The Glycemic-Load Diet

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Many are based on the glycemic index, which doesn't make a distinction between good carbohydrates, such as carrots, from bad ones like starches--potatoes, white pasta, sugar, etc. Nor do they take into account real-life serving sizes; the GI numbers are based on lab-controlled portions. The good news is that nutritional scientists have developed the glycemic load, a powerful new tool for controlling weight that's based on what people actually eat and allows for more of a variety of foods.

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The Glycemic-Load Diet

  1. 1. 4 Lightening Your Glycemic Load: The Key to Easy Weight Loss he reason most diets fail is simply that people can’t stickT with them. Low-fat diets are especially hard to follow. People crave the richness of fat and quickly either fall offthe wagon or try to satisfy their hunger by eating too much starchand sugar. Low-carb diets are easier to follow but often makethe mistake of restricting too many foods. Currently popular low-carb diets limit fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and sweets andusually can’t resist throwing in some low-cholesterol advice. Allthese restrictions inevitably lead to food cravings and diet failure,and most important, they divert attention from the real culprits:foods that raise blood insulin levels. As you learned in Chapter3, the starch in refined carbohydrates causes your blood glucoseto shoot up to levels never experienced by your prehistoric ances-tors. These “glucose shocks” trigger excessive insulin secretion,which promotes fat accumulation.Understanding Glycemic IndexesIt’s difficult to predict whether a particular food will cause a glu-cose shock simply by measuring its carbohydrate content. Somecarbs break down to glucose faster and raise insulin levels more 41
  2. 2. 42 The Glycemic-Load Dietthan others do. Food scientists have learned that the best way totell how high blood glucose goes after eating a food is to give astandardized amount to human subjects and measure their bloodglucose levels afterward. Nutritionists now rate foods accordingto their glycemic indexes, the amount a food raises blood glucosecompared with a benchmark—usually white bread. An apple, forexample, has a glycemic index of 52, which means that a givenamount of carbohydrate in apple raises blood glucose levels 52percent as much as the same amount of carbohydrate in whitebread.Why Glycemic Indexes Are MisleadingThe discovery that some carbs raise blood glucose levels morethan others do was good news for low-carb dieters. They didn’thave to avoid all carbohydrates, only ones with high glycemicindexes. Soon, popular diet books, such as The South Beach Dietand The Glycemic Index Diet, published lists of glycemic indexesto help low-carb dieters avoid glucose shocks. However, whilethese lists increased awareness of differences among carbs, theyalso created misconceptions that have kept the low-carb eatingstyle from realizing its potential. To see how misleading thesemeasurements can be, look at the glycemic indexes of the fol-lowing foods: Food Glycemic Index Tomatoes 23 Spaghetti 64 Carrots 68 White bread 100 Bagel 103 If you keep in mind that foods rated less than 55 are consid-ered “low” on the glycemic index scale, you would conclude, cor-rectly, that you don’t have to worry as much about tomatoes asyou do bagels, even though both are carbohydrates. However,notice that carrots, which you probably thought were good for
  3. 3. Lightening Your Glycemic Load: The Key to Easy Weight Loss 43you, have a higher glycemic index than spaghetti, a notoriouslystarchy food. That doesn’t sound right, does it?The Devil in the Details: Serving SizeIt’s important to understand that glycemic indexes are raw labo-ratory measurements. In fact, the researchers who developedthese listings warned against using them without correcting forthe amounts people typically eat. That may seem like a mundanetechnicality, but it makes a world of difference in the way youneed to eat to avoid glucose shocks. Here’s why glycemic indexes,which are not adjusted for serving size, are so misleading. To measure the glycemic index of a food, scientists have tofeed volunteers enough of it to provide fifty grams of carbohy-drate available for absorption into the bloodstream. However,the amount of available carbohydrate in various plant-based foodsvaries