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Is The Glycemic Index A Good Indication of Carbohydrate Quality?
Carbohydrates are one of the most talked about aspects of a diet. How many do you need? When is the right time to be eating them? What sources should you best choose? All are questions that are asked when you’re designing a diet for yourself.
The carbohydrate content of your diet is going to depend heavily on what type of goals you have. If you’re aiming for fat loss, since protein should stay constant for the most part on any diet, the way you will decrease calories enough to get the body burning fat is often by consuming fewer carbohydrates and making sure the ones you do eat contain more volume, helping up the satiety factor of them so you are able to eat less food.
On the flip side, if you’re focusing on muscle building at the moment, your carbohydrate intake is going to be a great deal higher as that is what will help increase the amount of insulin in the body, putting you in a more anabolic state. Limiting carbohydrates during this time is going to decrease the results you see because the carbohydrates are essentially what will provide the extra energy for the body to start assimilating new muscle tissue (note fat calories can do this as well, but they are not quite as anabolic as carbohydrate calories tend to be).
All of this said, not all carbohydrates are going to impact the body in the same way after you eat them. Some will produce a rapid increase in blood sugar levels, increasing the insulin you are seeing at that exact instant.
On the other hand, others will be slower burning in the body and will produce a much slower insulin response.
Typically these are the sources of carbohydrates you want to be aiming for on a regular basis with your diet because they are going to keep your energy levels on a more even keel as well as help discourage you from wanting to eat more, driving your calories intake up and potentially leading to unwanted fat gain.
One common method that’s used to determine how the carbohydrates impact blood glucose and insulin levels is by using what’s called the Glycemic Index. This index ranks carbohydrates into three categories, either as low GI (55 and under), medium GI (56 to 69) and high GI (70 and above). It’s then said that if you choose low GI foods more often, you will get less of a blood sugar response and will be able to control hunger and energy levels better.
But, how accurately does this scale really work for choosing the carbohydrates that make up your diet?
That’s what we are aiming to look at here.
Factoring In Meal Composition
The first issue with the Glycemic Index that proves to be a problem is that it doesn’t factor in the impacts of eating a certain food within the context of a meal. For example, let’s say you were to eat a cup of mashed potatoes, which ranks in high on the GI index at a rating of 80 with a grilled chicken breast and some salad with olive oil dressing, you are not going to experience near the same rush of blood sugar and insulin levels as if you had eaten that cup of mashed potatoes by itself.
Therefore, when looking at the carbohydrates you typically eat on the GI scale, always consider what you are eating them with and secondly, how much of them you are eating period.
Doing so will help formulate a clearer picture of how they are really going to impact your body.
Your Current Fitness Level
Another factor that gets thrown into the mix that will have an impact on how your body reacts to any given carbohydrate you eat is your current fitness level.
Individuals who are in better shape and are regularly participating in resistance training tend to ‘suck up’ glucose better out of the system, so they can handle high GI carbohydrates better than those that are not participating in regular exercise.
This factor will be even more pronounced after you have just completed a weight lifting session. Since your muscles will be depleted of their muscle glycogen by this point, as soon as you eat the carbohydrate, they will literally take them up into their cells, storing them as muscle glycogen for your next exercise session.
This ultra sensitivity of the muscle cells will then continue on like this until they are replenished from the session, so high volume, more frequent weight lifting workouts are definitely going to play a role in how your body is handling incoming carbohydrates.
Nutrient Status of the Carbohydrate In Question
Another big flaw with just going by the GI Index as well is that it doesn’t really rank carbohydrates all that well in terms of promoting optimal health. For example, a slice of pizza has a lower GI rating than does watermelon, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell you that if fat loss is your game, that pizza is going to be a lot worse to eat than the watermelon (50 calories per cup compared with 200-400 per slice).
At the end of the day it’s still going to be total calories that matter, so you have to take that into consideration as well.
Further, one reason that pizza ranks lower on the GI Index is because of the fact that it also contains a good mix of protein and fat as well, so that will slow down the release of the carbohydrates in the system as discussed above.
Keep Types of Carbohydrates In Mind
Another important thing you should keep in mind is that different types of carbohydrates are going to impact the body differently.
For example, while fruit does contain glucose which will impact the blood sugar levels, it also contains fructose, which will have a much slower influence on blood glucose levels because it goes directly to the liver.
Therefore, even though a banana has a higher GI ranking, the fructose in it will help decrease the actual carb load in the banana that gets transported to the blood, thus it’s unlikely to impact you the same way a large plate of white rice would for example.
In addition to that, carbohydrates that have a high amount of fiber in them also will digest a lot more slowly in the body, so that’s yet another factor that must be taken into consideration.
Assess the Glycemic Load
Finally, as a way to help make the GI Index better, what’s been created now is known as the Glycemic Load, which takes into account how much food you’re eating as well.
This can help provide a better indication of things since if you’re eating a higher volume of carbohydrates obviously it is going to have a bigger impact on the body regardless of the type.
This is definitely going to help you get a better indication of things, but even still, do keep the above factors in mind.
There are many things that do impact the way carbs react in the body (insulin sensitivity is another big one), so just strictly relying on this scale is not going to be the best way to go.
Learn your body by paying attention to how you feel after eating various foods so you get a better sense of which ones make you feel good and which ones leave you hungry and wanting more food.
Over time you should be able to get a much better indication of which carbs work best for you and which ones you need to stay away from.
Also, try your best to move away from the ‘good carb, bad carb’ thinking pattern because this is a bad way of thinking of things.
It does still boil down to total calorie intake so that needs to be on target first and foremost before you start looking at the types of carbohydrates you consume.
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