The Glycemic Index, A Tool Made for Diabetics

The glycemic index is the brainchild of some doctors in the 1980s who wanted to figure out how carbohydrates affect diabetes, and which ones would be best for a diabetic diet. So it was invented for us, the type 1 and 2 diabetics.

How Does It Work?

It was set up like this. They gave pure glucose a number - 100, and that number is the highest on the glycemic index.

Then they gave other carbohydrates a number based on how quickly they break down into glucose and show up in the bloodstream.

Why carbohydrates only? Because they become glucose fast, while proteins and fats must go through other changes before they can be used as fuel.

The sugars and starches turn to glucose quickest of all. That means things like flour, honey, corn syrup and many fruits have high glycemic indexes.

What Makes It Helpful for Diabetics?

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Most vegetables are low on the glycemic index. The exceptions, of course, are corn, peas and potatoes. That is because they have a high starch content.

These are the things that make the index helpful because it gives you a way to look at carbohydrates besides just by using a calorie counter.

It's interesting to see which fruits will raise your blood sugar the fastest. It also proves that the fiber you eat really does affect how quickly your blood sugar rises.

The glycemic index is not completely accurate because there are many factors that affect the speed of digestion, things like fiber and fat. These in turn cause slower or faster rises in blood sugar.

And a lot depends on whether the carbohydrates have been processed and lost their fiber content, as well as on what has been added. That's why knowing how to read labels is so important.

Which Carbohydrates are High Glycemic?

The way the glycemic index was set up, high glycemic foods are those that have a glycemic index of 70 or above. They include all cereals with the exception of slow cooked oatmeal.

All sweet desserts, most yogurts, nearly all grains, breads, anything else made from flour or potatoes, and all kinds of natural sweeteners are high on the glycemic index.

The high glycemic fruits include bananas, apricots, dates, mangos, papayas and raisins. Most fruit juices are high glycemic because the fiber has been removed. In fact, all processed foods tend to be high glycemic because the fiber has been processed out.

Medium glycemic foods (between 56 and 69) include sugar-free yogurts, oranges, some grains (macaroni, spaghetti, rye bread), beets, corn, red potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Low Glycemic Foods

Low glycemic foods are counted as below 55 on the glycemic index. The rest of the vegetables, beans, and fruits are low glycemic, along with slow-cooked oatmeal. So are nuts, mainly because of the high fat and fiber content.

These lists are far from complete, but they are here so you can get an idea of how the index works. The simplest way to decide if a carb will be low glycemic is to look at the fiber, protein and/or fat in it.

Then ask yourself if it is in its original state (processing often adds sugars and flours). Your diabetes food choices need to include as many as possible of the lower glycemic foods.

What's the Point of Knowing All This?

If your blood sugar is low, it's nice to know what to grab first to bring it up. If you have a banana and an apple on hand, you know which one to pick (the banana) for a quick rise in blood sugar.

And if you want to eat a baked potato without blowing you blood sugar readings, you know to eat a small one with some protein and fiber at the same time.

The protein (meat) and fiber (raw veggies or salad) slow down the digestion of the potato so it does not turn to sugar so quickly. Another option, since you know red potatoes are lower glycemic than white, would be to eat them instead.

The index shows you why nuts (glycemic index of 12) are a good snack for a diabetic diet, and why you should not eat a handful of raisins ( index of 90) by themselves (unless you need a rise in blood sugar). It's not just about the calories.

Is Low Glycemic Better?

For diabetics the answer is yes. When you grasp the idea that you can keep your blood sugar down based on what you eat for snacks and as side dishes, you've found real diabetic gold.

As a type 2 diabetic, you know it is best to eat more low and medium glycemic foods when you're trying to lose weight.

And studies have shown that people who eat mostly high glycemic foods tend to have blocked arteries and type 2 diabetes more than those who don't. That's another good reason to cut them out.

Just remember, the glycemic index is for carbohydrates. It doesn't rate protein or fats because they do not directly affect insulin release.

But we still need to know which of those are best for a type 2 diabetic, even though they don't raise our blood sugar much.

Since carbohydrates make the difference in glycemic levels between a low or high dose of insulin before a meal, it's hard not to focus on them.

But you still need portion control and common sense when using the index. Calorie counting still has a part in a type 2 diabetic diet.

There has to be a balance between losing weight, controlling blood sugar, and keeping the things you need for health - the fruits and vegetables, protein and fats that your body must have.

You need a way of eating that you can use for the rest of your life. Since most type 2 diabetics are also fighting to lose weight, we need all the tools we can find.

Here are some weight loss secrets that you can add to your tool box. They will make your battle against diabetic obesity easier.

You Need to Eat What You Like

Potatoes are high glycemic, yes. But they are full of minerals and they help us feel full for a while after eating. To me that's a reason to keep them.

It's wise to remember that rules on good and bad vegetables can change. Fads come and go. You have to decide what to keep and what to pitch out, because it's your diet.

The rule is still "eat what you like." The glycemic index is a great tool, but that's all it is. Everything that helps you reach the goals you have set for yourself is worth keeping.

Since the index was made for type 2 diabetics, you could give it a try and see what happens. And because a low carbohydrate diet is going to do more for you than a low calorie one, it makes sense to learn all you can about carbs.

Will sugar free foods help or hurt a type 2 diabetic?

Artificial sweeteners - the good, the bad and the mistakes.

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