Diabesity Challenge Tip: Eat Low-Glycemic Carbohydrates

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Filed Under: Diabetes, Weight Loss, Blood Sugar
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

According to conventional wisdom, carbohydrates are lumped into two main categories: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are so named because they contain only one or two simple sugars, such as sucrose or fructose. Starchy carbohydrates, comprised of long chains of sugars, are considered complex.

The old school of thought figures simple carbs are bad and should only be eaten in limited quantities, while complex carbs are given carte blanche since, in theory, they have less of an impact on blood sugar levels.

Turns out, it’s much more complicated than this. We now know that the effect carbohydrate foods have on blood sugar goes far beyond the old simple-complex model.

Starchy complex carbohydrates such as potatoes and rice rapidly drive up blood sugar levels like “simple” carbs, while the blood sugar effects of “complex” grains are dependent on factors such as particle size. For example, whole oats behave quite differently than instant oatmeal. This is why a preferred method of evaluating carbohydrate foods based on the glycemic index has evolved.

The glycemic index measures the degree to which carbohydrate-containing foods trigger a rise in blood sugar levels. (Proteins and fat have little effect on blood sugar.)

Foods that are low glycemic provoke smaller, more sustained elevations and provide a nice, steady supply of glucose and energy. Foods that are high glycemic, however, prompt rapid blood sugar spikes, followed by equally dramatic plummets.

Hundreds of studies on the effects of a low glycemic diet have been conducted, most of them focused on diabetes. One typical study, a meta-analysis of clinical trials involving more than 350 diabetic patients, revealed that a low glycemic diet improved both long- and short-term management of blood sugar levels. But eating low glycemic carbs has other benefits as well.

A large, multi-year study by Harvard researchers found that overweight women who ate a high glycemic diet were twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease as their thinner counterparts who consumed low glycemic foods.

High glycemic diets are also linked to increased risk of diabetes, gallbladder disease, and elevations in triglycerides, cholesterol, and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation implicated in a number of diseases).

The glycemic load of a food also plays a key role in weight loss. Several published studies have demonstrated that when people eat low glycemic foods, they feel full longer and end up eating less.

Lighten Your Load

At the Whitaker Wellness Institute, we strive to lighten our patient’s glycemic load. Our chef serves only low glycemic carbohydrates. This includes lots of salads, green vegetables, beans, and legumes. We also cut out almost all starches, and for sweet treats we opt for fruit and rare desserts made with low glycemic natural sweeteners, such as stevia and xylitol.

Of course, you can’t let the idea of “low glycemic” lull you into overeating: You still need to be mindful of calories and portion control.

In addition to healthy carbs, the Whitaker Wellness dietary program also includes modest amounts of healthy fats and moderate portions of protein with each meal. This aids in blood sugar control for our patients with diabetes and also helps with weight loss.

A study conducted at the University of Illinois confirmed that a protein-rich diet, in conjunction with exercise, is more effective at reducing body fat than a diet low in calories alone.

I’ve personally taken this research to heart: One of my favorite meals is a hearty salad with a nice piece of salmon on top. It’s an easy way to get a tasty serving of healthy fats, plenty of protein, and lots of low glycemic carbs.

This week, focus on eating low glycemic at lunch and dinner, and work to continue this style of eating as you continue your weight loss journey. Have another great week and keep up with the program…it works!
 

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