Low Glycemic Eating Science or Fiction?
In 2002 while serving as USDAs Acting National Program Leader for Nutrition for the U.S., I reviewed U.S. health statistics and wrote a paper for the White House related to obesity. While researching approaches to managing the obesity epidemic, I learned about low-glycemic dietary approaches. Unfortunately, most Americans are not well-versed on what low-glycemic eating is or why it might be beneficial. In fact, many U.S. health professionals have not been educated on this nutritional approach to health despite the fact that there are literally dozens of recent peer-reviewed scientific articles highlighting the benefits.
What is low-glycemic impact eating and how can it be health promoting? Low-glycemic impact eating is selecting foods to stabilize your blood sugar levels. This means avoiding foods that break down rapidly to simple sugars in your system leading to elevated blood glucose levels. That means avoiding bread, crackers, potatoes, cookies, most wheat-containing products, white rice in fact most white foods.
What foods have minimal glycemic impact? Foods that contain more slowly absorbed carbohydrates including fruit (which contains fructose) and milk (which contains lactose) and also foods such as beans, peas and lentils are fine. Most vegetables are low glycemic, and lean sources of protein such as chicken and fish are great.
What are the health benefits? Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the U.S. As much as 60-80% of the cholesterol in our bodies is synthesized in the liver and the starting products are carbohydrates.
Youre probably surprised to learn its not fats that are the culprit, but time and again when people modify their diet to reduce the amount of sugar ingested (sometimes called glycemic load) their cholesterol decreases, as do their triglycerides in just a few days far before they lose any significant amount of weight. Another health benefit would be for diabetics interested in stabilizing blood sugar levels. There is documented evidence in medical literature that many diabetics can reduce or eliminate their medication (depending on the severity of their disease) by following a low-glycemic program. Also, this approach can allow many individuals to achieve and maintain a healthy weight for life. In fact, low-glycemic eating actually targets fat loss and leads to improved body composition. How? When you eat a food that breaks down quickly into glucose in your body, your blood sugar level goes up and so does your insulin level. If this happens quickly, your body goes into fat storage mode and anything you eat is stored as fat. I know this doesnt sound fair (and it isnt) but you can avoid the problem by eating in such a way that stabilizes your blood sugar level.
In Australia, the glycemic index (GI) is right on the food labels and consumers love it. Why isnt that done in the U.S.? Quite simply, the food companies dont want consumers to know that a food might be considered a less healthy choice. Politics and economics dictate nutrition policy in the U.S., so its up to you to become educated about how to provide the best nutritional foundation to optimize your health. Low GI eating can help you achieve your goals.