It’s official: Counting calories is out, keeping an eye on the glycemic index (GI) is in. But what exactly does that mean? Do low GI foods help you lose weight? Are they good for reducing your risk of developing chronic health conditions? We've got all the answers to your GI questions here, including experts' recommendations for easily working more low GI foods into your diet.
What are low glycemic foods?
What exactly is the GI? The glycemic index is a way of ranking foods based on how quickly the carbohydrates they contain enter your bloodstream — and how much they affect your blood sugar. In a nutshell, the lower a food’s GI, the easier it is for your body to process it. And here’s the kicker: Canadian researchers have discovered that women lose up to 60 percent more weight — while doubling their energy levels — when they focus on eating low GI foods instead of counting calories.
Plus, eating low GI foods can do more for your body than just aid in speedier weight loss. Low GI foods help cut the risk of major health woes — including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes — in half. That's another very good reason to increase the amount of foods you choose from the low GI foods list. But what's on the list? Let's take a look!
Are noodles a low GI food?
Depends on how you cook them! Eating firmer veggies and al dente noodles is a way to lower your GI. Opt for tender, still-crisp veggies over mushy ones and al dente pasta over soft to cut a meal’s GI in half, University of Sydney studies suggest. When these foods are cooked lightly, their carbs take longer to digest, so they don’t cause sudden blood-sugar surges, the studies' authors explained.
Are potatoes a low GI food?
Just as with noodles and veggies, you'll be in luck if you make sure to cook your potatoes the right way! If you microwave or boil your potatoes, you’ll be eating a high-GI food that can cause a pretty major blood-sugar spike. Instead, serve those potatoes baked to cut your meal’s GI by as much as 30 percent. Potatoes are packed with fiber, which stalls the absorption of carbs — but microwaving and boiling break down a lot of that fiber, sabotaging its ability to keep carb absorption in check, says nutritionist Nikki Goldbeck, C.D.N., coauthor of American Wholefoods Cuisine ($22, Amazon).
Is chocolate a low GI food?
If you’re often hit with diet-sabotaging sugar cravings, try taming them with an ounce or two of dark or milk chocolate daily. Although this truly delicious treat tastes sweet, its glycemic index is up to 50 percent lower than that of other candies. The reason: Chocolate contains stearic acid, a unique kind of fat that actually stalls the absorption of sugars.
Master the list of low GI carbs.
When it comes to carbs, the coarser, the better, says Goldbeck. Choose long-cooking oats (which aren’t as finely ground as instant), orange juice with pulp, and whole-grain breads that contain crunchy seeds or bran. You’ll slow carb absorption, improving your blood-sugar control as much as 30 percent, say UCLA researchers.
Check out where your favorite foods stand on the glycemic index.
When planning your meals, take a glance at where your favorite foods stand on the glycemic index (GI). For a free online GI rating of a selection of common food items, check out this list from the American Diabetes Association on Harvard Medical School's website.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.