A low-glycemic index (low-GI) diet revolves around the impact of foods on blood sugar levels.
This parameter (the glycemic index) categorizes food on a scale ranging from 0 to 100. At the lower end of the scale, there are foods that minimally affect blood sugar levels. On the higher end, some foods will raise your blood sugar levels significantly.
When following a low-GI diet, the glycemic index serves as the primary reference for meal planning. Additionally, individuals may use the glycemic index as one of several factors to aid in making healthy dietary choices.
In this article, we will briefly define the glycemic index, then switch gears to the potential benefits of following a low-GI diet. After that, we will list a few low-GI foods to help you regain control over your glucose and insulin levels.
What is the Glycemic Index (GI)?
Carbohydrates are vital components of a healthy diet and can be found in various foods, such as bread, cereals, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. These macronutrients get broken down into simple sugars and enter the bloodstream. However, not all carbs are equal in terms of their effect on blood sugar levels.
The glycemic index is a system that was developed by Dr. David Jenkins, a Canadian professor, in the early 1980s. The GI ranks foods by contrasting their ability to raise blood sugar levels after the absorption of 50 grams of pure glucose.
Foods belong to one of these three GI ratings:
- Low – 55 or below
- Medium – 56-69
- High – 70 or above
Foods with a low GI value are ideal for diabetic individuals since they get digested and absorbed slowly, leading to a gradual increase in blood sugar levels. Conversely, foods with a high GI value should be consumed in moderation, as they get digested rapidly and cause a sharp rise and fall in blood sugar.
Factors Influencing the GI of Foods
Several factors can affect the GI value of foods, including:
- Type of sugar – Contrary to popular belief, not all sugars have a high GI. The GI of sugar varies depending on the type, ranging from as low as 23 for fructose to as high as 105 for maltose.
- Starch structure – Starch consists of amylose and amylopectin. Amylose is more resistant to digestion, resulting in a lower GI. Foods with a higher amylose content generally have a lower GI.
- Carbohydrate refinement – Processing methods, such as grinding and rolling, can increase the GI by disrupting amylose molecules. As a general rule of thumb, highly processed foods tend to have a higher GI.
- Nutrient composition – Including protein or fat in a meal can slow down digestion, reducing the glycemic response. This is why adding these components to a meal is beneficial.
- Cooking method – Cooking techniques also influence the GI. Longer cooking times can accelerate the breakdown and absorption of sugars, leading to a higher GI.
- Fruit ripeness – Unripe fruits contain complex carbohydrates that break down into sugars as they ripen. The more ripe a fruit is, the higher its GI value.
The benefits of a low glycemic index diet
Scientists suggest that a low glycemic index diet generally has a few downsides. However, individuals who are already taking insulin and significantly change their eating patterns without adjusting their insulin dosages may be at an increased risk of low blood sugar.
Additionally, if cholesterol levels rise after you adopt a low-carbohydrate diet (e.g., the keto diet), it might not be a suitable choice for you.
Low Glycemic Index Foods
Skimmed milk has a GI score of 37, whereas full-fat milk scores 39.
Milk is an excellent source of calcium, which plays a vital role in bone health. Researchers found that regular milk consumption may slow the development of osteoarthritis in women.
Incorporating milk into dinner or adding it to a smoothie with low-GI fruits, such as apples, bananas, grapes, and mangoes, are alternative ways to enjoy this beverage.
Chickpeas (i.e., garbanzo beans) are a low-GI legume with a score of 28 on the glycemic index.
Not only do chickpeas have a low GI score, but they are also rich in protein and fiber, providing 11.8 grams and 10.6 grams per cup, respectively. They contain essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium, and folic acid.
Chickpeas can be used as a substitute for high-GI foods, such as potatoes or white rice. Roasted chickpeas make for a quick and easy snack.
Another delicious way to incorporate chickpeas into your diet is by making hummus. This popular Middle Eastern dip is easy to prepare.
3. Kidney beans
Kidney beans have a GI score of 24.
These beans are high in protein, with up to 13.36 grams per cup, and contain 11 grams of fiber. They are also rich in potassium and low in fat.
Kidney beans are an excellent choice for both meat-based and vegetarian chili.
Lentils are a great food to incorporate in your lunch and dinner, with a GI score of 32.
Lentils are rich in protein, providing 17.86 grams per cup. They make up a great source of fiber, offering 15.6 grams per cup. They also contain phosphorus and potassium.
One way to enjoy lentils is through an Indian dish called dhal.
High Glycemic Index Foods
High glycemic index foods generally have a number above 70 and include:
- Fast food – Cheeseburgers, fried chicken, and pizza.
- Processed foods – Corn chips and pretzels.
- Potatoes – French fries.
- Sugar-containing beverages – Tea, soda, and sports drinks.
- Bakery/grains – Doughnuts, white bread, and cereals.
The low glycemic index diet is an effective way of eating to reduce the impact of foods on your glucose and insulin levels.
We hope that this article successfully highlighted the potential benefits of a low glycemic diet for diabetic individuals and people in general.
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