Glycemic Index vs. Food Quality

In the last several decades, we’ve seen a substantial increase in the number of people struggling with obesity and diabetes (both connected to what’s been called metabolic syndrome). Doctors and nutritionists who follow the dictates of mainstream medicine (largely influenced by pharmaceutical and industrial food companies) place most of the blame for this unhealthy trend on insulin. According to the logic, insulin resistance (and therefore an increased amount of insulin in the blood) is correlated to diabetes and weight gain; therefore, we should all do what we can to prevent our bodies from producing too much insulin. The glycemic index was developed to help us meet this goal. The glycemic index is essentially a database that rates foods based on the amount of insulin response they cause. Glucose is the most powerful catalyst of insulin production, so the peak of the scale is based on the insulin response caused by pure glucose (hence the word “glycemic”). Foods that cause especially high insulin spikes are high on the glycemic index and are labeled as bad for health. This includes foods like refined sugar and white bread, but it also includes potatoes, whole grains, milk, rice, and many fruits.

glycemicgraphHere’s the deal, insulin is released more or less every time we eat; it’s a vital hormone that signals our cells to use food for energy. We can’t live without it! While there’s definitely a correlation between insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, the research is less than clear on the actual causes of weight gain and diabetes. There are a great variety of opinions within the medical community on exactly what causes insulin resistance, and evidence to support the theory that insulin causes weight gain is actually lacking or contradictory. Some researchers are of the opinion that diabetes and weight gain (and the cardiovascular diseases that go along with it) are purely the result of excess energy consumption. Others, such as Dr. Lustig, believe that refined fructose and high fructose corn syrup are primarily to blame. Moreover, there are a number of studies that indicate that foods that are high on the glycemic index have an important part in a healthy diet and can actually support weight loss!

It turns out that Insulin response might not contribute to weight gain as much as the type or quality of food. A number of observational and long term studies have found that people (such as Kitvians, Japanese, and members of various African and indigenous tribes) who consume high quality foods that are high on the glycemic index, such as yams, potatoes, honey, and whole grains, have very low rates of diabetes, obesity, or cardiovascular disease. Moreover, high-glycemic whole foods like potatoes, corn, whole wheat, and rice have had an important role in healthy human diets for thousands of years.

While Americans have a particulary high rate of obesity and diabetes and also consume a large proportion of foods that are high on the glycemic index, it seems that the poor quality of foods we consume is more to blame than the amount or type of carbohydrates that these foods contain. Most Americans eat a high volume of refined sugar (sucrose and high fructose corn syrup), white wheat, and grains that are fried in refined, poly unsaturated oils, instead of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other unrefined foods. So, instead of trying to follow the poorly supported logic of the glycemic index by cutting out healthy foods like yams, whole grains, fruit, or raw honey (creation-based foods), start by cutting out the high-calorie/low nutrient industrial foods that are intimatey linked to disease (especially refined sugar, grains, and oils).

Originally posted 2012-12-08 03:49:00.

Leave a Reply