We get A LOT of questions each week about the glycemic index. For those who are unfamiliar, the GI is theorized to be a measurement of how fast or slow foods cause increases in blood glucose levels. I say theory because it?s not without it?s limitations. For example, quinoa has a higher GI than ice cream and watermelon is higher than a Snicker?s bar. The reason for that is the protein and fat decreases the absorption of glucose, but I don?t think any of us would argue that ice cream or Snicker?s are more nutritious choices than whole grains or fruit. Right!?
In other words, I don?t feel it?s an accurate measurement of overall healthful eating patterns. It?s just one more way to develop tunnel vision and narrow minded judgment about food. We do know that high fiber starches, grains and fruit will decrease the rate of glucose absorption. You can think of fiber as a leaky faucet – it gradually drips glucose into the blood stream. On the other hand, if I take the fiber out of a food (refined grains and starches, high sugar products, etc), it?s like turning the faucet on full blast.
We also know that combining high fiber carbohydrates with protein and fat decreases overall glucose absorption which leads to sustainable energy. I have encouraged you many times (your probably getting sick of hearing it!) to build balanced plates. Those balanced meals should get you about 3-4 hours of satisfaction before you start feeling gentle hunger, at which time you?ll want a snack or another meal. THAT is the best way to regulate blood sugar levels.
If you have a piece of fruit for a snack by itself, it?s likely you?ll be hungry an hour (or less) later. If you were to pair that apple with cheese, you may get more mileage out of it. That?s not to say that the apple is unhealthy or causing blood sugar fluctuations. It?s a smaller snack, with less protein and fat, so it won’t last as long resulting in blood sugar falling sooner (and you feeling hunger – which is what happens when your blood sugar comes down). Research shows that people who eat more fruit are less likely to get diabetes and people with diabetes who eat more fruit have better blood glucose control. There really is no evidenced based reason to cut back or eliminate fruit, even for those with diabetes.
Now if you find that certain starches or fruits aggravate your blood sugar (speaking directly to Type 2 Diabetics here), then feel free to choose alternative starches and fruits. I fully support your own individual experiences with food. For example, my mother has diabetes and finds that rice (even brown rice) causes spikes in blood sugar. However, I have worked with MANY patients who do not find brown rice to be a problem. Aim to become familiar with how YOUR body reacts.
Finally, I talk about Blue Zones quite a bit. I am fascinated by them! I think you’ll enjoy learning more about them too, as they hold the secrets to longevity and wellness. These are populations who live to 100, who do not develop the chronic illnesses we do (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc) and enjoy amazing health. They do not track their calories or their carbs, but they do live the principles I teach at the Resort. Which is why I teach it – you deserve the best and most accurate recommendations! At least 75% of their diet comes from whole grains, fruits, beans and vegetables – all very high carbohydrate choices. In fact, the blue zone in Japan was reported at one time to eat 70-80% of their calories from carbohydrates. And they don?t get diabetes. Clearly we are making nutrition way too complicated. In the words of Michael Pollan – ?Eat food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.? That?s the message.
So I stand behind what I teach at Movara – the principles of Nutrient Density vs Calorie Density, building balanced plates and developing a big picture approach to food. I feel this is a much better approach to building healthful meals and snacks than the Glycemic Index.
Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD