What is the Glycemic Index? I have always felt that this was something invented in the 1990’s but never understood well enough by the general public so that it could be a useful tool in preventing Diabetes Mellitus. So let me take a few minutes to explain and maybe help clarify some information that over the years has been misinterpreted or misunderstood.
1) The Glycemic Index is a ranking of the amount of carbohydrate contained in a limited selection of foods.
The goal is if you consume foods with lower carbohydrate or (glucose/sugar) content you control the spikes or rapid rise of blood sugar after a meal. Diabetics require this blood sugar control to prevent the swings of too high or too low sugar levels which cause damage to blood vessels over time. Vision loss, loss of feeling in the hands and feet and coronary artery disease are some of the many sites of damage when blood sugar levels are uncontrolled.
2) Studies have shown that it depends how the food is eaten which can impact whether you get the results you are after, such as, an apple (GI 38) is ranked higher on the Glycemic scale than peanuts (GI 14), but in reality you will probably eat more peanuts than apples, and thus a higher number of overall calories and fat will be consumed which is less healthy overall than explained by the Glycemic Index.
3) How much exercise you get also influences the Glycemic Index. If you exercise regularly, say 60-90 minutes per day or at least 150 minutes per week, glucose is needed to replenish the energy lost by your muscles during a workout session, thus there is less glucose sitting around causing arterial damage or creating more fat cells.
I never liked the Glycemic Index as a tool because I never thought it was simple and accurate enough for common use. The older method of “simple and complex carbohydrates” wasn’t scientific enough but it was an easy way to educate people about the types of foods to eat or stay away from depending upon the goal. In fact, a recent study came out in JAMA that concludes there are no bad foods and no particular diet method that is more effective than another. The study concludes that behavior is the key to food consumption regulation and maintaining good health. We knew that from the 1970’s and we called it Behavior Modification back then. Today we call it Motivational Training, but, whatever you call it the number of calories eaten must still equal the calories you exercise out or the body won’t be happy and you won’t feel healthy.