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How to Use the Glycemic Index

2 of 9 in Series: The Essentials of Starting a Low-Glycemic Diet

You can use the glycemic index to make gradual, lasting changes in your diet. You don’t have to know the actual glycemic number of a food to follow an overall low-glycemic diet. Simply choose foods with a low or medium glycemic ranking, and you can be confident that you’re making smart choices.

Many foods have already been tested for their glycemic index, and that information is readily available at the Web site of the Glycemic Index Foundation, the official database compiled by Australian researchers.

Start with small steps

Making just one or two changes in the foods you choose each day, switching from a higher-glycemic food to a lower-glycemic one, for example, can lead to big differences over time. The first step is to focus on simple changes that are easy to incorporate into your usual eating habits, such as the following:

  • Include one low-glycemic food with every meal and snack.

  • Eat smaller portions of high-glycemic foods. By cutting your portion of a high-glycemic food such as instant mashed potatoes in half, you decrease that food’s impact on the overall glycemic load of your meal.

  • Swap out a high-glycemic food for one that’s low- to moderate-glycemic. Instead of eating a smaller portion of instant mashed potatoes, you could try boiled new potatoes.

Take your time adjusting to these changes in order to give yourself a better chance of sticking with them. Set a goal to include a low-glycemic food at just one meal the first week. The second week, include a low-glycemic food at a second meal. By the time one month has passed, you’ll find incorporating low-glycemic foods is a habit, not a chore. You’ll also notice improved health and mood benefits.

As long as you start with small, reasonable changes in the foods you routinely eat, you’ll gradually consume more low-glycemic foods and fewer high-glycemic foods over time. The end result will be an overall moderate- to low-glycemic eating pattern.

Look at your current food choices to see where you can make swaps

When you want to identify where your favorite foods fall on the glycemic index list, a good approach is to start looking up the glycemic index of the foods each time you eat a meal or a snack. Note how often you choose high-, medium-, and low-glycemic foods. Perhaps lunch most often includes lower-glycemic foods, but breakfast relies on higher-glycemic breads and cereals. Watch for broad patterns such as these in the foods you eat regularly.

As you identify your current high-glycemic food choices, think about the low-glycemic foods you also have on hand. Can you substitute a lower-glycemic food for something higher? For example, instant mashed potatoes are high-glycemic (around 97 on average), but boiled new potatoes with their skins are low-glycemic (around 54 on average). Or you can use quick-cooking brown rice (with a glycemic index around 48) rather than potatoes in order to keep dinner preparation quick and simple.

Think about how you can include medium- or low-glycemic foods for snacks. For example, if you love white-flour crackers such as saltines, swap this high-glycemic snack for a whole-grain cracker such as Triscuits, which have a lower glycemic index. Or you can try swapping a lower-glycemic fruit, such as melon, for a higher-glycemic one, such as pineapple.

As you become more familiar with the glycemic index, you’ll be able to choose low-glycemic foods without even having to think about it!

Following a low-glycemic diet doesn’t mean you have to toss out all the high-glycemic foods in your cabinets. You can still enjoy them on occasion by thinking of ways to balance them with lower-glycemic foods at the same meal. For example, if you’re serving a high-glycemic mixed fruit salad for dessert, include a low-glycemic starch such as brown rice with the main course. The two foods balance each other so that you wind up with a moderate glycemic load for the entire meal.

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