How Low Glycemic Diets Work

Just about everyone has heard of low glycemic diets. The South Beach Diet, The Atkins Diet and the Paleo diet, among others, can all be considered low glycemic. They were originally created for diabetics to help them manage their blood sugar levels.

The low glycemic diet (or GI diet) is based on the idea that different carbohydrate-containing foods raise your blood sugar different amounts, so they were all given a number between 0 and 100, based upon those amounts. Just about all carbs taken into the body raise blood sugar levels to some extent, which is known as the glycemic response. How much this level is raised depends on a number of factors, including how much food has been eaten, the type of food it is, and how the food was cooked.

After the diet was created, researchers began to wonder if low glycemic diets could also be used to help individuals to control their weight. By eating foods that are low on the glycemic index, people could keep their blood sugar levels from spiking and also reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes over the long-term.

When we eat foods that are high in carbs our blood sugar levels increase significantly, causing the pancreas to release insulin. The job of insulin is to remove the excess sugar from your bloodstream and store it as glycogen in your liver and muscles, while stopping your body from using its fat reserves for energy.

Low glycemic diets help to keep you from feeling sleepy after eating by releasing sugar slowly into the bloodstream.

High glycemic foods give you a quick burst of energy, but this is only temporary. The insulin that is released insures that there is not too much sugar in the blood, and we begin to feel tired and even hungry again, in a never-ending cycle. This is why it's important to select carbohydrates that will release their sugar slowly, providing longer-lasting energy that will sustain us throughout the day.

Low Glycemic Diets Compared

Several popular diets can be considered a low glycemic or GI diet. For instance, the South Beach diet, the Atkins diet and the Paleo diet are all examples of low glycemic diets and can be quite effective. Some people think that by reducing the amount of carbs that you take in you will be sluggish and not have any energy. But these programs provide energy in the form of protein, healthy fats and good carbohydrates to keep your energy steady.

low glycemic diets

Both the South Beach diet and the Atkins diet are very similar in their structure in that they both emphasize limiting your carbohydrate intake to the high-fiber ones that are generally low on the glycemic index. The main difference between them is that Atkins allows for the consumption of more healthy saturated fats and emphasizes the importance of balancing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid intake, which tends to be a big problem in the western diet, with too much omega-6 being consumed in the form of vegetable oils. Unfortunately the South Beach diet discourages any saturated fats and advocates the use of canola oil, which, though monounsaturated, should still be among the fats to avoid due to the damage it undergoes during the refining process, creating trans fats.

The Atkins diet requires that you count the grams of all carbs that you take in and eliminate any that come from starchy vegetables such as potatoes and rice. South Beach discourages these foods but does not eliminate them, preferring to count carbs by number and portion size. Following one of these low glycemic diets will allow you to lose weight if you stick to the program the way it's designed to be used, though the promise of losing five pounds or more a week can actually be harmful to your health. The rate of healthy, long-term weight loss should not exceed one or two pounds a week.

The Paleo diet can also be counted among the low glycemic diets, though it is far more restrictive than the others. This plan reduces or eliminates all refined and processed foods such as sugars, salt, grain, dairy products and alcohol. Reducing these foods is generally a good idea for everyone, and this diet does allow for meat, poultry, fish, eggs, almost all vegetables, fruits and nuts. It does, however, lump trans fats and saturated fats into the same "evil" category, when it's just the trans fats and hydrogenated oils that are harmful.

Low glycemic diets can work if you are looking to control your blood sugar or lose some weight, and they are generally healthier than most of the other diet plans on the market. Results will not come overnight, as with any diet plan you have to stick with it, be disciplined and you can achieve the weight loss that you desire.


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