Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Type 2 Diabetes and the Glycemic Index

There are a lot of buzzwords pertaining to health and nutrition and one that I am very familiar with is Glycemic Index. It is being touted on T.V. by many diet programs out there. They say, “Yes! You can eat carbs, just the good ones...” Anyone who has heard of or followed the Atkin’s Diet might believe there are no good carbs. Just like someone else may think there are no good fats. The truth is that there are different kinds of both. When diabetes enters the picture, you find that you must be aware of the carbs on an immediate basis. The fats, for you, are more of a long-term risk because of complications that can arise for people with diabetes.

So what is the Glycemic Index? It is a periodic table of sorts that list the measure of effect that a certain food will have on blood glucose. It rates things from highest to lowest. When you are trying to manage diabetes with diet you are going to want to avoid things that are high on the index and stick mostly to things that are lower. The surprise comes when foods you traditionally didn’t think of as “sugary” end up being very high on the list.

I’ll never forget when one person was in with the nutritionist after being diagnosed with Type 2 and they were asked, “What do you typically eat for breakfast?” The answer was a bagel and a fruit smoothie. To their dismay they found out that bagels carry twice the carbohydrate recommended for that meal and so did the smoothie.  Although claiming to be “healthy” it was the worst thing for a person with diabetes. So they learned to make better choices.

Another good friend who has known about Atkin’s  for years was surprised to find out that carrots were rather low on the Index. Many others who believe they should just be staying away from “Sweets” are shocked to find out how high potatoes, breads, and rice rank. Basically you will find that things that are more processed will rank higher than the whole foods  and things with natural sugars in them rank higher naturally. For example white rice, white bread, white flour, white sugar, all rank higher than whole grains, particularly oat, or even popcorn. Tropical fruits tend to rank higher than apples and strawberries are lower still.

The science behind the Glycemic Index is this: things that break down more quickly into the blood stream as glucose rate higher than things that take longer to break down. This is where the terms simple and complex carbohydrates come in. Don’t forget, though,  that most everything we eat breaks down into glucose eventually. It is the body’s basic form of fuel and only that which isn’t used is then turned to fat and stored. The more complex foods trickle in and don’t raise blood sugars inordinately all at one time.

There is another factor that comes in to it, though, and that is called the Glycemic Load. Your blood sugars are affected by the rating of the food and also the volume of that food. The glycemic load is a formulation to figure how much blood glucose will be affected by eating, let’s say,  4 baby carrots versus eating 12. Portions you eat are as significant as what you eat. This becomes more of a factor for us as we deal with insulin therapy and, in particular, pump therapy.

In sum, the Glycemic Index is a very real way to help maintain good blood glucose readings and is more helpful than reading labels and carb-counting alone. You can find a listing of it online through various sources as well as a full accounting of Glycemic load.

Two such sites you might want to try are:

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