Following a healthy, nutritious diet can sometimes seem like a day job. Proteins, sugars, carbs, gluten, fat, omega-3, mercury: There are so many things to pay attention to. Especially sugar and carbs have gotten a lot of attention. While we used to look at just the amount of sugar in food, it later became carbs as a whole. Then it was the amount of simple carbs versus complex carbs, and recently it became all about the Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load and Insulin Index. What are these things, what do they teach you about food, and what should you pay attention to? Spa Sophia explains.
The Importance of Glucose
Carbs and sugars are so important because they create blood sugar, also known as glucose. Your body uses glucose for energy, but stores whatever is left over as fat. High levels of glucose can lead to diabetes, stroke, obesity and other cardiovascular diseases.
Eating large amounts of carbs is therefore never a good thing, but not all carbs are created equal. Some carbs are digested very quickly, flooding your blood with glucose, which makes you feel hungry soon after. These carbs are found in candy and junk food, and are the ones that can and leads to aforementioned health problems. Other carbs release glucose more gradually though, which is healthier and also keeps you feeling more satiated. Fruits and vegetables are examples.
The Glycemic Index
The Glycemic Index (GI) has recently gained a lot of popularity because it takes this difference between carbs into account. The GI is a number that describes how quickly glucose rises after eating certain foods. Foods with high GI scores (in the 70-100 range) cause quick glucose spikes, while food with low GI scores (55 and under) have a gradual glucose release.
The Glycemic Load
While the GI is a better measure than just looking at carbs, the GI doesn’t take into account how many carbs of a food are typically eaten. For example, white pasta has a GI of 46 and apples a GI of 50. That doesn’t mean white pasta is healthier though, because people typically eat 100 calories of an apple, while they eat about 500 of white pasta. That’s why the Glycemic Load (GL) was invented. The GL looks at both the GI and how many carbs are typically eaten in one serving. A GL of 20 or more is considered high, while a GL of less than twenty is considered low.
The Insulin Index
With the popularity of the GI and the GL came the criticism that it only takes into account food with carbs, while other food can also influence glucose levels, due to their effect on insulin. For example protein heavy foods like steak. While the GI and the Insulin Index scores are often quite similar, some foods do trigger a disproportionate insulin reaction. The insulin index, just like the GI, doesn’t account for the amount of carbs usually eaten per serving, though.
So How To Pick Healthy Carbs?
It’s good to educate yourself about things like the GI, GL and Insulin Index, but don’t worry about adding another checklist item to following a healthy diet. Because the foods with high GI, GL and insulin scores are the ones you probably already know are unhealthy. And the same goes for those with low scores. So stick to as much fruit, veggies and raw, non processed foods as you can, and you should be good!