UNDERSTANDING THE GLYCEMIC INDEX AND ITS ROLE IN BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS
- October 24, 2014
The growing incidence of a number of chronic diseases can be linked to badly managed blood sugar levels. Research suggests, for instance, that the occurrence of type II diabetes is a direct result of improper blood sugar levels. A link has also been established between high blood sugar levels and diseases such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and heart disease.
A traditional balanced diet, consisting of whole grains and vegetables along with a moderately active lifestyle would normally help individuals avoid blood sugar related diseases. However, with a growing consumption of processed foods and an inclination towards a sedentary and stressful lifestyle, there is a sharp increase in our susceptibility to “lifestyle” diseases – an increase attributed to improper management of blood sugar.
The Glycemic Index
Given the importance of managing blood sugar levels, understanding the impact of different foods on blood sugar is important. One way of measuring the impact of a particular food on blood sugar is the through Glycemic Index (GI).
On the Glycemic Index, pure glucose is given a benchmark value of 100, and foods are graded from 0 to 100 based on the increase in blood sugar that they cause, with 100 being the maximum.
Ideally, a diet should contain a large portion of low GI foods, and a limited amount of high GI foods. Studies have shown that the regular consumption of high GI foods increases the risk of Type II Diabetes, as well as resistance to insulin.
High GI foods cause blood sugar to rise quickly, leading to an increased release of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin increases the uptake of sugar by cells, and causes blood sugar to drop. A sudden spike in blood sugar through high GI foods often provides an initial elevation in energy levels and mood, but is quickly reversed once insulin carries out its function.
A spike in blood sugar, and subsequently insulin, increases fat storage and is especially dangerous for diabetics, who are unable to efficiently reduce blood sugar levels.
One way to manage blood sugar levels is to choose foods based on their glycemic index. For example, white rice (with a high GI value of approximately 70) causes a sudden rise in blood sugar due to its high starch content. Whole wheat on the other hand, has a low GI value of approximately 35, which is attributed to higher fibre content and more complex carbohydrates.
Another means of managing blood sugar levels is to increase consumption of fibre rich foods. Dietary fibre is not metabolized and has no impact on blood sugar, and due to its fundamental characteristics of absorbing water and increasing the mass of food, slows down the absorption of sugar through the intestine. This leads to a gradual increase in blood sugar, even in the presence of otherwise high GI foods.
There is a vast body of evidence that suggests that the addition of high fibre foods to a normal diet helps manage blood sugar levels.For example, a study carried out in Chennai, India found that incorporating purified fenugreek fibre into common foods, such as Rotis and Idlis, led to a significant decrease in impact of these foods on blood sugar. Chronic conditions caused due to high blood sugar are generally complicated, and require medical intervention and significant dietary changes. As most of these diseases are often incurable, the costs of treatment, as well as the sacrifices to be made to one’s lifestyle are significant.
To sum up, exercising dietary control by limiting the consumption of high GI food or by adding foods with high fibre content in one’s diet is an easy and cost effective way of avoiding complications that can arise from improperly managed blood sugar levels.