tremendously. For example, because carrots contain somuch water and unavailable carbohydrate in the form of indi-gestible fiber, to provide fifty grams of available carbohydrate,researchers had to feed each subject seven full-size carrots. Incontrast, to provide fifty grams of available carbohydrate inspaghetti, they only had to feed subjects a cupful. Of course,most people don’t eat seven carrots in one sitting, but they ofteneat a cupful of spaghetti or more. Glycemic indexes are mislead-ing because the amounts researchers have to feed subjects to getthese measurements bear little resemblance to the amounts peo-ple typically eat. The glycemic indexes of many fruits and veg-etables, like carrots, turn out to be as high as many starchycarbohydrates, like spaghetti.Missing Out on Good Carbs,Not Recognizing the BadThe failure of popular diet books to correct glycemic indexes forserving size caused a lot of people to deprive themselves of health-ful foods they didn’t need to avoid. Research studies consistentlyshow that the more fruits and vegetables people eat, the less obe-sity, diabetes, and heart disease they have. The fiber in fruits and
  4. 4. 44 The Glycemic-Load Dietvegetables prevents glucose shocks and reduces hunger withoutadding calories. Also, meals require adequate volume to be satis-fying, and fruits and vegetables provide more volume than otherfoods but with fewer calories. Take it from a doctor who’s beentreating overweight patients for twenty-five years. People don’tget fat eating carrots. But here’s what’s even more deceptive about glycemic indexes:they give the impression that starchy foods like bread andspaghetti are only a little worse than fruits and vegetables. Infact, as you will see, they are much worse.Getting It Right: Glycemic LoadsFood scientists have recently developed a way to correct glycemicindexes for serving size. It’s called the glycemic load and repre-sents the effects on blood glucose of amounts of food peopleactually eat, rather than what goes on in the research lab. I can’toveremphasize the importance of using glycemic loads instead ofglycemic indexes. It changes the whole approach to avoiding glu-cose shocks. To understand why, look at the glycemic loads ofthe same five foods we looked at previously. Notice that in thislist, typical serving sizes are specified: Food (Serving Size) Glycemic Load Carrot (one 8-inch) 11 Tomato (one medium) 15 White bread (one 3⁄8-inch slice) 100 Spaghetti (1 cup) 166 Bagel (one medium) 340 Makes more sense, doesn’t it? The rabbit food is at one endof the scale, the starchy stuff at the other. You can see whyglycemic loads allow you to enjoy foods you might avoid if youlet glycemic indexes be your guide. But here’s what’s more important: Correcting glycemicindexes for serving size exposes refined carbs as the culprits theyreally are. Bagels, for example, aren’t just a little worse than car-
  5. 5. Lightening Your Glycemic Load: The Key to Easy Weight Loss 45rots, they’re terrible! You would have to eat thirty raw carrots toget the glucose shock you get from one bagel. Table 4.1 provides a list of the glycemic loads for typical serv-ings of some common foods. (You’ll find a more complete list inAppendix A.) How low should your daily glycemic load be? Tostop your body from overproducing insulin, you need to keepyour daily tally less than about 500. Generally, foods with ratingsunder 100 are OK; most people can eat satisfying amounts ofthese without gaining weight or raising their risk of diabetes.However, more than a couple of servings a day of foods withhigher ratings drives up insulin levels, encourages weight gain,and raises the risk of diabetes.Reducing Your Glycemic Load: A SimplePlan for Effective Weight LossAll this glycemic-load business sounds very scientific, but if youlook twice at the list of glycemic loads in Table 4.1, you can seewhat’s going on. The culprits stand out in sharp relief. The foodswith the highest glycemic loads (greater than 100) are ones mostpeople would call “starchy”: grain products, potatoes, rice, andsoft drinks. You’ve just discovered the main sources of glucoseshocks in the American diet, and now you know what you needto do. Get rid of those four foods, and the glycemic load of yourdiet will be a fraction of what it was. In fact, you don’t even needa list of glycemic loads to tell you what to eat. Starch is never hid-den. You can see it from across the room. The culprits are evencolor-coded for you: they’re the white foods. The only otherfoods with glycemic loads as high as the starchy stuff are juicesand soft drinks. So, if you cut out flour products, potatoes, rice,and sugar-containing beverages, you eliminate nearly all of theglucose shocks in your diet. Taking into account the minorglycemic loads you get from other foods, you can get away witheating the equivalent of about one full serving of starch a day.Here’s my advice. Forget about lists. Just don’t eat more than aquarter serving of flour products, potatoes, or rice at a time, andabstain from sugar-containing soft drinks and fruit juices. Oth-
