Glycemic Index: Basics

The food that we consume gives us energy, which is required for the proper functioning of the body. As food moves through the intestines, digestive enzymes break down the sugars and starch in the food into glucose. 

Glucose thus made is then released into the bloodstream to reach all the cells of the body; it’s then converted into energy required by the cells to function. Excess sugar is changed into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles. 

The whole process is regulated by insulin, the enzyme produced by the pancreas. Excess sugar in the blood stream causes a temporary drop in insulin production or release into the blood and vice-versa. A malfunction in this process causes the onset of type-2 diabetes.

Insulin helps store fat and protein as well in the body, which is used in different ways. A healthy dietary intake is therefore important to ensure a smooth function of all these processes. 

The importance of glycemic Index 

Glycemic index (GI) of a given food item is a reference point in a scale, which indicates the effect of that item on the blood sugar level. If a food raises the blood sugar level quickly, it’s said to have a high GI, while a slow raise indicates a low GI of that food. 

Low GI foods accordingly cause slow and regulated release of insulin into blood. High GI foods trigger hurried and erratic release of insulin. Therefore, GI is an important indicator that helps us regulate our diet so as to ensure proper release of insulin, and thereby derive its associated health benefits.

Food that has a GI of 55 or less is considered a low GI diet, while that with a GI of 56 to 69 is a medium GI diet, and the one with a GI of 70 or more is a high GI diet. As doctors tell you, it’s good to ensure a total daily glycemic load of 100 or less. If you suspect your consuming frequently high GI foods, its best to replace them with low or medium GI ones at the earliest.

Carbohydrates in our food, for example, can be ‘good ones’ or ‘bad ones’. Good carbs like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans are fiber rich, get absorbed slowly into our body and do not shoot up blood sugar levels.

 Bad carbs like white bread and white rice, on the other hand, are low in fiber, get absorbed into our body quickly and shoot up blood sugar levels. It is best to take good carbs instead of bad carbs.

 Low GI, medium GI and high GI foods 

Low GI foods (GI less than 56): Soya products, beans, pulses, lentils, milk, whole-grain pasta, whole-grain bread, fruits consumed in large chunks without added sugar, etc.

Medium GI foods (GI between 56 and 70): Fruits eaten in small chunks, fruit juice with or without added sugar, long-grained rice, etc. 

High GI foods (GI of 70 or more): Refined flour pasta, refined flour bread, pastries and food rich in refined flour and white sugar, potatoes and other tubers, short-grained rice, canned and sweetened fruits, etc.

 A high-GI diet may cause diabetes, cholesterol, obesity and various other ailments. It is important therefore to have a balanced GI diet and exercise regularly to ensure good heart health and overall health.

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