Monday, March 4, 2013

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

Many people who come to a gluten free or paleo lifestyle do so because they are overweight and the lower carb eating style is attractive to them. While this is not the only reason, it has been my experience that weight loss via a low carb diet is the primary reason. Then as soon as they start they become inundated with so much information that their poor little heads start spinning.

One of the big things they see written about over and over is inflammation and its myriad causes and the devastating effects of inflammation on the body.  To me, the biggest horror of inflammation is the deadly consequence of coronary artery disease and one of the main causes of inflammation are the frequent spikes in insulin caused by the so-called heart healthy diet that we are told to eat. Eat your grains and eat plenty of them, they say.  Follow their "healthy" diet with all of their "healthy" whole grains and see how quickly you get yourself into trouble. Oh. Wait. You already did. You're there. You found out that the low-fat high-carb "healthy" diet helped to make you hungry, fat, and sick.

The next thing that happens when you start your paleo or gluten free lifestyle is you notice that not only is everyone telling you to lay off the wheat, grains, legumes, processed foods, and sugars, but they also try to tell you to stay away from this fruit/vegetable or that fruit/vegetable. This is where I have to draw the line. This is where I have to say "Maybe here is where moderation and smart eating need to come together."  We absolutely must not use absolutes when it comes to natural, whole, real, foods.

Today, I'm just going to talk about the Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL) and how it is possible to achieve balance in your life. Just because some other blogger or some doctor told you that the high GI foods will create all of this inflammation in your body doesn't necessarily mean you have to avoid them. While I have no "studies" to back up what I'm about to say, I have my own personal experience. Actually, I do have studies, but since I don't trust most of them--someday I'll have to get into why I don't trust them--I won't reference them. Many of the studies with respect to GI and GL come from the National Institutes of Health and the National Diabetes Foundation and if I were to cite their studies, that would make me a hypocrite. That is why I did my own experiment and found what was right for me.

You should QUESTION EVERYTHING. You should find your own way and find what is right for you. Remember--one size absolutely, positively does not fit all. What works for me may not work for you and what works for everyone else may not work for you. I've seen it time and again and the only thing I know for certain is that we are all different when it comes to what we can or cannot safely consume.

So, the definitions of GI and GL are as follows:
Glycemic Index is the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed into the blood and its effect of raising blood sugar, while the Glycemic Load is the product of the amount of the available carbohydrates and the GI in a serving of food. The GL is a more useful tool when making a determination of whether or not to eat a certain food than the GI. Why?

Well, take a look at watermelon and white bread on the GI scale. The white bread comes in lower on the GI scale than does watermelon. The reason is that the quantities used to determine their placement are not based on what an actual person would eat. So, what we can do is take a look at the formula for figuring out the GL of a food and make decisions based, partly, on that. GL's that are from 1-10 are considered low, 11-19 is medium, and 20+ is high. Typically, foods that are high on the GI scale are also high on the GL scale, but not always.

Let's take watermelon for example. Watermelon has (in a 100 gram serving) 5 usable carbohydrates. It has a GI of 72 which would make it something to eat only once in a while. However, when we calculate the GL by multiplying available (net) carbs by its GI and divide by 100, we get: 5*72/100=3.6 and that is very low. It is a perfectly acceptable food to eat and we don't have to be afraid of it.

So, as I said, the Glycemic Load is much more useful in determining the actual impact that a particular food will have on your blood sugar. To test this on myself, I borrowed a neighbor's glucose monitor that she didn't use. I tested my blood sugar in the morning for 6 days as soon as I got up. This would be a fasting blood sugar and the results ranged from 73-76. Very good. This is the low side of normal.

I then made myself eat my breakfast. The first two days were just my breakfast porridge made from ground almonds, ground walnuts, unsweetened coconut, stevia, and spices. I waited 30 minutes and then began to test my blood sugar every 15 minutes for 2 hours. The GL load for this is zero. My blood sugar reached its highest level about 1 hour after eating and only went to 81 on both days. Within another 30 minutes, it went back down to the fasting level and stayed there until the end of the 2 hour test.

On days 3 and 4, I ate fruit--mango and pineapple. Mango rates an 8 on the GL scale and pineapple (extra sweet variety) was a whopping 33. With this combination, my blood sugar peaked at 112 on day 3, and 118 on day 4.  After 1 hour my blood sugar was still in the 90's and didn't come back down to the fasting level until hour 2.

Days 5 and 6 were a combination of my breakfast porridge WITH the fruit. The highest level on either day was reached at 1 hour and was 99 and gradually decreased to normal after 1:45 minutes.

What this tells me is that when you combine the high GL foods with the low GL foods, you reduce the spikes in your blood sugar, thereby reducing the amount of insulin needed to bring the sugar back under control, and you reduce the amount of inflammation.

Granted, it was only for 6 days and it was only on myself but there you have it.  It supports what some scientists say about how it is possible to blend these types of foods to minimize the impact on your body. Of course, you would have to find out for yourself.

Anyway, instead of doing all the math and worrying about all of this, you can just use a great website: where everything is figured out for you.  It even includes how much inflammation foods cause and how to use all of the various scales and indexes that they offer. So, you don't even have to think too much.

So, that's it for today. On Thursday, I will tell you about my aversion to "studies" and the new pseudo-science that has reared its ugly head these past few decades.

Until then, have a wonderful couple of days!


  1. Having Problems FOLLOWING with your Paleo Diet?

    Want to munch on some delicious recipes as soon as TONIGHT?

    Get your awesome Paleohacks Cookbook.

  2. New Diet Taps into Revolutionary Plan to Help Dieters LOSE 20 Pounds within Only 21 Days!