Springing into Shape with the GI

Summer is fast approaching and along with it comes bikini season. Many people who spent the winter hibernating, wearing bulky clothes and eating “comfort” foods are suddenly faced with the prospect of donning their shorts and bathing suits. The desire to shed that winter weight oftentimes overrules our common sense, as people resort to fad diets and unsafe or ineffective dietary supplements to achieve a quick fix. Luckily, we have a new tool in our arsenal against the battle of the bulge – it’s called the Glycemic Index.

You may have heard of the Glycemic Index, or the GI, as it is has become one of the hottest dieting trends. However, following a low GI diet is not a fad diet at all but rather a healthy way of eating that can support weight loss, increase your energy and vitality, and in the long-term, reduce your risk of diabetes and other chronic health problems. The GI is a scientifically-proven tool that can help guide people to make better food choices. And, while it does not offer a quick weight loss fix, following a low-GI diet and taking clinically-proven dietary supplements that help balance blood sugar levels, can help you slim down and revitalize for summer.

Introduced by a Canadian researcher in the 1980s, the GI is a system of ranking all forms of carbohydrates on a scale of zero to one hundred on how they affect blood sugar levels and consequently insulin levels. Foods that are broken down into sugar more slowly during digestion and do not cause sudden blood sugar spikes are ranked low on the GI and provide sustained energy for the body. Examples of low-GI foods include green leafy vegetables, most beans, apples, pears and berries, oat bran and pumpernickel bread, brown rice and pasta, plain yogurt, and dark chocolate. Foods that are rapidly broken down into blood sugar, causing sudden blood sugar spikes are ranked high on the GI and only provide bursts of energy followed by periods of fatigue. Examples of high-GI foods include refined white flour products including white bread, bagels and crackers, baked potatoes and French fries, white rice, sugar-rich candy and soda pop, and most pastries and donuts.

Even if you don’t have diabetes, improving blood sugar control may be the key to solving persistent weight problems. Blood sugar and its impact on the hormone insulin are intimately connected to your appetite, food cravings, energy levels and storage of body fat. When blood sugar (or blood glucose) rises after a meal, the body produces insulin to transport that glucose into the cells where it is used as fuel for energy. Eating high-GI meals causes blood sugar to rise rapidly. When blood sugar and insulin levels are high, the body stores more fat, particularly around the belly. In response to high blood sugar the pancreas overproduces insulin causing blood sugar levels to drop low. When blood sugar is low we feel tired and sleepy and have more cravings (that notorious sugar-fix) and greater appetite.

Continually eating high-GI foods can cause blood sugar and insulin levels to dramatically fluctuate through the day and this can reduce your body’s sensitivity to insulin, a problem known as insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance is the precursor to Type 2 diabetes – a condition that is becoming all too common today. High GI diets can also raise triglycerides and cholesterol, which are factors that can increase the risk of heart disease.

This is a vicious circle that traps us in a cycle of unhealthy food cravings and fat storage, but it can be stopped with a low-GI diet.

While a high-GI diet causes blood sugar fluctuations that trigger fatigue, hunger and food cravings, low-GI foods break down more slowly into sugar so they promote more stable blood sugar and offer the body sustained energy throughout the day. Getting off the blood sugar roller-coaster will help you feel more energized, promote the utilization of fat for energy, and decrease your appetite and food cravings, especially for high-GI foods.

In order to achieve weight-loss success and improved blood sugar control, you need to develop a comprehensive strategy. Set manageable goals for yourself and stay focused on the long-term health benefits rather than rapid weight loss. The first step is to learn the difference between low and high GI foods. Aside from those mentioned in this article, you can visit: www.glycemicindex.com for a comprehensive listing of foods and their GI rating. As much as possible, choose low or moderate GI foods and avoid high-GI foods.  Here are some other points to consider

  • Eat lots of vegetables and choose whole-grains (brown bread/pasta/rice) over refined and processed products
  • Stock your cupboard with low-GI items such as beans, nuts/seeds, and low-GI cereals and snack bars.
  • To satisfy a sweet craving, go for fresh fruit (berries, apples, pears) or dark chocolate.
  • Add cinnamon to your cereals or breakfast shakes as it has been shown to help improve the action of insulin to promote better blood sugar control.
  • Always include a lean protein and healthy fat in every meal, since that also helps lower the glycemic impact of a meal.
  • For optimal energy and blood sugar control, eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.
  • Enjoy a wide variety of different foods but be aware of portion size. Overeating and consuming more than your body needs can lead to weight gain.
  • Alcohol is loaded with empty calories, so limit your intake to no more than two glasses per day (red wine is best because of the antioxidants).

While the GI can help you spring into shape, there are two elements that should be included to your weight management program: regular exercise and smart supplements.

Exercise is absolutely critical for weight loss and optimum health. Studies have shown that regular exercise can enhance calorie-burning, reduce fat storage and improve blood sugar control. Aim for 30 minutes to 1 hour of moderate intensity activity each day, such as walking, playing tennis, biking or dancing. Studies have shown that the benefits of exercise are cumulative so if you don’t have an hour to spare, try building more activity into your daily activities, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing housework or gardening with vim and vigor, or walking or riding your bike to your destination. Consider doing exercise with a friend, vary your activities to include new and exciting forms of activity such as indoor rock climbing, badminton and belly dancing, and most importantly, have fun. The more active you can be every day, the better you will feel and the easier it will become to find time to exercise.

Certain nutritional supplements can offer significant benefits and provide much-needed support for weight loss. The right supplement can help control blood sugar, neutralize carbohydrates, prevent fat storage, boost metabolism and curb your appetite. As a pharmacist, my number one criterion for dietary supplements is whether or not it has undergone clinical studies. There are a handful of quality supplements that clinical studies have shown to offer various benefits.  They include:

  • Phase 2 is a standardized extract derived from the white kidney bean that promotes weight loss and improves glycemic control by neutralizing ingested starches. In clinical studies, Phase 2 has been shown to lower blood sugar levels after a meal, reducing the amount of starch absorbed from starchy meals and promote loss of body fat. Phase 2 works in the intestine by temporarily inhibiting the activity of alpha amylase, the enzyme that breaks down starch into smaller glucose molecules. As a result, less starch is absorbed from a meal. The recommended dosage is 1000 to 1500 mg before starchy meals (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and baked goods).
  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is a derivative of linoleic acid, which is a fatty acid found naturally in certain foods, such as meat and dairy products. Supplements of CLA are made from sunflower oil. Studies have shown that CLA can improve fat metabolism and maintain or improve lean muscle mass. Specifically, it works by increasing lipolysis (fat breakdown) and enhancing fatty acid oxidation (promotes fat burning).
  • Green tea is a popular beverage around the world and offers a number of health benefits. It can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, protect against certain cancers, block bacteria and viruses, improve digestion and also help support weight loss. Green tea provides a source of caffeine (approximately 20-50 milligrams per cup), a known thermogenic agent. Green tea is also rich in catechins, a type of antioxidant. In preliminary research, the combination of these ingredients has been found to help promote weight loss by burning more calories.

The GI offers us a greater understanding of how carbohydrates are processed in our body and how we can make better choices for better health. This health-conscious eating style has proven benefits for weight loss, appetite control, blood sugar management and diabetes prevention. A low-GI diet can be easily implemented into your home without having to buy separate food or cook separate meals; it poses no health risks, making it a safe and smart choice for men and women, children and teenagers, pregnant women and nursing moms, seniors and those with existing health concerns such as heart disease and diabetes. Taking the time and effort to spring into shape with the GI, combined with regular exercise and smart supplementation, will yield better results that the temporary results from a fad diet.