A significant amount of media attention has focused on the potential benefits of eating foods with a low glycemic index. It turns out that the glycemic index was actually designed for people with diabetes to better manage their blood sugar levels.
Overall, eating foods with a low glycemic index translates to eating a diet that reduces large fluctuations in your blood sugar, and thus limits the release of insulin, a key peptide hormone secreted by the pancreas.
Insulin is a key regulator of carbohydrate and fat metabolism by allowing cells in skeletal muscle, liver, and in your fatty tissues to absorb sugar or glucose from the bloodstream after eating a meal containing protein or carbohydrates. Insulin essentially stops the use of fat by your body (as an energy source) by blocking the release of glucagon. Glucagon promotes the release of glucose.
Insulin is normally released by any meal containing protein or carbohydrates, but in greater degrees based on the kinds of food you eat. Insulin promotes the storage of fat by allowing your cells to absorb glucose, the energy that makes your cells function.
Eating foods with a lower glycemic index may confer health advantages. Not only can it help you to live heart-healthy, but it may also reduce the risk of developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which can increase your risk of having a heart attack or suffering a stroke. Although the exact etiology is unclear, the metabolic syndrome itself may be triggered by a state of relative insulin resistance which can lead to type 2 diabetes, elevated lipids or triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, and an enlarging waist circumference.
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One of the main benefits of eating foods with a lower glycemic index is that it may help you to cut cravings and urges by limiting spikes in your blood sugar which the trigger release of insulin, ultimately leading to fat storage and weight gain.
The advantage of eating foods that have a low glycemic index is that your blood sugar will not rise as rapidly. Low glycemic index carbs produce a steadier rise in blood sugar, and the fiber in these foods helps you feel more full to keep you satisfied longer.
While staying on a low glycemic index diet may help you to reduce the risk for developing diabetes or heart disease, there has been conflicting data related to weight loss when compared to a healthy, low fat diet. Evidence from randomized controlled trials has demonstrated no significant difference between high glycemic index diets and low glycemic index diets regarding weight loss in studies lasting longer than 8 weeks.
Pearls for Low-Glycemic Eating
1. Focus on eating unprocessed or under-processed types of grains. These include brown rice, millet, wheat berries, and whole barley. Steel-cut oats, natural granola or muesli breakfast cereals, or stone-ground bread are also acceptable.
2. Focus on eating beans and non-starchy vegetables. Peaches, pears, apples and all types of berries are ideal fruits that typically have a lower glycemic index. Mangos, bananas, and papayas generally have a higher glycemic index than standard fruits but a much lower glycemic index than the sugar found in sweets, ice cream pies, cakes, and other rich desserts.
3. High-calorie foods with a low glycemic index (ice cream, cakes, pies) should be avoided. Concentrated fruit juices can spike up your blood sugar so this should be limited to no more than one-half cup a day. Any sugar-sweetened drinks should not be consumed at all. Reduce and significantly limit any refined-grain products, such as white bread and white pasta. Healthy proteins including fish, skinless chicken, and beans are ideal.
4. Enjoy moderate amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds), as well as avocados. Avoid partially hydrogenated fats or trans fats which are found in most packaged foods as well as in fast food. Also, avoid any saturated fats from animal and dairy products.
5. Remember to sit down when you eat, chew your food completely, and practice eating slowly to enjoy the taste of your food. It is vital to stop eating when you begin to feel the first sign of feeling full. Drinking plenty of water maintains hydration and aids in reducing snacking in between meals.
6. Do not skip breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day. Your body needs breakfast to fuel your metabolism which promotes a healthy way of living. Having 5 smaller meals a day or three meals and one or two snacks each day is ideal.
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