Benefits of a Low-Glycemic Diet
Research continues to accumulate showing the health benefits of eating a low-glycemic diet. At this point, health professionals see the value in following a low-glycemic diet, along with other healthy nutrition guidelines such as consuming less saturated fat and cholesterol, choosing high-fiber foods, and maintaining a lower sodium intake.
In addition to weight loss, a low-glycemic diet has been connected to better blood sugar and insulin control, disease prevention, increased energy, and improved mood.
Better blood sugar and insulin control: The American Diabetes Association acknowledges that low-glycemic foods that are also high in fiber and a good source of nutrients can be part of an overall healthy diet.
Including low-glycemic foods within an overall carbohydrate budget can provide additional blood sugar–control benefits because eating lower-glycemic foods helps keep blood sugar levels under better control and decreases the need for insulin.
A good nutrition strategy for anyone who wants to lower his blood sugar and insulin levels is to first look to the total carbohydrate content in foods. Strive to maintain an even carbohydrate intake at meals and snacks. Incorporating low-glycemic foods helps provide additional blood sugar–control benefits because higher-glycemic foods raise blood sugar levels faster and require more insulin to process.
Disease prevention: A large review of 37 scientific studies on the effects of the glycemic index and glycemic load on disease prevention shows that following a low-glycemic diet independently reduces a person’s risk for Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gallbladder disease, and breast cancer. Choosing a low-glycemic diet that’s also high in fiber is even more protective.
Scientists believe that choosing an overall low-glycemic diet that also contains protective amounts of vegetables, fruits, and minimally processed whole grains appears to protect against heart disease. When it comes to heart disease, following the standard recommendations from the American Heart Association is crucial:
Choose foods that are higher in fiber and monounsaturated fat, enjoy seafood that contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids more often, and decrease the amount of saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium that you consume.
Fortunately, low-glycemic fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains already meet these heart-healthy nutrition guidelines, so simply incorporating a variety of these low-glycemic goodies into your diet each day can help protect you from heart disease.
Heart disease is the culmination of a series of several events. Decreasing your risk of heart disease requires an interwoven web of strategies, including using the glycemic index within the framework of other nutrition and exercise recommendations to promote a healthy heart and cardiovascular system.
Increased energy: Knowing which foods to eat before, during, and after exercise based on their glycemic index level helps athletes maximize their energy and recovery time. Even if you’re not a world-class athlete, or even a weekend athlete, understanding how the glycemic index of foods affects your energy levels can help you stay alert and focused throughout the day.
The human body digests and metabolizes low-glycemic foods slowly, thereby providing a continued amount of energy for working muscles. High-glycemic foods, on the other hand, are quickly digested, meaning their carbohydrates are readily available to power hard-working muscles.
Start your day with a breakfast that’s built on lower-glycemic foods to provide longer-lasting energy and wake up your brain. Serve a low-glycemic breakfast cereal (such as rolled oats), top it with some fruit, and pour a glass of fat-free milk for a balanced, low-glycemic breakfast that’ll give you sustained energy throughout the morning.
Instead of relying on caffeine or high-glycemic processed foods at lunch to boost your energy, build a balanced lunch around low-glycemic foods such as legume-based soups (lentil, black bean, split pea) or tossed salads that include legumes (garbanzo beans, kidney beans, or edamame are great choices).
You’ll find that eating a low-glycemic noontime meal means you don’t find yourself yawning and falling asleep midafternoon due to a drop in blood sugar levels. Plus you won’t find yourself staring at the vending machine, trying to decide which candy bar will give you energy without expanding your waistline.
Improved mood: People really are what they eat in the sense that some foods can build a sunny disposition and other foods can bring you down faster than the drop of a rollercoaster. One of the most important neurotransmitters that determines mood is serotonin.
High levels of serotonin boost one’s mood, decrease food cravings, and promote restful sleep. Low serotonin levels have the opposite effect, making you feel tired, cranky, and out of sorts. The amount of serotonin in your bloodstream and brain is strongly linked to the foods you eat, especially to foods that contain carbohydrates.
Once again, the type of carbohydrate-containing food you choose is crucial. Eating sugary foods when you’re stressed causes a quick release, which feels great at the time but not so great when your blood sugar and serotonin levels come crashing down shortly afterward.
Does this sound familiar? You’re feeling tired and cranky midmorning at work (probably because you skipped breakfast and relied on a sugary coffee to get you going) so you grab a donut, bagel, or cookie and drink a sugary beverage for energy. You love the quick mental boost, but 30 minutes later you feel shaky, tired, and out of sorts — again.
You’ve just experienced the effects of serotonin levels rising and falling firsthand. Replace those high-glycemic foods with low-glycemic choices, however, and you get a slow, sustained release of insulin that keeps your blood sugar levels even, followed by a gradual rise in serotonin. No rapid rise and no rapid crash of serotonin levels means you have a sunny, even mood all morning.