Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Truth about Quality Carbohydrates and The Glycemic Index

apple Whew!  What the heck does that title mean?  Admittedly, that blog title is a mouthful but an important one and can help you choose what kinds of carbohydrates are the most effective and most nutritious for your system.  This post is going to put your brain to the test, there may be a little math (no calculators necessary), but hang in with me and I’ll give you some great tools and some basic take-aways so that this becomes an easy way to balance what carbs you are eating.  Regardless of your reasons for changing your diet and eating clean, this information will serve you well. 

carbohydrates By now, you all know my stance on food and eating clean.  You are managing your carb combinations and your portion sizes at each of your 5-6 meals a day.  I’m not a fan of diets with short term or unsustainable restrictions – like low carb diets that can put a strain on your liver long term and can decrease energy levels by depriving your body of much-needed energy and fuel our bodies need from carbohydrates.  Not to mention that paying attention only to eating protein can lead us down a path towards fatty protein sources all too frequently.  Take the lunch I had with a friend where she ordered a double cheeseburger without the bun and blissfully told me how she was staying on her all protein diet perfectly with her meal selection and how later that day she was having pizza but only the cheese and meat topping not the bread so she was okay.  YIKES!  Or the flip side where carb lovers are told that they can have a predominantly carbohydrate driven diet and see success but miss out on all the benefits of healthy fats and amino acid rich protein sources. 

With my rant drawing to a close, it begs the question - what is the deal with carbohydrates being at the center of so much nutritional?  Well, most people I talk to want to lose weight or fuel their bodies for a marathon or some kind of fitness routine.  That’s common and all well and good, but if they neglect to recognize the idea that not all carbs are created equally and how our body tissue absorbs those calories is vastly different then there is a problem.  To give our muscles a fighting chance to beat out fat in the battle of the bulge we have to keep a few things in mind.

1. Calories are important…
If (if being the operative word here) your current daily calorie number is the right one for you to meet your weight loss/fitness goals, then this step is important.  You don’t want to overindulge or under nourish your body.  But you also don’t need to bring your calculator with you everywhere and feel yourself a failure if you are over by 23, under by 40, or even over by 100 for the day.  The quality of these calories is what I am going to emphasize.

2. Fat is Greedy.
Fat is, well, it’s fat for a reason.  Whatever you eat and but is subsequently left as a surplus in your system or something your body doesn’t absorb or burn off, your fat will attack and convert those calories into more fat and not give your muscles any chance to get in on the action.  That’s right – protein, carbs, fats, ANYTHING leftover is going to get converted to fat.  By taking in carbohydrates and healthy fats that are absorbed into muscle tissues more slowly, you give your muscles a level playing field and an opportunity to convert those calories to ENERGY not FAT. 

27-foodclock 3. You are what you eat… (and when you eat it)
You have heard my spiel before on this subject – focus on staying clean in your routine – lots of water and 5 – 6 meals a day every 2 1/2 – 3 hours pairing protein with complex carbs and adding some starchy carbs and healthy fats in moderation.  What you may not is that glycemic index decodes the rate at which those carbohydrates are absorbed known as Glycemic Response and can help in determining which ones should be eaten with the most frequency to add the most value and give those muscles a chance to get first dibs on what you eat.

So what is the Glycemic index and why should I care about it?
The Glycemic Index, GI, is a scale that ranks carbohydrate-rich foods in order of how they affect body's blood sugar levels (glucose) compared to glucose or white bread. The GI of glucose is 100.  Translation – that’s the high end of the spectrum.  High in this case isn’t good.  So to all you white bread fans out there, this next part is not going to make you very happy. 

Not all the carbs have the same effect on body once they are eaten. After we eat, foods that contain carbohydrates, our blood glucose level rises with a speed called Glycemic Response. Glycemic response is influenced by the amount of the food we eat, type of the food, and how the food is processed or prepared. When we eat a boiled potato, glucose levels spike in milliseconds. With legumes or fruits and vegetables, they go up in about 30 minutes. Translation: the lower the glycemic response the better the quality of food.

Foods that have lower Glycemic Response,Glycemic Index, cause only small fluctuations in blood sugar levels or insulin levels reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and diabetes in the long term and helping the body to most effectively process calories you take into your system.  Translation: keeping those numbers low are not only incredibly healthy for you but they will help you lose and maintain weight.
Glycemic Index of Common Foods
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What are the numbers and what do they mean?
o Low GI foods are foods with a GI less than 55. They cause a slower and
lower rise in blood glucose levels. Examples are Oatmeal, Apples, and Sweet Potatoes.
o Intermediate GI foods are foods with a GI between 55 and 70. They cause
blood glucose levels to go up at a moderate rate. Examples are Pineapple, New Potatoes, and Mangos.
o High GI foods are foods with a GI greater than 70. They cause a rapid rise in
blood glucose levels. Examples are White rice, Cornflakes, and Watermelon.
A few additional nuggets in case you aren’t convinced just yet… recent studies from Harvard School of Public Health indicate that the risks of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease are strongly related to the GI of the overall diet. In 1999, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommended that people in industrialized countries base their diets on low-GI foods in order to prevent the most common diseases of affluence, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity.  Translation: Some of the biggest killers in our country can be prevented by keeping these numbers in check on a consistent basis. 

Why does any of this matter?digestive-organs

The jabber around food these days can be overwhelming, but rest assured the tips I give aren’t around fad diets or crazy ideas – i.e. the Cookie diet.  Yes, there is a cookie diet, and NO it’s not a good one.  Bottom line:  It comes down to simple choices and nutritious foods and what our body does when it’s assaulted and/or nourished with calories and food.  The moment we choose something to eat and it enters our body, it ignites a process, engages tissues, organs, and systems and that has benefits (positives), and consequences (negatives).   We have to power and the knowledge (hopefully I am contributing to that) to decide for ourselves which path we are going to take.  Our bodies will thank us if we choose wisely.

More to come
Food fads aren’t my thing and eating clean is a lifestyle not a diet.  There are some good philosophies on food these days, the anti-inflammatory philosophy is one I am a fan of – especially as an athlete who has been struggling lately with shin splints and some joint soreness and swelling.  I have been incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods deliberately to mitigate some of that so you’ll be seeing more to come on this one.  It has had great results for me and it falls directly into the framework of eating clean it’s just more focused on the foods in that framework that can eliminate or minimize inflammation.  It proves how many benefits exist when someone eats clean.  So stay tuned on that one!