Glycemic Index v. Nutrient Density By Helene Berk, M.Ed., R.D.N.

By Helene Berk, M.Ed., RDN

Helene received her B.S. in nutrition and RDN from Case Western Reserve University and her Master of Education /Exercise Science from Cleveland State University. Ms. Berk has organized seminars for American Heart Association, Mount Sinai Cardiac Rehabilitation and for corporate wellness programming, including Sherwin Williams, PP&G, FIGGIE International and Chevrolet. “I’ve conducted workshops for Whole Foods [Beverly Hills, CA], SPECTRUM fitness centers [Canoga Park, CA] and University of California San Diego. I’ve worked with physicians, hospitals, hosted television, radio and have authored a column for a mental health newspaper”. Helene has been a contributor to the national newspaper Healthy Referral.  

“Glycemic Index” is not an indicator of “Nutrient Density”.
Chomping down a bunch of bacon may not spike blood sugars, but in excess, will clog arteries and seriously affect your digestion with excessive acid breakdown from amino acids and fatty acids.
Glycemic index is actually a measure of how quickly something you eat or drink spikes blood sugars. One of the first symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) is “brain fog” and sleepiness. Therefore, it is easy to know when you have had too much sugar or starch (i.e., carbohydrate).

Generally, the more carbohydrate a food or beverage contains, the higher its glycemic index and the faster it will spike your blood sugars.

“Glycemic load” refers to the quantity of carbohydrate consumed at the meal or snack. Eating one apple will spike blood sugars much more slowly than guzzling down apple juice or cider. Eating multiple apples or drinking pints of juice will increase your glycemic load, which may give you brain fog and make you feel super sleepy.

You can boost your energy levels by managing blood sugars with smaller doses of glycemic cuisine, such as sipping super slowly on a small amount of cider or slicing up that apple and staying conscious as you eat it, chewing thoroughly, one bite at a time.

Apples, pears, and peaches are examples of low-glycemic fruits vs. pineapples and mangoes, which will raise blood sugars more rapidly with a higher glycemic index.

However, keeping the dose of a glycemic snack small (e.g., a small, 4 ounce glass of fruit juice) can also help stabilize blood sugars vs. drinking the juice directly out of the jug, while standing in front of the fridge.
By the way, you will most likely consume less carbohydrate and have a more enjoyable experience with your meal or snack, if you take the time to sit down and appreciate the experience of what you are putting into your mouth.

Alternatively, you can stabilize blood sugars over time by combing a high glycemic food (or beverage) with a protein-rich food (or beverage), to slow down the rate carbohydrates enters the bloodstream.
Spaghetti and meatballs is a classic example of how combining protein and carbohydrate can slow down the rate carbohydrates enter the bloodstream, stabilizing blood sugars over time.

Believe it or not, white flour pasta and whole grain pasta have a similar glycemic index. That is, both are loaded with carbohydrates. However, the whole grain pasta will be more nutrient dense, loaded in B vitamins and plant fibers to scrub your intestines clean.

Eating slowly, chewing food thoroughly and enjoying the aromas, textures and colors will further slow down the pace of eating, to allow you to feel the fullness of your meal after 20 minutes or so… which will also help to stabilize blood sugars by eating less …smaller quantities of carbohydrate containing foods and beverages.
To manage glycemic load, stay fit, trim and energetic, you can also develop the habit of saving half of your meal for a later snack, or for a favorite pet.

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