The Key to Balancing Blood Glucose

The Key to Balancing Blood Glucose

Perhaps you have diabetes, or know someone who does — a friend or family member. It is estimated that almost 30 million Americans are diabetic, 70% of them undiagnosed! Diabetes contributes to hypertension, cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, stroke), and kidney disease. Furthermore, the estimated annual cost to the national economy totals more than $250 billion dollars!

Is there anything that can be done to change this?

Yes, in many cases those who are insulin resistant, pre-diabetic (an estimated 86 million in 2012), or even those with type 2 diabetes can do a lot to better regulate their blood glucose. There is every reason to believe that those who do not fall into one of these categories can also benefit by adhering to a dietary plan that strictly limits daily glycemic load.

What is glycemic load, and why is it so important?

You probably know that eating a lot of refined carbohydrates causes blood glucose to rise rapidly. In an attempt to quantify the effect different foods have on blood sugar, dietitians assign a value — the Glycemic Index (GI) — to each food. The GI of a food is a measure of how quickly glucose spikes after eating it, using pure glucose, with GI 100, as a reference value.

Eating too much high GI food can create serious health problems:

  • Overindulging in high GI foods can cause fat storage and obesity.
  • High GI foods eaten too regularly promote insulin resistance..
  • High GI foods contribute to hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

However, GI only begins to address the problem because it fails to take into account total carbohydrates consumed. The Harvard School of Public Health addressed this issue by framing a new, more comprehensive, standard: Glycemic Load (GL).

GL = GI/100 x Net Carbs

Suppose you ate a medium orange with 12 grams of carbs. Oranges have a moderate GI of 48, so the GL of your orange is 48/100 x 12 = 5.76, a low GL value. Two things become immediately evident:

1. Eating large amounts of high GI foods is a disaster and will cause “overspilling” and fat storage. It will lead, long-term, to insulin resistance, excess visceral fat, metabolic syndrome, and pre-diabetes, or worse. Eating small amounts of high GI foods infrequently has little effect on fat storage.

2. Eating large amounts of low to moderate GI foods can also cause total GL to rise too high and cause fat storage and all of its attendant problems.

Will keeping GL low solve all our nutritional woes?

Authorities suggest that everyone should aim for a GL below 100 on a daily basis. However, that is only one consideration. Calories also matter! Suppose you ate a calorie-dense, low-GL food like peanuts. You could eat enormous amounts of them without having much effect on your total GL, but the calories would cause you to store fat.

In addition, GI, and hence GL, can be affected by combination with other foods; we rarely eat foods in isolation! The manner of food preparation also determines availability of carbs and their effect on blood glucose. In addition, individuals differ considerably in their digestion and absorption of specific foods.

Consequently, GL is a powerful guideline that, if used as one of several principles to guide food choices, can help promote better health and perhaps reverse what has become a national emergency. The time to begin is now!