Whether simple or complex, table sugar, grains, or vegetables, all carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars by the body and released into the bloodstream. Once there, the sugar becomes energy for the cells to either use or store.
The rate at which carbohydrates enter the bloodstream is the glycemic index of a carbohydrate. The higher the glycemic index of a carbohydrate, the faster it enters the bloodstream. Foods that do not contain carbohydrates do not have a glycemic index.
Recall from Quit Sugar. NOW! Once sugar (glucose) enters the bloodstream, insulin is released to bring the blood glucose level back to normal.
The higher the glycemic index of a food, the faster its glucose will enter the bloodstream, and the more insulin your body makes. Insulin is a powerful hormone secreted by the pancreas that removes glucose from the blood by forcing it into the cells. If the cells have no energy requirement, the glucose is stored in the cells and locked there. This causes weight gain.
In addition to weight gain, elevated insulin levels also cause inflammation, insulin resistance, and have been linked to obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
There are factors that affect the rate of carbohydrate absorption.
• Eating dietary fat along with carbohydrates slows the entry of carbs into the bloodstream.
• Eating soluble fiber with carbohydrates also slows the entry of carbs into the bloodstream. Examples of soluble fiber include pectin in fruits, and beta-glucan in oats.
• How they are prepared. The more a carbohydrate is cooked or processed, the more it is broken down making it easier and faster to digest.
• Type of sugar the food is made up of. Fructose has to be broken down by the liver to be converted to glucose. This slow process results in a slow entry of glucose into the bloodstream and therefore a lower glycemic index.
Low glycemic index
Foods that are close to how they’re found in nature tend to have a lower glycemic index than refined and processed food. This is why “good carbs” have a low glycemic index. They have good nutrients in them that cause a slow digestion and absorption rate, with a minimal insulin response.
The glycemic index of a carbohydrate can be looked up rather easily. Here are some examples:
Low glycemic index (55 or less)
Moderate glycemic index (56-69)
• Sweet potato
High glycemic index (70 or higher)
• Breakfast cereals
The glycemic load of a food is its glycemic index times its carbohydrate content. So just because you’re eating a low glycemic index food, the amount you eat still matters in regards to the level of insulin released.
The glycemic index is another tool available to us to help combat weight gain. The main goal is to choose foods that cause as small of an insulin response as possible. Remember, insulin can cause weight gain and other unhealthy conditions. Avoid processed foods and stick to those with a low glycemic index.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. Individual results may vary, and is not intended for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your physician.