Can we still use the GI index as a diet guide?

According to the Glyceamic Index (GI index), Oats are going to help you drop fat much better than Coco Pops. Oats are definitely a healthier option, but in terms of losing fat, should we still be following the GI index to the letter?

GI and your diet

The GI index was developed in the ‘80s to help curb and prevent type 2 diabetes. The idea was score food items with a particular value, in order for them to make good food choices, particularly carbohydrates. When it comes to linking it with diet, the theory states that if there is a surplus of carbs from ‘wrong’ food choices, there will be an abundance of glucose in the body. This leads to an increase in insulin production, which contributes to dizziness, fatigue, and hunger.

Therefore, the aim is to eliminate these carb sources as they digest rapidly, causing fluctuations in insulin and leptin levels (leptin is the anti-hunger hormone). By opting for the lower GI carbs, you slow digestion down, which also releases glucose into the bloodstream much slower. This lengthens the time that your body breaks food down, not only optimising digestion, but also keeping you fuller for longer.

Is this enough though?

There are some flaws with the GI system. The first is that it was developed in the 1980s, so it has become somewhat outdated since nutrient values have shifted. Second, it doesn’t state how much actual sugar is in each type of carb. For example, there are high GI carb sources that raise glucose levels quite rapidly but is actually not high in sugar. The same can be said for some carb sources that are low GI but they are high in sugar. Therefore, there are some cases where GI scores do not accurately reflect good food choices.

A study performed by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that there was no difference in the glucose levels initially following a meal when comparing all bran flakes and corn flakes. This is despite corn flakes having a higher GI score than bran flakes. The only difference is that the glucose level took longer to drop with all bran flakes than corn flakes, giving it the lower GI score.

If not the GI index, then what?

This article is not here to bad mouth the GI diet. It is based on solid scientific ideas and has worked wonders for those looking to prevent type 2 diabetes. It does work. However, when it comes to losing weight, and specifically fat rather than just bodyweight, it is not the only measure. Consider the fact that the GI index was formulated almost 4 decades ago, as well as the fact that nutrient values mean more than GI scores.

There is also the fact that different bodies process carbs differently. Again, this doesn’t mean scratch the GI index completely, just don’t use it as a sole reference point for your diet. Look at foods based on their nutrient values, how much carbs per serving and how much of that is sugar. Take note of the micronutrients they offer as well, vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Sometimes a food item could be higher in its GI score but could yield far better amounts of micronutrients and even less sugar.

Consider the timing of your carb choices as well, you don’t want simple carbs at night time before bed, but they are great in the morning. This is because at night you aren’t going to be moving about so you don’t need that energy whereas in the morning, your body has fasted (hence ‘break-fast’) so it is hungry for nutrients. This is where you can get away with simple carbs because your body will shuttle those nutrients into the muscle before anywhere else.

Furthermore, find ways to slow your digestion down. Eating fibre is the first place to start to help to slow digestion down, as well as drinking cold fluid with your meal. Another great way is to add more protein to your meals, such as adding milk to your cereal. Healthy fats are also a good way to slow things down, such as adding peanut butter to your bread, or just from the spoon. Find other ways to slow it down and prolong the breakdown of carbs into glucose.

The GI index is a good foundation on which to choose good carb sources but it shouldn’t be the only guideline. Keep all of the above-mentioned ideas in mind when it comes to choosing which carb sources to add into your diet, but also look at what carb sources work for you. Some people react differently to the same carb source so it is also a trial and error basis to find out exactly which carb works best for you.

Author: Rob De Wit

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