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Blood sugar regulation & Glycemic Load

Not all carbs are created equal. Some carbs are absorbed into the bloodstream at a faster rate than others. And if you eat something where the glucose is quickly digested, it causes a rapid spike in your blood sugar which will trigger a proportionally strong hormonal response telling your cells to pull the glucose out of the bloodstream and get your blood sugar levels back into a normal range. This results in a sudden depletion of glucose which is followed by the fatigue and sugar cravings associated with a “blood sugar low”. Obviously, this isn’t what we want! So, ideally you want to eat carbs that take longer to be broken down into glucose and are absorbed into your bloodstream at a slow and steady rate.






Adding carbs to your diet that take longer to digest is not as simple as saying you will only eating natural, complex carbs. For numerous reasons, there are many simple carbs that are absorbed into the bloodstream at a slower rate than complex carbs. For example, most fruits contain fiber that slows down the digestion process and the monosaccharides in fruit (fructose) and dairy (lactose) need to be converted into glucose before they are absorbed which causes yet another slowdown in digestion process. In fact, you will actually feel fuller for longer after eating an apple compared to an equal-sized bowl of pasta because, even though pasta contains complex carbs, they are broken down into glucose faster than the apple’s sugars.


To aggravate the challenge, many foods today also have a lot of refined, added and artificial sugars added as part of their ingredients. Refined sugar is sugar extracted and processed from sugar cane and then added to food to make it taste even sweeter. Added sugar is additional sugars, syrups and sweeteners that are added to foods. Artificial sugars are synthetic sweeteners that can be used as sugar substitutes. Food manufacturers will often add these types of sugars to food to make them seem tastier and to get you to eat more. And refined grains behave in a similar way as they have been stripped of their fiber and wholegrain properties leaving a concentrated carbohydrate which produces a similar effect on the blood sugar to refined sugar. Some examples of refined carbs include white flour, white bread, white rice, pastries, sodas, snacks, pasta, and breakfast cereals.


These low-quality carbs are very sweet, nutrient poor and cause blood sugar spikes which all encourage you to over-consume (which in turn leads to the excess glucose in the bloodstream being converted into more triglycerides and stored in fat tissue). To determine whether there are refined, added and artificial sugars in a food, you will need to read the ingredients on the food labels. If you spot words like sucrose, glucose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave syrup, fruit juice concentrates, invert sugar, cane sweetener, maltose, malt syrup, dextrose and dehydrated cane juice, you will know that part or all of the simple sugars listed on the nutrition label come from added sugars.


Glycemic Load

This problem of blood sugar spikes resulted in scientists creating the Glycemic Index (“GI”) which shows how quickly a carbohydrate raises blood sugar on a scale of 0 to 100. The GI is determined in a food laboratory by feeding people different foods containing 50 grams of digestible carbohydrate and then measuring the effect on their blood sugar levels over the next two hours. Carbohydrates with a low GI value (of 50 or less) are digested, absorbed and metabolized slower thereby causing a lower and gentler increase in blood sugar.


However, the GI does not take into account the amount of carbohydrates in a serving size of the food so nutritionists tend to use something called the Glycemic Load (“GL”) which is calculated by multiplying the carbohydrate content per serving with the GI. For example, the GI of watermelon and white rice are both 72 but the average serving of watermelon has only 6 grams of carbs which implies a GL of 4 compared with the average serving of 40 grams of carbs for rice which has a GL of 29. Foods with a GL under 10 are considered to be low-GL foods and have little impact on your blood sugar. Foods with a GL between 10 and 20 have a moderate impact on blood sugar. And foods with a GL above 20 tend to cause blood sugar spikes. You should try and choose foods that are absorbed slowly into your bloodstream and have a GL of 15 (medium) or less to avoid rapid spikes in blood sugar after meals.

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