What is the Glycemic Index?

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

The glycemic index is a scientific way of looking at how the carbohydrates in foods affect blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels. Scientists know that all carbohydrates raise blood sugar, but the glycemic index takes this understanding one step further by figuring out how much a specific food raises blood sugar.

When you use the glycemic index to plan your meals and snacks, you’re following a glycemic index diet. It’s not a “diet” in the sense that there are specific meal plans you need to follow, lists of foods to eat and foods to avoid, and other types of rules that are all too familiar to people who’ve tried various weight-loss diet plans. Instead, the glycemic index gives you a method for selecting foods that meet your specific needs and desires.

You know those overlay maps, where you start with a very basic map, add an overlay with more detail, then add another overlay with yet more detail, and so on until you have a complete picture of a specific area? Think of using the glycemic index in a similar way:

  • The first “overlay” is basic meal planning. Your body tells you it’s hungry and wants food.

  • Next comes the layer of basic nutrition, which is all about balance. Your meal needs to include protein (chicken, fish, lean red meat, soy products, eggs, nuts/seeds), vegetables, healthy fats (olive oil, avocadoes, nuts), and starch (whole grains, potatoes, pasta) to keep your body happy. If you throw in a glass of milk and some fruit on the side, your body will be even happier.

  • Finally, you add in the glycemic index for a complete picture. Because the glycemic index applies solely to foods that contain carbohydrates, it applies only to the vegetable, starch, milk, and fruit portions of your meal. Theoretically you already have an understanding of these foods’ nutritional values. The glycemic index completes the picture by telling you how these foods will impact your blood sugar, which affects everything from your energy level to your food cravings.

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The Essentials of Starting a Low-Glycemic Diet

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