Another fad diet?

I will admit that I was a little sceptical when I heard we were going to be covering the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load of food. Having suffered from various different eating disorders for years I treasure the fact that I now can eat intuitively, I don’t count calories, make calculations or spend countless hours mulling over whether or not I’ve achieved a perfectly balanced day (nutritionally).

What I didn’t realise, and which has become quite apparent in recent weeks, is that I take for granted the fact that after years of obsessing over food from a negative stand point, I have managed to turn full circle and creating and eating balanced meals comes quite naturally. The basic nutritional composition of foods is now inbuilt in my brain and I think I manage to do a pretty good job of achieving optimum nutrition on a daily basis.

Having spent more time with other people on my nutritional therapy course I have to come to recognise the fact that the vast majority of people merely choose foods and create meals based on what they have grown up with, the demands of their children and spouses and are quite heavily influenced by the media.

The lack of education and awareness of not only the draw backs of certain foods and substances that we ingest but the potential substantial benefits of eating a diet rich in others is largely to blame for the vast majority of illnesses and diseases which are the primary cause of death in the Western World.

Having delved more deeply in to the Glycemic Index and the Glycemic Load I have a new found respect for what it offers. Far from being another fad diet, it provides a key reference point for people to improve not only their eating patterns and their long term health, but also how they feel on a day to day basis.

So lets get to it! What’s it all about and where’s the value in it?

The Glycemic Index (GI) ranks carbohydrate containing foods based on how fast they raise blood sugar. The GI scale is 0-100 with those foods that rank higher having a greater impact on blood sugar levels, 100 being the impact that pure glucose has on blood sugar.

As mentioned in my previous post, your body performs better when blood sugar is kept at a relatively even keel. Sharps peaks or drops call upon the bodies reserves of insulin to balance out levels and can have negative short and long term side effects. It’s thought that as many in 3 in every 10 people have impaired ability to keep their blood sugar even.

I’m sure we all know of people, or perhaps you are one of them, that have to eat small meals throughout the day or can’t leave the house without breakfast, the consequence being that they will feel light headed, weak, irritable and are perhaps end up with headache?!

Controlling our blood sugar levels prevents such symptoms, ensuring we don’t fall in to the vicious cycle of doing so by depending on stimulants and high sugar, fast releasing starchy foods and inevitably end up overweight and lethargic.

Carbohydrates All Branded with the same Bad Name

There is so much debate, one could describe it as conflict from those who support high protein diets and those which prefer the balanced approach and recognise the importance of carbohydrates. There are valid points for each camp to be made but balance really is what it comes down to. You need to maintain a healthy ratio, about 4:1 of carbohydrates to protein in order for our bodies to behave optimally! (Based on 15% protein and 60% carbohydrates over the course of a day, the remainder going to fat.)

The finger can quite rightly be pointed at some carbohydrates when it comes to the cause of Type 2 diabetes and obesity, but doesn’t just come down to simply what is white and refined and what is wholemeal. Here’s were I will  very briefly get ever so slightly science-y!

Starch, the digestible part of any carbohydrate can be branched (amylopectin) or unbranched (amylose) which fundamentally comes down to it’s structure. Those starches which are heavily branched (high ratio of amylopectin to amylose) are more readily digested and absorbed in to the blood stream. It is these starches which have a high GI (they have a greater impact on blood sugar levels).


On it’s own the Glycemic Index isn’t really practical or altogether useful as it doesn’t take in to consideration the amount of the particular food ingested which plays a part in determining the extent to which it will affect ones blood sugar levels. That’s were the Glycemic Load comes in to play.

The Glycemic Load takes in to account the total carbohydrate value of a food and it’s GI measurement.

It’s calculated by dividing a foods GI by 100 and multiplying by the carbohydrates in grams per serving; all you really need to do is refer to some GL tables as a quick and easy reference for recommended/average servings of commonly eaten foods.

As a quick point to remember, those foods which are heavily processed are more likely to be quite quickly digested and will therefore cause a peak in blood sugar; they will be more heavily branched in terms of the structure of the starch within them! Smile

A good example is bread. A wholemeal, hearty dense loaf of bread will have lower GL per serving when compared with a white or brown wholemeal yeasted loaf which is light and quite soft to the touch.

Or make one….it’s super easy I promise!

By choosing foods which a low GL per serving we can more easily achieve a steady blood sugar level. Blood sugar levels will rise and fall, but the extent to which they do will be less extreme and therefore less taxing on the body. A low GL approach to eating can therefore help reduce sugar cravings, the inevitable “self medicating” with food and the impending weight gain that the cycle is likely to lead to as well as the other diseases, illness and imbalances that blood sugar fluctuations can lead to in the long term (refer back to my previous sugar post!)

