The Glycemic Index

Carbohydrates are basically sugar and exist in your bloodstream as glucose which serves as the primary source of energy for the body. For the carbohydrates you eat to be used by your body they need to be transformed into energy fuel through digestion and absorption. After the carbohydrates are absorbed, they are further transported to the liver where they are converted into glucose before being released into the bloodstream. The resultant glucose is either sent directly to the organs that need energy, is transformed into glycogen for storage in the liver or muscles, or is converted to and stored as fat.

The rate at which glucose is released into the bloodstream as an energy source is what is referred to as the Glycemic Index (GI). Essentially, the GI is a numerical scale which shows how specific carbohydrate-containing foods affect the blood sugar level after the process of digestion and absorption by the digestive system. The GI shows that the higher the Glycemic Index of a specific carbohydrate, the higher the amount of glucose it releases into the bloodstream and consequently the higher the production of insulin.

Due to the fact that all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (pure sugar) and since it serves as the body’s primary energy fuel, glucose is therefore used as a benchmark and given a Glycemic Index of 100. All other carbohydrates are given a rating value between 1 and 100 relative to that of glucose. High GI foods have a value between 70 and 100; moderate GI foods have values between 56 and 69; and low GI foods have values that are 55 and below.

While acknowledging that there is presently no standardized Glycemic Index as at yet, most of the available indexes nonetheless show a consistency in the order of carbohydrate-containing foods. Therefore to get the best results, a carb gram counter is often used in conjunction with the Glycemic Index. The differences in the indexes are mostly as a result of several factors amongst which are, the choice of reference food, the timing of the blood sampling, or the computational method used in calculating the Glycemic Index.

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A slow release of glucose into the bloodstream makes it easier to maintain a stable blood sugar level which also keeps insulin production to a minimum. This is the ideal situation for achieving long term fat loss benefits since a higher insulin production level will promote the storage of fat. This is because too much glucose in the bloodstream will cause three very important fat-related processes to take place which are as follows: a) The body switches to the excess glucose in the bloodstream as its major source of energy fuel; b) The switch to carbohydrate basically stops any fat burning process; and c) There is an increase in the conversion of carbohydrate and its storage into fat.

While the aforementioned might indicate that low Glycemic Index carbohydrate-containing foods should become the emphasis of most of your diets, there are however other factors that need to be taken in consideration to be able to achieve long term weight loss benefits.

Some of the factors than can affect the Glycemic Index of a carbohydrate-containing food include such issues as ripeness, particle size, the nature or chemical composition, degree of processing and preparation.

Chemical Composition

Carbohydrates used to be simply classified as either being just simple or complex based on their chemical structure. Simple carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour were thought to instantly send glucose into your bloodstream faster than complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, whole grains and fruits did. This over simplified view of carbohydrates however failed to predict the impact of the specific carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. The Glycemic Index however helps to unravel this "simple or complex" carb paradox. Carbohydrates that are primarily made up of glucose molecules – including complex carbohydrates – and that have just little quantity of fiber, protein or fat generally have a high Glycemic Index.

Amount of Fiber, Protein, and Fat

The constituent amount of fiber, protein, and fat in carbohydrate-containing food or even your meal portion generally plays a role in your overall blood sugar level. Fats help to lower the GI by practically slowing down the passage of food through the digestive system – the slower the pace of movement, the slower the effective absorption rate of the carbohydrates in the system.

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Fiber – and more particularly soluble fiber – when present in a food or meal portion has the ability to slow down the absorption rate of carbohydrates by essentially "diluting the carbohydrate" which results in a slower absorption thereby lowering its Glycemic Index. Soluble fiber is generally considered great for lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood sugar levels and reducing hunger between meals and there is truly ideal for effective weight loss. However, fat causes virtually no blood sugar level increase all by itself just as does protein by itself does very little to increase it.

Degree of Processing and Preparation

The way in which a carbohydrate-containing food is cooked and prepared also influences its absorption rate. When overcooked, the GI of a carbohydrate food increases significantly due to the breakup of the compact strands of glucose molecules. This makes for less digestion time resulting into faster absorption into the bloodstream. The longer the cooking time, the more quickly absorbable the carbohydrate becomes.

Likewise, the method of preparation of the carbohydrate-containing food also affects how quickly it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Foods that have been mashed or pounded into finer forms have a faster absorption rate than when eaten whole.

Therefore, choosing your carbohydrates from the lower end of the Glycemic Index is essential for achieving lasting weight loss gains. There is also the need to understand that eating a balanced meal – comprising of carbohydrates, protein and fat – help you to more effectively control your blood sugar level. This is because as earlier mentioned, the protein, fat as well as fiber help to slow the absorption rate of the carbohydrates thus lowering the Glycemic Index.

Also try to consciously eat weight-loss-friendly, lower-glycemic gains and starchy foods instead of white rice, pasta, muffins and chips which make you get hungry before you know it and start putting on weight. Lastly, and of major importance, is the portion size of the meal itself and the carbohydrate-density of the foods.