Navigating the glycemic index

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Glycemic index diets have now been rehashed and revamped to death, is there still merit in bringing up old news? I believe there is, the glycemic index  is still a relevant tool and is used to treat a variety of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome and weight loss. There has been a lot more research into low glycemic index diet’s since it first hit book shelves, with amazing results. As we already know low glycemic index diets can reduce blood sugar levels, control hunger and can cause weight loss. Cutting edge research is now showing the benefits of the glycemic index are so much more.

When describing Glycemic index (GI) foods, it is strictly referring to carbohydrate foods such as:  bread, rice, cereal, pasta, legumes, fruit and milk. Carbohydrate foods have effect on the release of insulin and blood sugar levels in our body. The measure of blood sugar levels and insulin reaction to our carbohydrate intake determines it’s glycemic index. When combining fibre, fats, proteins and other acidic substances to carb rich meals it can slow down the release of sugars into the blood stream. Slowly digestible carbohydrates are termed low GI. Predominantly refined and sugary carbohydrates like lollies and white bread breakdown rapidly in the body, we call this high GI.
Low GI foods are typically natural whole foods and whole-grains, however there are exceptions to the rule. Cola based soft drinks are also low GI due to the acidity levels of the drink. The acidity can slow down the release of the high GI sugar. Similarly the sugar found in chocolate is slowly digested due to the fat content and is also low GI.  Even though this is the case it does not necessarily mean they are healthy. Drinking coke and eating chocolate regularly is not good for you.
The latest study to be released from the University of Copenhgen used wholegrain bread to compare the effects of low GI wholegrain bread to white refined bread in a group of post menopausal women. They found that when consuming low GI wholegrain bread on calorie controlled diet, participants lost the same amount of weight in kilo’s as the white bread group. The exciting difference, the low GI group showed a larger decrease in percent body fat mass and cholesterol levels. The reduction in cholesterol and body fat indicate that low GI diets can reduce the risk of heart disease.
In the other spectrum, in the sporting arena the research into the GI of foods is focused on high GI foods and their benefits. High GI foods for athletes can mean the difference between winning and losing a race.  Pre and during exercise carbohydrate snacks and meals are centred on intakes of high GI foods to last endurance based races. Post exercise, high GI foods are used for better muscle and energy recovery. This is extremely important to athletes who need to return to training regimes immediately after competitions.
Even though GI is old news, every day we are finding out more and more on how to manipulate GI to enhance our health and sports performance. Simple switches from high to low may help you lose weight, whereas the opposite may help you through your next marathon event and back up to your next training session with a smile.
Your decision to go low or high should be totally dependent on your health goals. If you are concerned about conditions like heart disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome and type 2 diabetes then making low GI food choices is the way to go. If you’re a recreational athlete who needs better recovery eat high GI around your exercise blocks. What will you choose low or high?
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