Paying Attention to Glycemic Index to Improve Health and Lose Weight

If you’ve been struggling to lose weight and still aren’t seeing results, it may be time to reassess your strategies.

Do you constantly feel hungry when cutting calories and inevitably end up binging your body weight in chips and dip? If you haven’t yet tried out eating to optimize for sugar levels—or, eating a diet based on glycemic index—it may be time to give it some consideration.

What is a Low-Glycemic Diet?

To answer the question as to why a low-glycemic diet should be on the table for your nutritional consideration, it’s worthwhile first thinking about how the body handles blood sugar levels. As Robert Glatter, MD (writing for Forbes) notes, following a low-glycemic diet “translates to eating a diet which reduces large fluctuations in your blood sugar, and thus limits the release of insulin, a key peptide hormone secreted by the pancreas.” Insulin is responsible for balancing out sugar absorption levels throughout the body—in other words, when you overdo it on the carbs, your body dispatches insulin to get things back in balance.

As Smart Nutrition points out, if the body has to release too much insulin in order to counteract the spike in blood sugar levels, it “causes the blood sugar to swing to low again, making us feel tired, grumpy and hungry again.” In other words, your body goes on a “blood sugar rollercoaster” and the resulting symptoms may include an increase in belly fat, trouble sleeping, moodiness and irritability, difficulty focusing, and more.

What’s worse, if your body experiences these wild fluctuations for an extended period of time, it may become insulin resistant: Insulin will no longer “exert its effect on tissues” in the way you need it to in order to counteract blood sugar increases. This is especially true for individuals who are already overweight, obese, or who don’t get enough exercise in their day. Insulin resistance, in turn, contributes to a much higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes, which typically appears when your body “cannot produce enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance.”

Strategies for Following a Low-Glycemic Diet

As alluded to above, a low-glycemic diet, then, tries to keep these wild fluctuations to a minimum. In his book, Defy Aging, Dr. Jacob Rosenstein breaks down some simple rules for managing your sugar levels on the daily to optimize for health and nourishment:

  • “The simpler the better.” When you’re writing up your grocery list, avoiding adding items that are in any way processed—these tend to be low in nutrients and high in sugar, bad fats, salt, and artificial flavors and sweeteners. In general, always look for items that are as close as possible to “the way it comes out of the ground or grows on the bush or tree. If it swims, flies, or runs free range, you can eat it.” Opt for organic and grass-fed options to optimize for total health.
  • On a similar note, “Stay away from sugar or refined carbohydrates.” See above for all the ways these can spike your blood sugar and cause those hormonal imbalances that can be so detrimental to both your present and future wellness.
  • “Eat lots of lean protein.” One of Dr. Rosenstein’s favorite lean protein items is ostrich (if you’re feeling adventurous). More options are listed below.
  • Use discretion when consuming fruit and “Never eat a carbohydrate by itself!” Fruits, in general, tend to be okay when eaten whole because the fiber content of the fruit helps balance out the sugar content. But, for maximum success, avoid eating fruit by itself; instead, “Always eat some protein or a healthy fat before or with fruit to decrease the blood sugar spike.” (Dr. Rosenstein recommends having a bit of cheese with that wine—another reason to love this pairing!)
  • On a related note, avoid fruit juices altogether—these are just “concentrated sugar without the fiber and pulp to slow down the absorption of sugar.”
  • Dr. Rosenstein also points out that, if you need to, give yourself one day a week to eat more freely so you don’t feel stifled at social events or like you need to cut out all your favorite foods entirely. Eating clean at least six days a week will help ensure you have low insulin levels most of the time. But, as he says, “If you cheat every day, your insulin levels remain high seven days a week, and you lose.”

Low-Glycemic Checklist

Proteins:

  • Natural peanut butter (emphasis on the natural—it’s “a great source of essential fatty acids”; sugary, processed PBs are no substitute here)
  • Legumes
  • Free-range, grass-fed, and hormone-free lean animal foods like fish, chicken, turkey, bison, egg whites and fat-free cottage cheese (unless, of course, you have an issue with lactose; also, make sure extra sugar has not been added to compensate for the removed fat content)

Note: Grain-fed animal foods are more likely to cause inflammation, and likewise, avoid red meat when possible.

Fats:

  • Flaxseeds (these are a source of omega-3 fatty acids; note: some studies suggest pre-ground flaxseeds may not carry the same nutritional value, so when purchasing, opt for whole and grind immediately before eating)
  • Omega-3 eggs (also a good source of protein!)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocados

Vegetables:

  • Pretty much any organic vegetable will do.

Note: If you can’t afford to purchase all your vegetables organic, try to at least avoid purchasing conventional versions of any items found on the “Dirty Dozen” list—these tend to be the highest in inflammation-causing pesticide content.

Fruits:

  • Berries
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Oranges
  • Cherries

Note: As suggested above, eat a protein or fat prior to consuming any fruit to keep blood sugar spikes to a minimum. Also, avoid fruit juices as well as tropical fruits—these tend to be higher in sugar.

Starches:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yams

Whole Grains:

  • Barley
  • Wild rice
  • Steel-cut oats
  • Farro
  • Quinoa
  • Muesli

Note: Avoid “instant” rice and oatmeal—these tend to experience fiber and other nutritional deficits when they go through the processing stage.

For a more detailed conversation about the above, be sure to check out Defy Aging. Dr. Rosenstein will lead you through why eating this way is so good for your body (fun fact: it helps keep you young!) and how you can make the most of every meal.

What do Do After Eating a High-Glycemic Meal

Another important tidbit Dr. Rosenstein touches on relates to how you can help counterbalance a high-glycemic meal after the deed is already done. There is no substitute for regular healthy eating, but if it’s unavoidable or you experience a moment of weakness, the best thing you can do is to get moving immediately. He notes that, “Cardio works well to reduce blood sugar. Your muscles burn it for fuel.”

After a high-intensity workout is also a good time to eat carbs. Exercise releases adrenaline into the body “for about one hour post-exercise” during which time it suppresses insulin. At this time, the body will more readily absorb any carbohydrates.

You can read more about the value of post-sugar-fest cardio on our post, “Training Hard? Pay Attention to Glycogen for Optimal Athletic Performance.”

The Importance of Adding the Right Multivitamin to Your Diet

In Dr. Rosenstein’s experience, even his patients who eat the healthiest, cleanest diets still tend to have gaps in their nutritional profiles. It’s really hard to get in all the recommended daily values of the key nutrients that keep our bodies alive and humming along.

Think of a multivitamin as an insurance policy against those gaps—it can help you meet all the criteria of your daily health checklist on both the days you eat as perfectly as possible and those you don’t.

Dr. Rosenstein helped formulate VitaYears™ Anti-Aging Multivitamin for this very purpose. He poured years of research, experience, and personal success into the recipe that makes up our 21st-century multivitamin. And he keeps his—and our—standards high. We only use quality nutraceuticals—that undergo ridiculously thorough testing—and make sure we’re packing each capsule full of ingredients that have not only been shown to help control inflammation and stave off the signs of aging, but that will effectively absorb into your body so that you can feel the difference and realize each expected benefit. In other words, this ain’t your grandpa’s multivitamin.