Glycemic Index versus the Low-Carb Diet

The body requires three types of major nutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Carbohydrates are a major source of energy in the diet, one that the brain prefers as fuel.

A low glycemic index diet should not be confused with a low-carbohydrate diet. Low-carb diets restrict many sources of carbohydrate such as breads, potatoes, sweets, fruits, and vegetables in order to put the body in a state of ketosis. In ketosis, the body uses stored fat for energy, and rapid weight loss may occur.

However, not only is the potential health risk of such a limited diet a concern, but the long-term sustainability of a high-fat, high-protein diet is highly unlikely. Many people who practice low-carb diets may initially lose weight, but they then gain weight back once returning to old eating habits.

A low GI diet focuses on choosing healthy, low-glycemic foods to promote weight loss and wellness. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains, in addition to lean proteins and heart-healthy fats, comprise your meals. Following a low GI diet allows a large variety of readily available nutritious foods; it is more like a way of life than a diet.

Because low-carb diets are extremely restrictive, there are potential health concerns that come along with this kind of diet. Restricting fruits and vegetables causes dietary levels of essential nutrients to be inadequate, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber. Low-carb diets are high in protein and fat, including saturated fat, which may increase the risk of heart disease.

Low GI Carbs Are Good for the Brain

Although the muscles can use either fat or carbohydrate for energy, the brain relies on carbohydrate. Mental performance increases with the consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods. Improved intellectual performance in areas such as short-term memory, mathematics, and reasoning is experienced after eating a carbohydrate meal. This is true for college students, elderly individuals, and even patients with Alzheimer's disease. Studies have shown that memory and intellectual performance improve more with low GI meals compared to meals with high GI carbohydrates.

Food and Appetite

The types of foods you eat dictate how much food you eat. This is because some foods are better than others at suppressing appetite and controlling hunger. Not only quantity, but also quality of food is important to consider for those who want to manage their weight. Foods that contain a lot of calories and fat in a standard serving are referred to as “energy dense.”

For example, a large chocolate chip cookie can have as much as 500 calories, the same number of calories as six fresh peaches. It is easier to consume excess calories from the cookie than from the six peaches. When eating mostly low energy density foods, your appetite will become suppressed by eating less calories and fat.

How does energy density relate to the glycemic index? The principle of energy density explains why choosing simply a low-fat or low-carb diet for weight control is not the best answer. Often, low-fat foods are supplemented with sugar to make them taste better, and they end up having just as many calories as the alternatives. At the same time, low-carb diets are high in fat, and fat is extremely energy-dense.

A diet that utilizes the glycemic index allows for reasonable amounts of carbohydrate, fat, and protein and places more emphasis on the type of fat than the total amount. The glycemic index diet includes many servings of fruits, vegetables, and lower GI carbohydrates — an approach that focuses on the quality of foods.

Glycemic Index and Fiber

Fiber plays an important role in wellness and weight control. There are many benefits to choosing high-fiber foods and eating enough fiber. Studies have shown that the quality of carbohydrates is important in preventing diabetes and controlling appetite. Since high-fiber foods help to improve satiety after meals, eating sufficient amounts of fiber is necessary for weight control. Traditionally, societies that have more plant-based dietary fiber in their cuisine experience less chronic illness.

Do you know how much dietary fiber is recommended daily? The recommended daily amount of dietary fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Americans fall short of these goals with an average usual intake of only 15 grams of fiber per day. Many low GI foods such as whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber.

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