Are you looking to lose weight and live healthier? Are you a diabetic looking to modify your diet for better control over your blood sugar? Are you switching from carbohydrate rich foods to protein and fiber rich foods? Are you avoiding sugary drinks and choosing sugar free alternatives? Do you look at the ingredients of packaged foods before buying them?
As you probably know by now, there is a lot of information out there with many products advertising themselves as fit for diabetics. But how can you empower yourself to make informed choices? There are two numbers you should know before picking your diet plan: Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load.
Food that we eat contains carbohydrates which are essentially complex, modified sugars.
The carbohydrate in any food is broken down by the body into simple sugars and then metabolized to give you energy.
This breakdown of carbohydrates is the cause of a spike in your blood glucose levels after consuming any food.
Glycemic index (GI) quantifies the impact that carbohydrates in food have on blood sugar levels.
It answers the question, ‘if I eat a specific amount, say 100g of a particular food, by how much will it increase my blood glucose levels?’
The GI scale runs from 0-100 with 100 being the GI of pure sugar.
Carbohydrate and sugar rich processed foods such as white bread, pastries and cakes have high GI values around 70-90.
In comparison, basmati rice which is also mostly carbohydrate has a value around 58.
Apples on the other hand are considered a low GI food and have a value around 30, making them a very healthy option for you.
A second equally important but often underappreciated metric is the Glycemic Load (GL).
The GL value represents the impact of a food on blood glucose levels taking into account the amount of carbohydrate contained in the food.
This is important because for a given serving size, not all foods contain the same amount of carbohydrates.
What exactly does this mean?
Here is an example that may help you understand the difference. Take the case of the juicy watermelon that we all love to eat during the sweltering summer months. The GI for watermelon is very high, around 72 which at first glance may make it unsuitable for diabetics. But consider the fact that a 100 gram serving of contains only 5 grams of carbohydrates. Taking this into account, the GL for watermelon is a value around 7.
Now let’s check the GI and GL values for a banana. A ripe yellow banana has an approximate GI value of 50. Seems like a better fruit than the watermelon. But the GL value for the banana is actually much higher (~13). Why? Because a 120g serving of bananas has 24 grams of carbs in them, greatly increasing the GL.
So in comparing the two, for the same serving size, watermelons have less of an impact on your glucose levels.
Even if we take into consideration that we might eat more of the watermelon because it’s mostly water, they still end up being the better choice because of the difference in GL.
This doesn’t mean that you should avoid bananas either. Rather being properly informed allows you to determine the right portion sizes for what you eat.
When planning your meals, take into account both the GI and GL of foods and prevent diabetes . Better choices make for better health!
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