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Your guide to finding low GI foods to keep your blood sugar stable
Harvard Medical School's Healthbeat explains that the glycemic index (GI) of a food is a measure of how a specific food with carbohydrates causes blood sugar to rise. It is given as a number compared to the effect on your blood sugar of eating either glucose (a type of sugar) or white bread, according to research published in the journal Diabetes Care.
When you eat a food or beverage containing carbohydrates, your body breaks down the carbs into a type of sugar called glucose. The glucose goes into your bloodstream and causes your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels to rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Compared to low-glycemic foods, high-glycemic foods lead to a quicker and greater spike in blood sugar levels. These spikes are considered unhealthy for a few reasons.
- They raise your average blood glucose levels.
- They place a higher demand for insulin on your body.
- They lead to more dramatic dips in blood glucose after the spike, potentially causing hunger, carbohydrate cravings, and weakness.
A low-GI diet and meal plan can help you avoid the blood sugar roller coaster, but the GI is not on the nutrition label of most foods. Instead, you will probably to look at a list of the GI of foods. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, following are several low-glycemic foods.
- Dried apricots
- Under-ripe banana
- Green peas
- Greens (spinach, kale, collards, beet)
- Green beans
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Peppers (bell peppers, jalapenos, serrano, etc.)
- Zucchini and crookneck squash
- Snow peas
Glycemic Index, Weight Loss, and Health
Can a low-GI diet help you lose weight? Yes, but only if you are careful. Any diet can help you lose weight if you use it to limit calories.
To lose weight on a low-GI diet:
- Choose healthy, filling low-GI carbs, such as vegetables, beans, low-fat dairy, berries, and whole grains.
- Include lean proteins, such as tofu, chicken, fish, and eggs, and healthy fats, such as nuts, avocados, and olive oil.
- Include nutritious "no-GI" foods (lean proteins and healthy fats).
- Limit low-nutrition high-GI foods such as sweets, sugary beverages, and refined starches. Beware of low-GI foods that are high-calorie and low-nutrition, such as pizza and ice cream.
- Whole wheat kernels
- All-bran and Fiber One cereals
- Oat bran and rice bran cereals
- Whole grain pasta
- Lasagna with meat and/or cheese, ravioli, tortellini, and other stuffed pasta
- Whole-grain pumpernickel bread
- Sourdough bread
- Wheat tortilla
Low-Glycemic Dairy Products and Dairy-Substitute Products
- Skim, low-fat, and whole milk
- Plain yogurt
- Cheese (cheddar, swiss, mozzarella, brie, feta, blue, goat, etc.)
- Cottage cheese
- Ricotta cheese
- Soy milk and yogurt
- Beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, navy beans, etc.)
- Lima beans
- Split peas, black-eyed peas
- Edamame and roasted soybeans
- Bean dip
- Tofu and soy-based meat substitutes
Guessing the Glycemic Index
What if you do not know the glycemic index of a food? That could happen if food has not have been measured or if you do not have time to check its GI before you eat it.
You cannot know for sure, but the GI tends to be lower when:
- It is less processed. Whole grains are often lower-GI than refined, whole fruit is lower-GI than fruit juice, and raw carrots are lower-GI than cooked.
- It is higher in fiber, protein, and/or fat, and lower in sugar and refined starch.
- It is raw. For example, raw carrots are lower-GI than cooked, and al dente pasta is lower-GI than well-cooked.
- Ripeness. A soft, ripe banana has a higher-GI than a firmer, less ripe one.
When you cannot get the GI for a food, going with your gut is usually a smart choice. You cannot go wrong when you eat foods that you know are healthy, limit junk food, and keep portions in check.
Low-Glycemic Nuts and Seeds
- Nuts (walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, etc.)
- Peanut butter
- Nut butter
- Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flax, etc.)
- Dark chocolate and 100% (unsweetened) chocolate
- Chili with beans
- Sandwich on whole-grain bread with meat/tuna/cheese and vegetables
- Peanut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread
- Burrito with beans, cheese, guacamole, salsa, and lettuce on whole-wheat tortilla
- Soups with protein and vegetables
- Salads with vegetables and beans, cheese, chicken, tuna, dressing, and/or nuts
Low-Glycemic, Less-Nutritious (Limit These)
- Snickers bar
- Banana bread
- Egg rolls
Medium/High-Glycemic Nutritious Foods (Enjoy in Moderation)
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole-grain bread
- Butternut, acorn, and other winter squash
- Shredded wheat and many whole-grain breakfast cereals (choose unsweetened)
- Brown rice (avoid white rice)
Carb-Free and Very Low-Carb Foods (Very Low GI)
- Chicken, turkey, and other poultry
- Eggs and egg whites
- Fish and shellfish
- Beef, pork, and other meat
- Olive oil, canola oil, and other oils
- Butter, shortening, and lard
Low-Glycemic May Not Mean Healthy (and Vice Versa)
The GI is only one way to assess a food. Lower-GI often means healthier, but not always. For example:
- You can lower the GI of a slice of bread by spreading it with butter. That is not healthy!
- Boiled potatoes are high-GI and French fries are lower, but fries are not healthy!
- Oatmeal and pumpkin are high-GI, but they are rich in healthy antioxidants and fiber.
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