Weight Loss Wednesday: The Glycemic Index- How Do Your Carb Choices Rate?


The Glycemic Index-

How Do Your Carb Choices Rate?

The carbohydrate- despite the fact that carbs represent only 1 of three macronutrients, they have quickly become the focus of many a nutritional debate. From the ketogenic diet and its “zero tolerance” policy on carbs to the “If It Fits Your Macros” group and its allowance for donuts, candy and other seemingly taboo nutrition choices, it seems that there is no end to the differences in opinion on which and how many carbs you should eat, but why? Why should we care? Lets break it down a little.


·      When you eat foods containing carbs, your body breaks them down into sugars, which are then absorbed into the blood.

·      As blood sugar levels increase, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that signals the body to absorb and store sugar in its tissue, primarily in the liver and as fat.

·      As your cells absorb blood sugar, levels in the blood stream begin to fall.

·      When this happens, the pancreas produces another hormone, called glucagon, that tells your liver and fat to start releasing stored sugar

·      It is this tug of war between insulin and glucagon that ensure you’re your cells have energy at all times.  Ineffective carbohydrate metabolism can lead to conditions such as obesity, diabetes and have been linked to several types of cancer.

Now, back to carbs. Historically, carbs were either classified as one of two types:



 Simple carbs -those which where relatively quick and easy for your body to break down and absorb (like candy, for example) were classified as simple carbs. The quick breakdown and absorption of these carbs leads to an accompanying rapid effect on your blood sugar. Ever had a sugar high quickly followed by a“crash” and feelings of fatigue? Congratulations, you have consumed a simple carb.

Complex carbs- are those containing more complex structures, often in the form of dietary fiber, such as whole grains. The increased complexity makes the carbohydrates harder for your body to digest and therefore take longer to absorb completely, meaning they have less of an effect on your blood sugar and can provide you with a longer lasting energy- in theory.


However, this simple categorization doesn’t really tell the whole story. Some so- called simple carbs have a relatively low impact on blood sugar, such as fruits, while other “complex carbohydrates” like white bread, absorb rapidly into the bloodstream and have almost no nutritional value.  To more accurately describe how carbs affect your blood sugar, the glycemic index was invented, and is now considered a better way of categorizing carbs, especially the starchy ones.


How LOW can you go?

How LOW can you go?

The glycemic index ranks carbs from 0 to 100 based on how quickly and by how much they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high glycemic index, such as white rice, are rapidly digested and cause considerable fluctuations in blood sugar. Foods with a low glycemic index, on the other hand, like whole oats, are digested more slowly, triggering a more gradual rise in blood sugar.

·      So why should you care? Eating high glycemic foods has been linked to higher risks for type II diabetes, heart disease, infertility in women and colorectal cancer.  On the other hand, a diet rich in low glycemic foods has been linked to improved weight loss and effective control of pre-existing type II diabetes.  So, no matter what level of carbs you add to your diet, aim for ones with a lower GI values. Just like the limbo, it pays to go low. Here’s how to do it.

Using the Glycemic Index

·      Low-glycemic foods have a rating of 55 or less, and foods rated 70-100 are considered high-glycemic foods. Medium-level foods have a glycemic index of 56-69

·      Many Factors affect glycemic index (GI) such as processing. The more the processing, the higher the GI value

·      What should I do with this information? Focus on carbs that have more fiber, vitamins and nutritional value, like vegetables and fruits, stay away from colorless, processed carbs like refined sugar

·      Want to know how your carb choices rate? Click here to search your daily carb choices and see how they stack up.