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It's all about the glycemic index

Diabetic’s lives often revolve around carbs; counting them, avoiding them, cursing them (you all know what I mean). It’s a love/hate relationship. But how do we know what carbs we can and can’t eat? What are “good carbs” and what are “bad carbs”?

Carbohydrates are usually classified as simple and complex (depending on the # of sugar molecules they possess). We have all been told, stay away from simple sugars!!! Why? Because it is commonly believed that complex carbohydrates such as rice and potatoes will raise BGs more slowly than simple carbohydrates such as fruit and candy. Although this may be true at times, growing data has been contradicting this notion. Certain studies have shown that post-meal glucose response to white bread and white potatoes (complex carbs) is quite similar to the body’s BG response to pure glucose (simple carbs). Because of this, carbohydrates are now classified into the glycemic index, a measurement of specific foods based on their effect on BGs. This is done by measuring the glycemic effect of a specific food and comparing it to another food (usually pure glucose). That food is then provided a number on the glycemic index (GI). Low GI foods include values <55, medium GI foods 56-69, and high GI foods >70. The higher the GI number, the quicker the carb is absorbed, and therefore the faster it raises BG levels.

There is direct correlation between rate of carb absorption and increased caloric intake as well as an inverse relationship to satiety (feeling of fullness). Consequently, the glycemic index has become very important regarding weight control. Low GI foods promote earlier satiety and therefore a lower caloric intake. Additionally, a diet excessive in high GI foods has been associated with the development of type 2 diabetes, increased insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Switching from a high GI diet to a low GI diet has not only shown a reduction in BGs, but has also been shown to improve insulin secretion by the pancreas!

The GI can be a very useful tool! For instance, hypoglycemia should always be treated with a high GI food (glucose). Treatment with a low GI food (milk) will delay symptom relief. A low GI food may be better for preventing nocturnal hypoglycemia or hypos during prolonged exercise. Also, if you are consistently high after your morning cereal, you might consider switching to a lower glycemic index cereal or cutting out cereal all together. If you enjoy fruit, berries have a fairly low GI and therefore will do much less BG damage than, say watermelon (high GI). These are just a few examples of how the GI can help you manage your DM through diet. Not all carbs are the same!

I discovered the GI when I was in the 5th grade and found out that an apple increased my BG quicker than a snickers bar (who would’ve thought)!? I did a science project on it where I ate different foods and then tested by blood sugar after 2 hrs. I compared my BG to my non-diabetic friends and then compared the foods to each other. Above is a pic of my science board.

Try looking up your foods on the glycemic index! It’s very easy to find on the internet. Have fun!

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