EatingWell: Aim to eat lower on the glycemic index

EatingWell: Aim to eat lower on the glycemic index

By Dr. Jean Harvey-Berino, Ph.D., R.D., Joyce Hendley, and Rachel Johnson, Ph.D, M.P.H., R.D.

All the carbohydrate foods we eat cause a release of glucose into the bloodstream–and a corresponding rise in insulin–but some raise glucose more than others.

The glycemic index (GI) is a system of ranking foods containing equal amounts of carbohydrate according to how much they raise blood-glucose levels.

Foods with a high GI value tend to cause a higher spike in blood sugar, and because high-GI foods are so quickly metabolized, they tend to make you hungry again sooner. By contrast, lower-GI foods are metabolized more slowly and are believed to keep your appetite on a more even keel.

Most of the so-called “healthy” foods you probably try to eat more of are low on the glycemic scale–like vegetables, whole grains, beans and other high-fiber foods. And the foods with higher glycemic values, like refined grains and sweets, are probably ones you aim to avoid anyway.

Here are five ways to eat lower on the glycemic index every day:

1. Don’t be refined.

Watch your intake of foods and products made with refined grains, such as white bread or white rice, crackers, potatoes and pasta, and choose unrefined (whole-grain) versions of these foods whenever possible.

It’s getting a lot easier; just look at how many whole-grain pastas you can find these days. Try mixing them half and half with their refined counterparts at first, then gradually phase in more whole grains as you become used to them.

2. Fiber up.

Experts recommend that we get 25-30 grams of fiber daily, but most of us barely meet the halfway mark. Aim for that goal, and you’ll also be lowering the glycemic values of your meals by making them move more slowly through your digestive system.

Try reading labels and selecting packaged foods with highest fiber content; leave the peels on vegetables and fruits when they’re edible. Make your default breakfast a high-fiber cereal; shop around to find a brand you like that provides at least 8 grams of fiber per serving.

Try to eat beans, lentils, split peas or other legumes at least three times a week; snack on fiber-rich foods like popcorn, high-fiber crispbreads, and nuts and dried fruits in moderation.

3. Pair with protein.

Whenever you’re eating a carbohydrate-based meal or snack, make sure there’s at least a little protein in the mix–some chicken strips in your pasta bowl or a light smear of peanut butter on your English muffin, for example. Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, so you’ll have a more gradual rise and fall of blood sugar–and you’ll feel fuller longer, too.

4. Drizzle with a little oil.

Fats, like proteins, are broken down into large particles that take a longer time for the body to digest–so adding a little fat to a carbohydrate-rich meal can lessen its glycemic impact considerably. Drizzle bread with a little olive oil; toss carrots with a bit of tasty dressing.

Keep in mind, though, that fat calories add up more than twice as fast as those of protein or carbohydrate–so drizzle judiciously.

5. Double-check.

Curious about the Glycemic Index/Glycemic Load score of your favorite foods? It might be useful–and sometimes eye-opening–to know. So you don’t get bogged down in details, just focus on foods you eat most often, such as breakfast cereal or particular fruits.

Check for a link to an international table of glycemic index and glycemic load values, compiled by researchers at the University of Sydney, Australia, and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

(From “The EatingWell Diet.” Copyright 2007 by Eating Well, Inc. Published by The Countryman Press, P.O. Box 748, Woodstock, VT 05091.)

(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at