What is the glycemic index?
The glycemic index (GI) is a measurement that shows how quickly carbohydrates can raise blood sugar. Glucose has an index of 100 and when we categorize foods, we can find carbohydrates with low (<=55), moderate (55-69) or high glycemic index (>=70).
Knowing about these markers will help us make better decisions when choosing our food, especially when we talk about diabetes.
what are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are sugar molecules. The body breaks them down into glucose and this is the main source of energy for cells. 80% of the glucose is sent to the organs that require it, and 20% will be stored in the liver in the form of glycogen; but when there is an excess of sugar, the hormone called insulin will help it to be stored as fat so that we can use it later. And what happens if we make this hormone overwork? Well, we will end insulin resistance and invite type 2 diabetes.
What are the different types of carbohydrates?
Sugars: they are simple carbohydrates such as sugars like cane sugar, coconut, honey, agave, fruit sugar, milk, and alcohols to give a few examples.
Starches: they are complex carbohydrates such as grains, cereals, and some vegetables such as potatoes and corn.
Fiber: they are also complex carbohydrates (which the body cannot break down for the most part) that help by giving us satiety and preventing constipation and serve as food for our intestinal microbiota.
Now, the glycemic index is also affected by certain factors, such as the ripeness of the fruit, for example, the more ripe it is, the more amount of sugar it will have; processing, for example, if we eat an orange it will take longer to digest and the glucose peak will not be as fast as if we drink a glass of orange juice. And the way of cooking, for example, a rice cooked the day before will reduce its glycemic load.
Now, the Glycemic Load (GL) shows us the effect that a food is going to have on our blood sugar levels and with this the insulin response that it will provoke. This value is calculated by multiplying the GI of the food by the amount of carbohydrates in the serving and dividing it by 100. (Low GL (<=10), moderate GL (10-19) high GL (>=20)).
It's all about balance
Be careful, we cannot go crazy doing these calculations and eating based on addition and multiplication tables, we don't want that eating to be a stressful process at all, that would only damage our relationship with food. But it is good that we know some concepts to choose wisely (food, its forms of consumption and cooking methods) and not fall prey to misleading advertising, in addition. For example, many products are marketed as low glycemic index, but their load ends up being very high and that is what we really care to know.
Watermelon, for example, is often demonized for its high glycemic index (75), but it is made up mostly of water, and only 4% of its composition is carbohydrates, so if we do the math for a portion of 150 grams of watermelon, its glycemic load will be 5.6 which if we review the numbers above, we will see that it has a low GL.
That said, it's not about demonizing food, or living stressed doing mathematical calculations, it's about balance, about nourishing ourselves consciously, making decisions based on complete information, it's about empowering ourselves and taking charge of our health.