Maybe You Don’t Want the Icing on the Cake

heart health blog continuum internal medicine alliance heritage trace, fort worth

Maybe You Don’t Want the Icing on the Cake

Sugar (which we like to call “carbohydrates” in the nutrition world) can be the root of all evil if its intake remains unchecked. Carbohydrates are what most of us crave because they give us immediate energy. No one craves celery over chocolate, but an hour after eating the chocolate, we are only craving more sugar. Most patients would agree that eating cookies, cake, and chocolate on a regular basis is probably not the best idea unless it is your goal to weigh more and increase your risk for diabetes. But here’s what most people don’t realize: sugar is not only found in sweet treats but also in bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes, just to name a few.

So how do we decide which foods containing carbohydrates are good for us? Most foods contain at least some carbohydrates in them and complete avoidance is virtually impossible. Luckily for us, we have a great guide called the Glycemic Index!

The Glycemic Index

I educate my patients that they should choose foods that have a low glycemic index. That being said, let me explain why. The Glycemic Index ranks food on a scale of 0 to 100 based on how that carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. A food with a high glycemic index raises blood glucose more than those foods that are low or medium glycemic index. Foods that score high on the index are absorbed and processed quickly by the body, meaning that your blood sugar levels will spike after eating that food. On the other hand, foods that score low on the index are processed gradually by the body, so blood sugar and insulin levels are also impacted gradually.

Now that we understand the index, let’s look at some of the foods we see relatively often and compare them:

  • Bananas have a higher glycemic index than blueberries.
  • Corn flakes have a higher glycemic index when compared to oatmeal.
  • White bread has a higher glycemic index than that of wheat bread.
  • Russet potatoes have a higher glycemic index than sweet potatoes.
  • Pumpkins score higher on the index than carrots.

The golden rule is to have a diet rich in low glycemic index foods which avoids surges in blood sugar. The more foods you eat that have a high glycemic index, the greater risk you have for abnormal rises in blood glucose. The more abnormal rises in blood glucose, the higher your risk of diabetes.

More information on glycemic index can be found at the American Diabetes Association website.

A Quick Tip

When it’s time to choose foods for your plate, look at the color of your food and aim for as much color as possible! Are you filling your plate with colorful foods like grilled chicken, fresh green salad, and steamed broccoli? Or is all of your food the same color, like fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn? (And I will let you guess which plate has the higher glycemic index score.)