Lose Weight & Beat The Blood Sugar Blues – Understand The Glycemic Index

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Have you ever felt like you were going to pass out and die – or at the very least throw up – if you didn’t get some food into your system immediately?

If so, you probably struggle with blood sugar dips or hypoglycemia. The symptoms are many: you could feel nauseous, irritable or even slightly dizzy. Your head feels fuzzy, it appears that your brain has ceased to function, and you may feel like you are starving – even though you’ve eaten just a few hours earlier.

Both of my daughters and I suffer from this syndrome, and poor Rosie actually begins to channel one of those roaring evil Disney queens when her blood sugar dips too low. My solution has always been to make sure we have some snacks available for those moments when a real meal is not immediately available.

But it turns out that all snacks are not created equal. Who knew? Obviously a handful of almonds is healthier than a pop tart, but I’ve learned that even a few saltines could exacerbate the problem.

Balance That Blood Sugar

Everyone’s blood glucose levels dip several hours after eating, but some of us unfortunate souls don’t handle it as well. I’ll leave it to the more scientific articles to explain exactly why this might be so. But you don’t need science to know if you or someone you care about gets those “blood sugar blues.”

All you need is to be even just slightly tuned in to your body. Hmmm, feel like crap right now. Hmmm, haven’t eaten in a while – and what was it that I last ate?

It was a real breakthrough for me to discover that coffee and a scone was just about the worst breakfast I could eat. The resulting blood sugar spike felt great – for about an hour. The subsequent plunge felt like an evil plot to set me up for a day of binge eating and frustration as I swung between falling asleep at my desk and wanting to jump up and jog around the block.

I’ve learned to manage my own blood sugar levels (and taught my daughters to do so) by including protein in my meals and snacks, and minimizing sugary foods. (And I still swear by keeping a packet of nuts or crackers in my purse for those emergencies.)

But I’m now starting to pay attention to how foods rate on the Glycemic Index. It’s a numerical scale that is used to show how fast or how high specific foods will raise blood sugar levels. When I began to look into this I learned that controlling blood sugar levels does more than just stabilize mood and energy level.

Why The Glycemic Index Matters

I knew that maintaining a moderate blood sugar level was helpful for maintaining a healthy weight. But studies are showing that it also can prevent heart disease and some cancers, help cholesterol levels, and lower your chances for insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.

There’s a lot of information out there on the Glycemic Index – and as with all health information some of it is conflicting. But the concensus appears to be that foods that rate above 65-70 on the GI chart are considered high, medium GI foods rate about 56-69, and low is anything 55 and under.

The lower the rating on the glycemic index, the better the specific food. At least when you’re trying to moerate your blood sugar levels.

Glycemic Index charts and food lists vary some. But it’s surprising to see how high some “healthy” foods rate (bananas, pineapple, potatoes), and how low others are that would seem  poor fit in a wellness diet (beer and wine for one). I’ll let you research the specifics on your own. You can start here or here, both of these sources seem reputable and include a wide variety of foods.

And here you can plug in a particular food you are wondering about and find its rating on the glycemic index. You can also find a list of foods within a specific GI range. Just click on the ‘glycemic index database’ in left column.

It’s a little bit of a weird database though, in my opinion, because it lists a lot of junk foods. When I typed in the word “cherry,” actual raw cherries did not pop up. I had to type in “cherries” (which incidentally, according to this database, have a rather high GI of 67).

That said, the site does give a lot of interesting background information on the glycemic index.

Not A Perfect Solution

If you delve into this at all you will discover that the ratings of foods can vary quite a bit. This does not discount the validity of the science – it just is an indication of how difficult it is to measure the sugar content of natural foods.

For example oranges are sometimes listed as high and sometimes as moderate. This is probably due to the way the sugar content can vary depending on when a fruit was picked, where it was grown, the weather during the season, and many other factors.

Scientists also use different methods for computing glycemic index. One standard gave subjects a carefully controlled amount of glucose to establish a baseline response. Now some researchers use white bread as a standard of comparison. (I don’t get it either, but it must be scientifically correct.) These two methods result in slightly different ratings for various foods.

All this might make you throw up you hands and say, Oh, forget it! But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If you’re looking to stabilize your blood sugar levels, an awareness of the glycemic index can be a valuable tool.

Some experts recommend that folks with hypoglycemia or other blood sugar issues stick with foods with a GI of lower than 40. That seems a bit extreme to me.

To be honest, I don’t post a GI chart in my kitchen or follow it religiously – but I do try to keep it in mind when planning meals and snacks.

After all, no one can argue the established truth that a diet consisting of whole unprocessed foods will lead you to an overall healthier body, greater well being, and a stabilized weight. If you don’t struggle with blood sugar swings, then you probably don’t have to worry as much about the glycemic index rating of the foods you eat.

But – if you suffer from either diabetes, pre-diabetes, or hypoglycemia with the attendant blood sugar spikes and dips, then you might want to check out the GI of some common foods – and eliminate  or greatly reduce those with a higher number, while emphasizing those that have a nice low glycemic index.

Bottom line:  I don’t think this is something to get too obsessed with unless you deal with severe blood sugar issues. Rather, it’s a good tool to keep in mind when planning meals and snacks. Accompany a high GI food with lower GI foods (for example, add a handful of nuts or a cube of cheese to that bowl of cherries.) That way you are balancing out the overall glycemic index of the foods you are consuming in a sitting.

Bon appétit!

Do you pay attention to the glycemic index? What food guidelines help you stay energized and balanced? Tell us in the comment section below.


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5 Responses to Lose Weight & Beat The Blood Sugar Blues – Understand The Glycemic Index

  1. Those GI charts make me crazy, Sarah. The values you come across vary from chart to chart, book to book and from specialist to specialist. I don’t have this problem, but my sister does. (I’ll be sending this article to her, by the way.) And I know how she has struggled to find information that was both accurate and sensible.

    What I like the most about your article is this part:

    “No one can argue the established truth that a diet consisting of whole unprocessed foods will lead you to an overall healthier body, greater well being, and a stabilized weight.”

    I think this nails the whole thing down. I think this is really sane and dependable advice to follow.

    Thank you!

    • Thanks C.A. I agree – that sentence is the real key to anyone looking to eat healthy so they can look and feel their best.
      It’s true that different web sites, books, etc. seem to list different glycemic index ratings for the same foods. Very confusing! In fact, after I wrote that about cherries I came across another chart that gave them a low rating of 23! In these cases it all gets back to listening to your body and your inner knowing I think. But it’s good to understand all the different tools that are available when evaluating our food choices.

  2. Great article! I think balancing out the blood sugar is one of the most important things that one can do to acheive better health, lose weight, increase energy levels, and probably avoid most degenerative disease.

    It’s worth the effort to figure out how to eat this way.

    • I agree. And this is just one tool to help folks to achieve the goal of more balanced blood sugar.

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