Can “healthy” foods make you fat?
The glycemic index has been around for decades but you seem to hear about it much more lately, thanks to the multi-million dollar marketing campaign from Nutrisystem. Many other weight loss programs have also jumped on popular bandwagon of using the glycemic index for their latest marketing strategy. Is this just the latest gimmick, or is there some legitimacy behind the glycemic index?
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly food that has been eaten, impacts blood sugar levels. How does this affect weight loss? When you eat carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose, or sugar, and your body has to do something with it. The response your body has is to release insulin, which is a powerful “storage” hormone. Certain parts of your body store glucose, such as your muscles and liver, but when their capacity is full, where does the sugar go? The powerful storage hormone, insulin, stores it as fat!
There is no way to avoid carbohydrates from breaking down into glucose, but you can avoid the carbs that breakdown quickly and stimulate the massive release of insulin. The glycemic index is wonderful tool for this. It is a scale from 0-100 that ranks how quickly carbs are broken down into sugar. Eating foods low on the index will have minimal impact on insulin release, which will promote weight loss, and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Some foods that are largely considered healthy are very high on the glycemic index. For example, a rice cake can be as high at 91 out of 100. Yikes! There are various factors that contribute to the GI score, and the amount of fat and fiber are two big ones. Both fat and fiber slow down the digestion process and make for a lower score. With rice cakes having little of each, they digest very quickly and cause your blood sugar to skyrocket. Slapping some lard on the rice cake will lower the GI score, but increase the calorie count astronomically, so you must find a delicate balance and trash the ideas of deep frying your rice cakes.
It is actually very easy to implement the glycemic index into your daily dietary routine. I have used the GI since the late 80s and have incorporated it into the nutrition program for my clients since the birth of Sensible Fitness over 13 years ago. There are many databases referenced in books and online that details the rankings of many foods on the GI.
Once you learn a little bit about the GI, you start to get a good inclination of carbs that are better for keeping your blood sugar levels stable. Cauliflower, which is more fibrous, is low on the GI, while a white potato would be higher. Same with a banana, which is higher because of its lack of fiber when compared to an apple. The GI does not rank nutritional value, only the impact on blood sugar levels. So don’t get wrapped up in the trap that foods high on the GI are unhealthy, as this in not the case. The Nutrisystem program implements portion control and lower GI foods. There is not rocket science behind this and you can do the same all by your lonesome and not only save yourself some money but also avoid eating the freeze dried foods that are also in the program. Let’s look at Dan Marino a few years down the road after his contract is done with Nutrisystems. I predict he will have the same demise as Kirsty Alley did with Jenny Craig when she gained over 80 pounds after getting sick of their food.
Educate yourself to the food rankings in the glycemic index and incorporate them into your daily diet. It would be a step in the right direction.