Are you familiar with the benefits of a low-glycemic diet? At LiveLight, we have found that a low-glycemic approach to eating is the most effective to help our patients meet their goals during the active weight-loss phase. Eating foods low on the glycemic index can help reduce your blood sugar level along with the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
What’s a low-glycemic diet?
A low-glycemic diet focuses on foods that have are low on the glycemic index, which is a measurement that indicates how foods will affect your blood sugar level. The lower a food ranks on the glycemic index, the more slowly it increases your blood sugar level. A food’s unique glycemic ranking allows you to determine how quickly your blood sugar level will rise two hours after consuming that particular food.
The foods you eat as part of a low-glycemic diet allow your blood sugar level to remain more stable, rather than causing it to spike quickly, as it does when you eat foods such as candy and donuts. Having a chronically high blood sugar level can lead to insulin resistance, which increases your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
There are three categories on the glycemic index:
- Low-GI foods: GI of 50 or less
- Medium-GI foods: GI of between 50 and 70
- High-GI foods: GI of 70 or higher
Some foods that rank lower on the glycemic index include non-starchy vegetables and greens such as broccoli, asparagus, celery, cauliflower, and peppers. Root vegetables and starchier foods such as carrots and sweet potatoes rank a bit higher.
Foods with a high glycemic index include white breads, baked goods, foods high in sugar, and sweet fruits — all of these should be avoided if weight loss is your goal.
It’s also important to note that the glycemic index lists only carbohydrate-based foods. Foods that provide little to no carbs — such as meat and eggs — are not listed in the glycemic index.
Which factors influence a food’s glycemic score?
The glycemic index ranking of a certain food is based on several factors. Generally, foods that are cooked more extensively, are easy to digest, and are more processed will have a higher glycemic index. Some food processing methods can interfere with starch molecules in ways that increase that particular food’s glycemic index.
Other factors that influence a food’s glycemic index include the cooking method used, the level of refinement of the carbohydrates, and the type of sugar it contains. Fruits and vegetables that are highly ripe have a higher glycemic index than their less-ripe counterparts. White bread has a higher glycemic index than stone-ground whole wheat bread due to how white bread becomes more refined during processing.
You can change the way certain foods affect your blood sugar level by eating them alone or with other foods. High-GI foods can be combined with low-GI foods to balance your blood sugar levels and prevent high-GI foods from causing a spike.
How can a low-glycemic diet lead to weight loss?
One of the main benefits to being on a low-glycemic diet is having the ability to manage and maintain healthy, normal blood sugar levels. Suffering from chronically high blood sugar can lead to insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and nerve damage, among other serious health conditions. A low-glycemic diet can help you keep your blood sugar in check and lower your risk of these life-threatening health problems — including weight gain and obesity.
Foods high in healthy fats and/or soluble fiber have a low glycemic index score since these foods are more slowly digested. These foods also tend to be more filling, and won’t trigger cravings for junk foods high in fat, sugar, and salt. Many high-glycemic foods are low in nutritional value and can lead to overeating and cravings for unhealthy foods.
Low-glycemic diets have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels, along with the risk of stroke and heart disease. Low-glycemic diets may even help lower your cancer risk, since high-glycemic diets have been linked to a heightened risk for cancers including breast, colorectal, and endometrial cancers. Evidence suggests that a low-glycemic diet can improve metabolic syndrome and reduce the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Foods you can eat on a low-glycemic diet
Many foods do not have a glycemic index ranking because they either lack carbs or have especially low carb content. All foods without a glycemic score can be consumed as part of a low-glycemic diet.
Foods to eat on a low-glycemic diet:
- Leafy greens like kale, collard greens, chard, and spinach
- Non-starchy vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, and Brussel sprouts
- Fish and seafood
- Meats like chicken, lamb, and eggs
- Some nuts like almonds and cashews
- Seeds like flax seeds and chia seeds
- Healthy oils, such as olive oil and sesame oil
- Herbs and spices
- Unsweetened Greek yogurt
Acidic foods such as apple cider vinegar and vinegar-based dressings may help lower the glycemic index of certain foods that have a higher glycemic index. For example, if you eat a sweet potato, you can pair it with a healthy salad made up of leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables laced with a vinegar-based dressing to prevent a spike in blood sugar.
Aim to avoid foods with a high glycemic index when choosing foods to include in your low-glycemic diet. This includes most processed foods and those high in sugar.
High-glycemic foods to avoid:
- Baked goods like cookies, cakes, and pastries
- Processed foods
- Sugar and natural sweeteners including honey and maple syrup
- Breakfast cereals
- Oatmeal and porridge
- Grains like corn and wheat
- Pasta and couscous
- Sweet fruits like pineapple, cherries, and watermelon
Consider swapping out dairy products like milk for unsweetened dairy substitutes like coconut milk or almond milk, since lactose in dairy can spike your blood sugar levels.
To maintain good overall health and stave off weight gain, aim to consume little to no processed foods and eat a higher amount of lean protein and fresh, whole vegetables. Aside from having a low glycemic index, these healthy foods are loaded with nutrients that promote weight loss, can boost your immunity, and lower your risk for cancer and other diseases.
Need help reaching your weight-loss and wellness goals? LiveLight is a new path to weight loss and wellness designed by Stanford and Harvard physicians. Request a free consultation today to learn how we can provide breakthrough solutions that change your body and improve your health.