A Diabetic's Guide to Understanding Glycemic Index

Published: 17th December 2008
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A Diabetic's Guide to Understanding Glycemic Index

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Diabetics are bombarded with discussion about losing weight and controlling blood sugar by utilizing the glycemic index or glycemic load. But that is of little help if you do not know what a glycemic index is. Most diabetics know that carbohydrates are somehow responsible for their weight gain, and contribute heavily to their blood sugar levels. The glycemic index, and glycemic load make understanding the relationship easy.

All carbohydrates are converted to glucose. The body will use some for energy, store some in muscle tissue and the liver, and preserve the rest in the form of fat. If you are diabetic, that usually is in the abdomen. Carbohydrates are converted at different rates. In other words, different carbs will convert to glucose and enter the bloodstream at different rates, and therefore vary in how much of a blood sugar spike you experience.

The glycemic index is a simple (comparative) method of rating food items, as to how fast they are converted and absorbed; indicating what type of blood sugar spike you can expect. A value of 100 is assigned to pure sugar (glucose or white bread), and all other food items are rated relative to that value. To determine a foods GI (glycemic index), ten healthy individuals are fed 50 grams of the test food item. Each volunteer will have fasted a minimum of 10 hours prior to eating the sample, and no more than 16 hours. Then every 15 to 30 minutes, for several hours, a blood sample will be taken. The data will show how quickly the food item (resulting glucose) enters the blood stream, how high the spike will be, and the rate of drop that follows. The data can be plotted on a mathematical curve and compared to other samples. The area under the curve is calculated. The resulting area is divided by the area for the control substance (glucose or white bread) and then multiplied by 100. The average value for the ten volunteers is then published as the glycemic index for that food item.

Since the average serving size is more representative of what is consumed, a value called the glycemic load has been developed. The glycemic index represents the quality of a food item, but does not take quantity into account. To correctly measure how a food item will affect blood sugar, the amount of that food found in an average serving must be used. For example: if a food item has a glycemic index of 75 (as compared to pure glucose), and the serving size is 6 grams, the resulting value is the glycemic load (the GI is expressed as a decimal = 0.75 X 6 = 4.5). That suggests that that particular food item is likely to spike blood sugar levels about 3/4 of that found in pure glucose.

The higher the glycemic load or index, the faster a food will enter the bloodstream and cause a blood sugar spike. Usually, these are foods that will spike your blood sugar level, then crash, causing drowsiness and listlessness. Likewise, if the food item has a low glycemic index, or load, the slower it will enter the bloodstream, and is less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar.

The glycemic load of common foods can be found in tables published on the internet. If a food item is not listed, it is probably because they haven't found volunteers willing to starve themselves for 10 hours; eat 50 grams of some single substance (like chili powder); and allow blood samples taken every 15 minutes. Different sources will also give a different value for the same item. Likely, the average of the volunteers was different for different studies. The important point to bear in mind is that the concept is still the same. It is recommended that the glycemic loads for everything eaten in one day not exceed a total of 10.

Take note that the word healthy was in bold above. That is an important point. Diabetics will not react to food items the same way a healthy person will. For a diabetic it is very important to use the glycemic index as a guide. The general trends will be basically the same, however due to inflammation, diabetics are frequently more sensitive (have an increased likelihood to have glucose spikes) to some carbohydrates than a health person. Each individual should test various food items to determine his/her sensitivity to that food. Then make meal plans accordingly. Further, it should be noted that no meal consists of only one food item. Therefore, bear in mind that combinations of food items will alter the total for the day.

For related topics do an internet query search on the following articles: "Diabetic's Guide to Modifying the Glycemic Load", "How Excess Body Fat Contributes to Diabetes", " Why Diabetics Struggle with Weight Control", "3 Keys to Diabetic Weight Loss" and " What Diabetic's Should Know About Carbohydrates" www.how-to-take-charge-of-your-diabetes.com

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