Choose your carbs
You know that foods and especially carbs have a different profile and cause completely different spikes to our glucose levels. When choosing which carbs serve us best consider the points below.
- Choose only carbs that are whole and un-refined
- Choose only seasonal carbs
- The glycemic load of the food
- The nutrient profile and the anti-nutrients in the food
- The timing of eating carbs
- Portion control
- The macros of your meal
The GI has been around since 1981, when nutrition scientist David Jenkins, MD, PhD, set out to determine which carbs are best and which are worst. First, he had to come up with a way to measure a food’s effect on blood sugar.
In a study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Jenkins and a team of researchers enlisted a group of healthy volunteers and asked them to eat a variety of common foods, each of which contained 50 grams of carbohydrate. The researchers then measured the participants’ blood sugar over the two hours that followed.
The results were surprising. Almost everyone assumed that table sugar would be the worst offender, certainly worse than the complex carbohydrates found in starchy staples such as rice and bread. But this didn’t always prove true. Some starchy foods, like potatoes and cornflakes, ranked very high on the index, raising blood sugar nearly as much as pure glucose. Where the glycemic index fell short?
The results seemed to demonize healthy foods, such as carrots and strawberries. Watermelon was practically off the top of the GI chart. But no one ever gained weight from eating carrots. Nor do carrots, in the real world, raise blood sugar. What was the GI missing?
The GI measures the effects of a standard amount of carbohydrate: 50 grams But you’d have to eat seven or eight large carrots to get 50 grams of carbohydrate. The same holds true for most vegetables and fruits. They’re full of water, so there’s not much room in them for carbohydrates. Bread, on the other hand, is crammed with carbohydrates. One large slice has 48 grams of total carb.
That wasn’t the only problem. “The glycemic index rating applies only when the food is consumed on an empty stomach” without any other type of food, says Sheth. That isn’t exactly the way most people eat. And it explains why the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics considers the glycemic index an imperfect, though useful tool in identifying lower-glycemic foods.
The Glycemic Load
To solve the discrepancy, scientists came up with another measurement: glycemic load (GL). The GL takes into account not only the type of carbohydrate in a given food, but also the amount of carb you’d eat in a standard serving. To get the GL of a food, the carb content of the actual serving is multiplied by the food’s GI. That number is then divided by 100. For example: To get the GL for beets, you’d multiply 13 (the carb content) by 64 (the GI). You’d then divide 832 (the total) by 100 to get a GL of 8.3.
A GL above 20 is considered high, between 11 and 19 is moderate, and 10 or less is considered low.
This made more sense. By this criterion, carrots, strawberries, and other low-calorie foods—like beets—are clearly good to eat. They all have low GL values, since the amount of carbohydrate they contain is low. The GL has turned out to be a powerful way to think about not just individual foods, but also whole meals and even entire diets.