Carbohydrates and the Glycemic Index
5 of 9 in Series: The Essentials of Losing Weight on a Low-Glycemic Diet
Carbohydrates are a big topic in the world of weight loss and a glycemic index diet. Numerous diets call for modifying your carbohydrate intake in some way. The problem is, not all carbs are created equal, so you can't treat them equally. You've probably heard or read about simple versus complex carbohydrates, fiber content, white versus whole grain, and so on. Throw in the glycemic index and figuring out what you’re supposed to focus on for your health gets really confusing!
But it doesn't have to be that way. Yes, when considering carbs, you need to look at many factors, including the glycemic index, nutrients, and fiber. However, simple guidelines are available that can help you make the best choices for your health — and for successful weight loss.
To better distinguish carbohydrates that can help your diet from those that can harm it, you should really know a little basic info about carbs in general. Carbohydrates are your body's major fuel source. They all break down into blood glucose, but they react differently in your body depending on their type. Carbs come in two varieties:
Simple carbohydrates, which contain one or two sugar units
Complex carbohydrates, which contain multiple sugar units
In the past, scientists thought that simple carbohydrates raised blood glucose levels quicker than complex carbohydrates because of the length of the sugar units. However, the latest discoveries with the glycemic index show that all carbohydrates, simple and complex, vary greatly in regard to their blood sugar response.
The glycemic index actually simplifies that technical mumbo jumbo a bit. Instead of focusing on complex versus simple carbs to find your best food choices for weight loss, you can focus on choosing low-glycemic foods that have a high nutrient content. Low-glycemic foods are therefore the new "friendly" carbs, and high-glycemic foods are the new "foes."
Most people think of sugar, sweets, or white flour as simple carbohydrates that make for unhealthy choices. However, the issue isn't quite that black and white. Consider the case of white flour. Often mistakenly lumped in the simple-sugars category, white flour is actually a complex carbohydrate, and complex carbs are typically labeled as "good carbs."
So not all complex carbs are necessarily the healthiest choices. White flour is an example of a high-glycemic "foe," spiking the blood sugar much higher and faster than its whole-wheat counterpart (a low-glycemic "friendly" carb).
You can't tell what food is friend or foe just by looking. Instead, the food must undergo scientific testing to determine how it responds in the body.