The glycemic index (GI) measures how much a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose levels. High-GI foods increase blood glucose more than low-GI foods. The former has a value of 70 to 100, medium GI foods have a value of 56 to 69, and low-GI foods have a value of 55 and below. Glucose itself has a GI of 100; it is rapidly broken down once consumed and sent to cells for energy, stored in the muscles for later use, or stored as fat when in excess. Protein foods like fish, chicken, and meat do not contain any carbs and have no GI rating. Eating low-GI foods may help reduce the risk of and manage type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and obesity.
Ezekiel bread is a combination of six grains and legumes, including wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans, and spelt. It is a great source of protein and fiber and contains all essential amino acids and many vitamins. Ezekiel bread is very low on the GI scale, with a score of 36. Pumpernickel is whole-grain bread made from coarsely ground rye with a sourdough starter. A classic loaf of pumpernickel bread has a low-GI score of about 46.
All leafy green vegetables have low GI scores. Lettuce, spinach, kale and collard greens all score under ten on the index. Leafy greens also contain many important vitamins and antioxidants. Everyone should include vegetables in their meals, meeting the recommended minimum of five servings per day. Three of those five should be leafy green vegetables.
Vegetables that contain minimal carbohydrates and are, therefore, very low on the GI scale include asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms, peppers, and tomatoes. All have scores under 15. These vegetables also contain many important vitamins and antioxidants.
Old fashioned or steel-cut oats have relatively low GI scores because they contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. This means they digest slowly, releasing sugar content gradually into the system without spiking blood sugar levels. On average, a bowl of oatmeal has a GI score of 55.
With a GI score of 25, barley beats out all other grains for the lowest GI value. Barley also contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It is lower in fat and calories than other grains, and higher in fiber and minerals.
Most fruits have low GI values, but not all. Citrus fruit, apples, berries, and cherries all have low GI values, while watermelon and dates have very high GI values. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines recommend the average adult consume two servings of fruit per day; one serving is one medium-size fruit, a ½-cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, or a ½-cup of fruit juice.
Beans and legumes are high in dietary fiber and low on the glycemic index. They have scores ranging from 27 to 46. To help with digestion, eat beans and legumes in small amounts of about ½ a cup at a time. Chickpeas, soy beans, and peanuts all have scores below 30 on the glycemic index.
Plain yogurt is low on the GI scale with a score of 14. Greek yogurt is higher in protein and lower in sugar and carbs than other varieties, and in general, yogurt has a lower glycemic index than most dairy products, including milk, which has a GI score of 30. Adding sugar to any food raises its glycemic index, so the above scores apply to unsweetened varieties, only.
Chia, flax, and pumpkin seeds have low GI scores. Snacking on seeds is a great way to fill up without the glycemic load. Raw pumpkin seeds, for example, have a glycemic index of ten. They also contain the most protein of all seeds and nuts. With a score of 35, sunflower seeds have a higher glycemic index than pumpkin seeds but are still relatively low on the glycemic index.
Pasta has a surprisingly low GI score for a starchy food, coming in below bread and potatoes on the glycemic index. On average, the GI value of pasta ranges from 43 to 61, depending on the type of pasta. The length of time you boil the pasta also affects the GI value. To keep the GI score low, avoid overcooking it, and consume it al dente or firm.
A medium sweet potato boiled for 30 minutes has a GI of 46, making this flavorful alternative to white potatoes a decent option for low-GI diets. However, if the sweet potato is baked for 45 minutes, that number rises to 94 because some of the starch changes to sugar.
Most breakfast cereals are not low on the glycemic index; however, All-Bran fits into the low-GI category with a score of 51. It is high in fiber and contains plenty of essential vitamins and minerals. Natural muesli and granola also have a low glycemic index of 40. When choosing granola, look for a brand with no added sugar and always choose whole-grain options for bread, pasta, and rice.
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