Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Glycemic Load - The Gold Standard in Low-Carb diets

Hey guys,

The earlier versions of the low-carb movement were built on the maxim that you should avoid any carbs and try to eat just fat and proteins combined with vitamin supplements. More advanced versions had already implemented a differentiation in carbs with high glycemic index and carbs with a low one. They allow their followers to eat some food that has a low glycemic index (e.g. some vegetables and fruits). The glycemic index is a figure that shows you how fast your body absorbs the carbs and how strong their effect on the blood sugar level is. High glycemic index carbs are the ones that are absorbed fast and increase your blood sugar level dramatically. This leads to a strong insulin reaction and this, in turn, promotes the storage of fat in your body cells. Another effect is that a strong rise in blood sugar favores excessive insulin peaks. The high amount of insulin relocates the blood sugar into the cells, sometimes more than the previous normal amount was before. As your blood sugar level could be too low afterwards (there is a normal level which the body always try to maintain) you become a little hypoglycemic which makes you hungry again and, as a side-effect, it makes you tired (the famous fatigue after lunch is one result after eating in a regular canteen). A lot of processed food articles, fast food, white flour, sugar and pasta are good examples for high-glycemic index food. There are also lots of fruits that contain carbs with a high-glycemic index...are they bad for us as well?
Recent findings say no, they aren't bad. Instead we need them to fill our vitamin and mineral nutrients storages. They also provide us with fibres that we need for a good digestion. So what's the solution?
Some scientists developed the concept of the glycemic load (GL). I, personally, like to orientate my diet on its principles because they totally make sense to me. The glycemic load combines the gycemic index with the actual amount of carbs contained in different food.
The formula is:

GL = Glycemic Index * Carbs per 100g

The GL tells you the equivalent of pure glucose/100g according to its effect on the blood sugar level.

Why is this method more adequate than the orientation just on the glycemic index?
I give you an example:
Cooked carrots have a glycemic index of approx. 85 and baguette (white bread) has just 70. Does that mean to you that carrots are worse than baguette, which is made of high-processed white flour? I believe that it may have crossed your mind that this is impossible. Here's the solution to the riddle:
100g of cooked carrots contain approx. 3,1g carbs which brings us to a GL of  2.64 but 100g of baguette contain approx. 48g carbs and that equals a GL of 33.6. As you could see the difference is huge. To get the same bad effect on your blood sugar that baguette gives you, you have to eat 700g (!) of cooked carrots. Another good example are watermelons: They have a glycemic index of 72 but they mainly consist of water (that's why they called watermelons) so their GL is 5.98 which is within the limits. Don't hesitate to eat them in summer as a refresher.

I hope now you understand why I call the glycemic load the gold standard of low-carb diets!

A good rule of thumb is to avoid food with a GL above 7.5/100g (at least that's my rule), if you want to maintain a low blood sugar level and avoid insulin peaks. This rule will help you to lose bodyfat and gives you still enough power for working out hard.

You can find a very clearly arranged list of different foods at:

P.S.: Of course you can make exceptions to that rule from time to time. A dictatorial adherence of rules could possibly lead to frustration. Some sweets (or other unhealthy stuff) every now and then won't stop your progress but help you to stay in line with the diet in general.