  6. 6. 46 The Glycemic-Load DietTable 4.1 Glycemic Loads of Common Foods Typical GlycemicFood Item Description Serving LoadPancake 5-in. diameter 21⁄2 oz. 346Bagel 1 medium 31⁄3 oz. 340Orange soda 8-oz. glass 12 oz. 314White rice 1 cup 61⁄2 oz. 283White bread 2 slices, 3⁄8 in. thick 23⁄4 oz. 260Baked potato 1 medium 5 oz. 246Whole wheat bread 2 slices, 3⁄8 in. thick 23⁄4 oz. 234Raisin bran 1 cup 2 oz. 227Brown rice 1 cup 61⁄2 oz. 222French fries Medium serving, McDonald’s 51⁄4 oz. 219Coca-Cola 12-oz. can 12 oz. 218Hamburger bun 5-in. diameter 21⁄2 oz. 213English muffin 1 medium 2 oz. 208Doughnut 1 medium 2 oz. 205Cornflakes 1 cup 1 oz. 199Macaroni 1 cup 5 oz. 181Corn on the cob 1 ear 51⁄3 oz. 171Blueberry muffin 21⁄2-in. diameter 2 oz. 169Spaghetti 1 cup 5 oz. 166Instant oatmeal (cooked) 1 cup 8 oz. 154Chocolate cake 1 slice (4 x 4 x 1 ) 3 oz. 154Grape-Nuts 1 cup 1 oz. 142Cheerios 1 cup 1 oz. 142Special K 1 cup 1 oz. 133Tortilla, corn 1 medium 13⁄4 oz. 120Orange juice 8-oz. glass 8 oz. 119Cookie (lab standard, 30 g) 1 medium 1 oz. 114Grapefruit juice, unsweetened 8-oz. glass 8 oz. 100White bread 1 thin slice, 1⁄4-in. thick 11⁄16 oz. 100Banana 1 medium 31⁄4 oz. 85All-Bran 1⁄2 cup 1 oz. 85Tortilla, wheat 1 medium 13⁄4 oz. 80Apple 1 medium 51⁄2 oz. 78Orange 1 medium 6 oz. 71Pinto beans 1⁄2 cup 3 oz. 57Pear 1 medium 6 oz. 57Pineapple 1 slice (3⁄4 x 31⁄2 ) 3 oz. 50Peach 1 medium 4 oz. 47
  7. 7. Lightening Your Glycemic Load: The Key to Easy Weight Loss 47Grapes 1 cup (40 grapes) 21⁄2 oz. 47Kidney beans 1⁄2 cup 3 oz. 40Grapefruit 1 half 41⁄2 oz. 32Table sugar 1 round teaspoon 1⁄6 oz. 28Milk (whole) 8-oz. glass 8 oz. 27Peas 1⁄4 cup 11⁄2 oz. 16Tomato 1 medium 5 oz. 15Strawberries 1 cup 51⁄2 oz. 13Carrot (raw) 1 medium (71⁄2-in. length) 3 oz. 11Peanuts 14⁄ cup 11⁄4 oz. 7Spinach 1 cup 21⁄2 oz. 0Pork 2 5-oz. chops 10 oz. 0Margarine Typical serving 1⁄4 oz. 0Lettuce 1 cup 21⁄2 oz. 0Fish 8-oz. fillet 8 oz. 0Eggs Typical serving 11⁄2 oz. 0Cucumber 1 cup 6 oz. 0Chicken 1 breast 10 oz. 0Cheese 1 slice (2 x 2 x 1 ) 2 oz. 0Butter 1 tablespoon 1⁄4 oz. 0Broccoli 1⁄2 cup 11⁄2 oz. 0Beef 10-oz. steak 10 oz. 0erwise, eat anything you want. There’s not enough starch or sugarin the rest of your food to cause you much trouble. A weight lossprogram can’t get any simpler than that. I will show you how toget rid of these “starchy fillers” and cushion the glucose shocksin starchy foods in the next chapter.Opening the Door to a Richer, MoreFlavorful Way of EatingMost low-carb diets go further than they need to in restrictingfruits, vegetables, and sweets and even dairy products but not farenough in eliminating starch. Certainly, you can lose weight fasterif you eliminate all carbs. However, weight loss comes at a highprice in terms of satisfaction and healthiness. Such diets createirresistible food cravings. Most people just can’t stay with themfor long. To make up for restricting so many nutritious foods,
  8. 8. 48 The Glycemic-Load Dietmany diets recommend taking vitamins, stool softeners, and var-ious supplements. This is unnecessary if you only eliminaterefined carbohydrates. No one in the history of the world hasever suffered any medical condition caused by lack of starch. There’s another bonus to reducing the glycemic load of yourdiet. Because starch is essentially tasteless, when you eliminate ityou remove little in the way of flavor and texture, and you makeroom for other, tastier food. Starch no longer dilutes the taste offood. Instead of filling up on the same bland staples at every meal,you branch out to more flavor and richness. Eliminating starchwill allow you to enjoy the pleasing qualities of a wider varietyof foods. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself eating better thanyou were before!

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