Episode 147 - Ketosis and Your Brain
Glycemic Load: The Key to a Smarter Diabetes Diet
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Once you’ve mastered counting carbs, just a little more math will let you fine-tune your diabetes diet plan. Figuring out the glycemic load of a food can help you craft a menu that won’t put your blood sugar on a roller coaster.
Understanding Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load
Beyond carbohydrate counting, you might already be looking at the glycemic index (GI) number, which tells you how quickly your blood sugar might spike after eating a certain type of food. The GI of carb-based foods is a measurement of how quickly blood sugar rises after eating in comparison to a slice of white bread, which has a GI of 100. In general, the lower the GI number, the less dramatically the food will affect blood sugar. Low-GI foods are generally 55 or less.
However, calculating the glycemic load (GL) can provide an even more accurate picture of what that food will do to your blood sugar. “Glycemic load accounts for carbohydrates in food and how much each gram of it will raise your blood sugar level,” says Krista Wennerstrom, RD, food and nutrition services director at Thorek Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
To find a food’s GL, multiply its GI by the number of carbohydrate grams in a serving, and then divide by 100. A low GL is between 1 and 10; a moderate GL is 11 to 19; and a high GL is 20 or higher. For those with diabetes, you want your diet to have GL values as low as possible.
As an example, an average cake-type doughnut has a GI of 76 and 23 carbohydrate grams. Multiply 76 by 23 and then divide by 100, and you get 17.48, which is close to the top of the moderate range for glycemic load.
Taking the GL of carb-rich foods into account can have a direct impact on diabetes control. There’s a strong correlation between eating a high-GL diet and the risk for ongoing high blood sugar, according to research in the April 2014 issue of the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which reviewed the dietary habits of 640 adults with type 2 diabetes.
Putting Glycemic Load to Work for You
The strategy for effectively using glycemic load to evaluate your diet requires some research and math — this is where the trusty calculator on your smartphone can come in handy. Begin by focusing on the carb-rich foods you eat most often. Assess the GL of your favorite foods and, where needed, find lower GL substitutions where possible, says Patrice Atencio, MEd, RD, CDE, a dietitian with the East Carolina University Physicians Endocrinology Program in Greenville, N.C. “I have worked with some clients who want to have very good blood sugar control, and this is a great approach for them.” You can also use existing tables to make this easier, such as the one listed in the journal Diabetes Care.
Here are some sample meal swaps based on the GL of common foods:
Breakfast:Choose a serving of an all-bran cereal, which has a GL of 12, instead of corn flakes, which has 24 GL. Add a serving of milk, with 3 GL, and berries.
Lunch:Instead of a ham-and-cheese sandwich on white bread, which has a GL of more than 10 per serving, go for a wheat tortilla with refried beans and salsa, which comes in at a 6 GL. Add a side salad or fruit, such as an orange with 4 GL, to fill out the meal.
Dinner:Skip the two slices of pizza — 18 to 24 GL — and have instead a serving of baked fish, a side of whole grains at 17 GL (rather than the 23 GL of white rice) and cooked vegetables.
Snacks:Consider a serving of cashews with 3 GL rather than the GL of 15 in some chocolate bars.
Wennerstrom emphasizes that calculating GL isn’t for everyone, and it’s not always easy, such as when you’re out somewhere and faced with new foods. In those instances, the closer you can get to choosing fresh whole foods, such as salad, the more favorable your GI and GL numbers are likely to be. But when in doubt, ask, she says. Many facilities have a dietitian who can be reached for advice, or your diabetes educator can help.
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