A Quick Look at Sweeteners

I’ve had a few people ask me about which forms of sweetener are best, but I suppose as with everything else you have to consider how much of it you’re planning on using.

The Top Sweeteners

Molasses – an acquired taste but a good source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, manganese, chromium, selenium and Vitamin B6!!! Unrefined dark molasses granulated sugar is also a good option just make sure it is actually unrefined and that it hasn’t been dyed.

Barley Malt Syrup and Brown Rice Syrup – two of the best liquid sweeteners. Both have a lesser impact than other liquid sweeteners on blood sugar and in their highest quality pure form retain some nutrients.

Coconut Sugar – The sugar of the moment! It’s low GI (can be used by diabetics) made up primarily of sucrose, has a high mineral content and contains Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. A highlight is the fact that contains up to 36 times the amount of iron in brown sugar!

Stevia/Xylitol – both are good negligible calorie, low GI alternatives derived from natural sources. The benefit of xylitol is that it can be used 1:1 to replace sugar where as Stevia has to be diluted using maltodextrins owing to the fact that it’s between 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar!

Food Combining

It’s also important to consider how eating foods in combination can help reduce the impact they have on your blood sugar levels. This is a whole other chapter for another day; quite literally! The basic principle of eating protein or fat alongside carbohydrates stands true. As protein and fats take longer to digest they will slow down the rate of absorption of the carbohydrates and the impending impact on blood sugar levels will be reduced.

Just on a final note, I don’t recommend that anyone becomes overly dependent on any sort of strict diet that is dependent on figures and calculations; there is simply more to life. Eating a wholefood plant based diet is what works for me. If I’m feeling a little sluggish, sleepy or bloated I know intuitively that I’ve missed out on protein or fat or that perhaps a certain food doesn’t sit well with me. It’s about balance, listening to your body and eating a variety of the most unprocessed naturally bright and beautiful foods you can get your hands on.

What are your thoughts on the GI and GL diets? Is it something you’ve ever tried yourself or is the whole concept new to you? [/donotprint]

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  1. I have dabbled with Glycemic Index… I don’t want to say the word “diet,” but lifestyle, in the past. I have mild hypoglycemia caused by candida, so too many carbs, not enough protein, and the wrong kind of carbs really impacts how I feel. That dizzy, light headed feeling is what I get when I skip over having protein for one of my main meals. I’m supposed to have protein with every meal, but with my limitations it just gets boring!

    This was a great summary of what the GI and GL diets are. Thanks for the brush-up!

    1. Thanks for the feedback! What limitations do you have when it comes to protein? I’m vegan and love incorportating beans and other legumes into dips, spreads and sauces as well as using them in their whole form in curries, soups, pasta dishes and bean burgers! I’m also a big fan of Sunwarrior protein when I feel like I need a little more. Soya beans are 54% protein so if you can get your hands on them their a great plant source. A scoop of nut butter also goes a long way and has about 6grams of protein on average! 🙂

  2. I’ve never looked into GI or GL index in too much depth, but I don’t eat processed or refined foods, so it doesn’t really concern me too much. I don’t function well on too little carbs, especially since I’ve been marathon training the last 5 months, I’ve needed a really high ratio of carbs to fuel my runs. I definitely love my fats and protein too though, and I feel like right now I’m getting a decent ratio of each in as I feel pretty good!

    1. Yep definitely it’s all about balance! And it’s different for everyone. You definitely need lots of carbs for endurance training. In case I forget best of luck for next week!

  3. I liked this 🙂 but isnt the GI a bit confusing since if you have eatin anyting in the last 6 to 8 hours or even if you are eating protein or fats with the carbs the glycemic load of food is dramatically changed and not accurate atall :/

    1. Thanks Matt! The idea being that you shouldn’t go that long without food and it only acts a guide; ideally used for people who have problems with blood sugar or are trying to loose weight. 🙂

  4. Great post! I love the GL “diet”. Once you get used to it it becomes instinct. It guides you to explore other grains, which I find especially helpful in my wheat-free life.

    Just stumbled upon your website; it’s super! I’m a fellow nutrition nerd so props to you for biting the bullet and going to study it 🙂

  5. Great article Michelle, your undogmatic approach is very refreshing! I agree, listen to your body and intuition, don’t get too weighed down by fundamentalist dietary doctrines! Balance and common sense are the keys for me (after all the self-education and nutritional research has been done)…