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A Glycemic Index or GI list is a list of food items that provides readers with a measure of how the carbohydrates in each sort of food act on the body’s blood sugar level. The GI is a numerical expression of this effect, as compared to the reference food, glucose, which is by definition given a GI value of 100.
A GI list tells its readers how quickly the carbohydrates contained within particular food items are transformed into sugar when they are digested, as compared to glucose itself. The higher the GI, the faster the carbohydrates are transformed into sugar, and, as a result, the higher the blood sugar response.
Those foodstuffs that easily and quickly break down when they are digested, and which release glucose quickly into the bloodstream by doing so, have a high glycemic index, whereas those that break down slower and which release their stored glucose less rapidly have a low glycemic index. A GI of 70 or more is classified as high. A GI of 56 to 69 is classified as medium. Lastly, a GI of 55 or lower is classified as low.
Research has found that food with a low GI is significantly healthier than food with a high GI. By definition, high GI carbohydrates are more rapidly transformed into glucose and absorbed into the blood, which causes rapid blood sugar swings. The body responds to these swings by producing a large amount of insulin to normalize the blood sugar – which is then transformed into fat and stored. In addition, the rapid release of insulin increases the appetite. By contrast, consuming low GI carbohydrates results in a steady, constant insulin response and all that implies. A low glycemic diet has been determined to be the healthiest way to reduce and control weight, and, more importantly, places one at a much lower risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease than if one were consuming a high glycemic diet.
Foods with a low glycemic index include most vegetables and fruits save for potatoes; brown rice; milk; and low-carbohydrate foods such as fish, meat and eggs. Medium-GI foods include white rice; whole-wheat products; and sweet potatoes. High-GI foods include white breads; prepared cereals such as Rice Krispies and cornflakes; and biscuits.
It is worth noting that the GI of various food items can be altered through cooking or preparation – for instance, the addition of vinegar and/or the presence of dietary fiber, such as that found in oatmeal, can lower food’s GI. In addition, certain varieties of foodstuffs can have different GI – certain types of potatoes, for instance, have moderate GI, while other sorts of potatoes have high GI.