Understanding the Glycemic Index & low GI diets

low GI diets

Blood sugar imbalance is at the heart of many health problems, including obesity, cardiovascular issues, autoimmune disease and diabetes, to name a few. Symptoms of blood sugar issues include fatigue, brain fog, anxiety and difficulty losing weight.

By taking steps to improve blood sugar regulation, you can make strides in your health and wellbeing. Diet plays a vital role in blood sugar balance, and by eating foods that are less likely to spike your blood sugar, you can prevent those energy crashes that often follow.

If blood sugar balance is vital for optimal health, why not focus your diet on foods less likely to affect your blood sugar?

That is where the glycemic index (GI) comes in handy, which is a system that categorises carbohydrate-rich foods based on their effects on blood sugar.

This article will delve into the concept of the GI, how the index works and whether the diet is right for you.


What is the Glycemic Index?

The GI was first created for those with diabetes to help make better food choices. The GI is a system that categorises foods into their likely effects on blood sugar.

You see, when you eat carbohydrates, they are broken down into sugars, fibres and starches in your body. Sugars and carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which is your body’s principal energy source. You absorb the glucose into your bloodstream when you eat these foods, which momentarily spikes your blood sugar.

Luckily your body has a fantastic ability to regulate blood sugar. The hormone insulin is secreted when your blood sugar spikes, which stimulates your cells to open up and store the excess glucose.

However, when you constantly eat foods that spike your blood sugar, your cells become immune to insulin’s effect, known as insulin resistance. Therefore, eating foods that are less likely to spike blood sugar may help maintain insulin sensitivity at the cellular level.

What does the GI value mean?

Different carbohydrates and sugars are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream at altering rates. The GI value assesses how much food is likely to raise blood glucose levels compared to how much pure glucose raises blood glucose.

  • Foods are classified as either low, medium or high in the GI as follows:
  • Low GI: 1 to 55
  • Medium GI: 56 to 69
  • High GI: 70 and higher

Generally, a traffic light system of green, amber and red is used to categorise food in the GI  into low, medium and high.

Those in the red category are more likely to spike your blood sugar and should be avoided to balance blood sugar. However, those foods in the green category are less likely to alter your blood sugar, so when you eat them, you have better-sustained energy.

If you have a condition associated with blood sugar regulation issues or want to maintain optimal health, following a low GI diet – those foods in the green category – has been shown to increase vitality and longevity.

Unlike other diets, portion size, calorie counting, or macronutrient tracking is not required. The focus is predominantly on guiding those foods that increase blood sugar levels.

The limitations of the GI diet

One of the significant limitations of the glycemic index is that it does not include the quantity of a particular food, which can impact its effect on blood sugar. This restriction is why the glycemic load exists.

The glycemic load not only focuses on blood sugar impact but the food as a whole. Foods with a low glycemic load may also have a high GI, but as the glycemic load considers other factors, it may be a better gauge to help regulate blood sugar.

Watermelon is an excellent example of a food with a high GI and thus suggested to avoid on a low GI diet, but it has a low glycemic load. So as long as you don’t eat a considerable amount of watermelon, it is unlikely to raise your blood sugar. Similar to the GI diet, the glycemic load values are categorised into low, medium and high.

Should you try a low GI diet?

Studies have shown that a low GI diet can help with weight loss, appetite control and blood sugar management.

As a low GI diet excludes processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugars and starches, this might be one of the reasons that people have results on the diet.

Also, as spikes in blood sugar are less likely when you eat foods based on their GI, you may see improvements in energy levels.

As with any restrictive diet, it is better to seek guidance from a health practitioner to see whether this diet is right for you.

Also, the GI diet works better as a list for guidance rather than to follow in isolation. Considering the nutritional content of the foods you eat is vital to maintaining optimal health and should be prioritised over a specific diet plan.

Author Bio

Victoria is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and has a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry and Immunology. She focuses on autoimmune disease including skin conditions, neurological and brain issues, chronic fatigue, and cardiovascular disorders. www.theautoimmunitynutritionist.com