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New Study Questions Usefulness of Glycemic Index


Now and then, you might read that some people in the field of diabetes or nutrition claim that it’s a good idea to use the glycemic index as a way to control your blood sugar. The glycemic index assigns numbers to foods, with the highest number being 100. Foods with higher numbers break down quickly during digestion and cause sugar to enter your bloodstream more quickly. White bread and potatoes have high glycemic values, for example, while apples, broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes have low glycemic values.

People who are supporters of the glycemic index say that foods low on the scale make you feel full longer and help you to have fewer food cravings, which in turn can help with weight control. These supporters also say that eating low glycemic index foods will make your blood sugar levels remain more steady.

It’s not that the supporters of the glycemic index are wrong, exactly. It’s true that many of the foods high on the scale do raise blood sugar quickly. The problem with the index is that there are too many exceptions. For example, chocolate and meats are low on the glycemic index. But they’re also relatively high in fat and calories, and they contain no fiber. People are able to manipulate the glycemic index foods to convince themselves they’re doing a good job of controlling blood sugar, but what they’re really doing is cheating themselves.

A recent study seems to confirm that the inconsistency of the glycemic index makes it an unreliable tool for blood sugar management. The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, analyzed food questionnaires from 1,000 people over a 5-year period. There was no indication that people who ate foods low on the scale had better blood sugar control than people who ate foods higher on the scale.

The researchers in the study suggest that you should take the fat and calorie content of foods, in addition to their glycemic index scale, into account when you’re trying to control your blood sugar. This is where a nutritionist or dietitian would be extremely helpful. These experts can help you determine which foods will be helpful and which ones to avoid.

As always, common sense plays a role, whatever tool you’re using. Plenty of high fiber foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, reasonable portion sizes, regular exercise. These are the hallmarks of healthy eating.

British Journal of Nutrition, February 2006
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