially baby weight, you want to keep your blood glucose at a relatively constant level. Too low and you’ll end up tired, irritable and often searching for a high GI food fix like a chocolate bar for a quick hit of energy.
If your levels then soar, the pancreas panics and secretes more insulin, to partner up with all that glucose. This sorts out the excess and brings the level of glucose down but does this by converting it into fat, not what we want when trying to lose weight!
When focusing on weight loss, or healthy eating in general, choosing foods with low GI can be extremely beneficial. They’ll keep your blood sugar levels constant, help you feel full for longer and even help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. What’s not to love?
The best bit? There’s a good chance you’re already eating a range of low GI foods. Following a low GI ‘diet’ isn’t really a ‘diet’ in the traditional sense of the word.
There’s no restriction or banning of foods. It’s more about choosing or swapping to the healthier options, those foods we all know we should be eating and incorporating them into our daily meals.
Adding low GI foods to medium to high GI foods even helps lower the GI of the entire meal, meaning that while some high GI staples are best kept on the ‘occasional’ list, others can be included in your diet on a semi-regular basis, when combined with a low GI staple.
Easy swaps from high to low GI
Try these easy swaps from high GI to low GI foods.
- White bread – switch to – Wholegrain or sourdough
- White rice – switch to – brown rice, basmati rice or quinoa
- Corn flakes/rice bubbles/processed cereal – switch to – porridge
- Baked potatoes – switch to – roast sweet potato
- Water crackers – switch to – multigrain crackers
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