The Glycemic Index

Many people have heard of the glycemic index (GI), but they are not exactly sure what it means, or how it works. A low glycemic index diet is thought to significantly lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease and even certain cancers. This is probably true, but not for the reasons people think.

The GI measures how quickly a fixed amount of food (50 g) gets absorbed into your bloodstream and raises your blood sugar. Developed at the University of Toronto, it correlates with the amount of insulin required to escort that blood sugar to the cells of your body. The faster you absorb a food, the more insulin you need to catch it and escort it to the cells. The glycemic index, in other words, predicts how much insulin is required to absorb various foods. If your goal is to conserve insulin to the greatest extent possible (so you have enough to keep your blood sugars normal over your entire lifetime), then you’ll want to shift your food choices to ones with lower GI’s.

The glycemic index ranges from 0 to over 100. Consider a low GI as below 40, and a high GI as above 70. Consider results between 40 and 70 as mid-range. Here are some actual ratings

Let’s take a look. First, notice which foods are rated lowest. Most beans are very low (except baked beans, which contain gobs of sugar). Most green (broccoli, celery) and white (cauliflower, mushrooms) vegetables are very low, below 25. Red, yellow, and orange vegetables lie in the mid-range. Tomato juice, in comparison, has a GI of 38. Generally speaking, beans, vegetables, and dairy have some of the lowest glycemic indexes. Plain yogurt has a GI of 14. All carbohydrates are not created equal.

Crackers and cookies are higher (60’s-80’s) because they are made from white flour; oatmeal cookies (55) are a little better. Breakfast cereals tend toward a similar range (70-80), except for a few whole-grain products in the 50’s. Fruits are better, in the 30-50’s, though some (especially tropical fruits) are higher. But don’t worry, I promise that fruit is not what’s causing the diabetes and obesity epidemics in our country.

Other items with high GI’s include ultra processed Poptarts (72), Rice Chex (89), french fries (75), pretzels (83), tofu frozen desserts (115) and sugar drinks like Gatorade (78). Instant rice (87) (it’s pre-digested) is much higher than steamed brown rice (50). Whole-grain breads are much lower (40) than white breads (60-70) or baguettes (94). Whole-grain breads have more fiber and lower GI values, but beware: Brown breads are sometimes treated with enzymes to break apart fiber and soften the crust, which then raises the GI.

The GI is also affected by two related factors: 1) other foods eaten at the same time, and 2) preparation methods. Fiber, fat and protein all slow gastric emptying, which is why it’s a good idea to sprinkle peanuts on your oatmeal, or olive oil on your green beans. Vinegar and lemon juice also appear to slow gastric emptying and, thereby, reduce rates of absorption. Wine and spirits (but not beer) taken with a meal may reduce the glycemic index of that meal by 15%. But why are instant mashed potatoes a whopping 74? The physical action of mashing starts the process of breaking down food long before you swallow it. The less work your body has to do, the more rapidly you absorb the food, and the higher the GI.

The good news is that you can affect the rate at which you absorb certain foods. Whatever increases the work of breaking down food will lower its GI and vice versa. The longer it takes to break down a food, both mechanically and chemically speaking, the lower its GI. The work of chewing up, teasing apart, and breaking up the fibers of an apple is just that — work.

Limitations of the glycemic index? It measures only glucose, and not fructose, a major cause of insulin resistance, high triglycerides, and fatty liver. Also, all results are based on intake of a 50-gram serving size, even if the usual serving is much smaller. But, overall, shifting your food choices to items with lower GI ratings should help to conserve your insulin, and that, my friends, is the name of the game.


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Red Pepper Bisque

If you’ve been looking for a way to branch out and eat more different vegetables, this is it. Every color in your diet represents a different phytonutrient, and every phytonutrient is like a building block for your good health. That’s why it’s important to eat the rainbow, to maximize the number of different colors on your plate, to spread your bets. If you have been feeling like you could use a little more on the red side of the spectrum, make this.
It takes just a few minutes to whip up this Red Pepper Bisque and IT IS GOOD. The original version comes from Food Babe, who has been generating terrific buzz on the subject of cleaning up our food supply and putting pressure on BIG COMMODITY FOOD to do the same. She has got it all figured out, and she’s on your side.

Continue reading


Eat the Orange, Skip the Juice

Juice is not a great choice unless you need to raise your sugars rapidly. Do you want to spike your blood sugars? Probably not. Not if you want to conserve your insulin and reduce your risk of developing diabetes. When I was a kid, my doctor used to keep orange juice in the office to treat patients with low blood sugar.  Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Rice Pudding

On the day we were married, almost 36 short years ago, my Aunt Gerda showed up with a bucket of the creamiest, most extraordinary rice pudding I have ever eaten, before or since. We even packed up a small container to take on our honeymoon. You might say that rice pudding holds a special place in my heart and soul. Especially Aunt Gerda’s rice pudding. Continue reading



Reduce Your Risk of Cancer — and Don’t Wait

A newly released study of 40,000 women from Johns Hopkins and National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that 30% of breast cancer cases in women in the US could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding hormone therapy, limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco. Holy cow, Batman. Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Just Parsley Salad

There is an incredibly warm and cozy spot in my heart where the parsley goes. Parsley doesn’t usually get people riled up the same way that basil or thyme or oregano do but, if you ask me, it’s its own kind of wonderful. What’s different about these recipes is that here the parsley serves as the green, the herb, the everything. It’s not a decoration or a garnish, it’s just the parsley, and it’s definitely meant to be eaten this way. No competition, no second fiddle. Continue reading


2016 Memorial Day Menu

Company’s coming! and I thought it might be nice to share the menu. 🙂

My friends and family inspire me so much every day, and I am grateful beyond words. Chief-cook-and-bottle-washer is making a trip to the grocery store today to gather the necessary provisions. Judith, a fine cook if ever there was one, is bringing her extremely fine baked beans. Lori has a tomato-watermelon salad (feta optional). And there is more, much more. We will raise a toast to the magnificent new garden envisioned and then built by the team of T&J. The new bride and groom will be here. And my parents will celebrate their 60th, yes, sixtieth(!), wedding anniversary. They were actually married (in the middle of the week) on May 30th, 1956, in the years before Memorial Day was moved to Mondays! Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Three Delicious Salad Dressings

Have you ever noticed how so many different cuisines include a dish that pairs some type of greens with some type of fat? Whether it’s lettuce and olive oil, cabbage and mayonnaise (cole slaw), sauteed greens + pignola nuts, spinach with bacon dressing, or deep-sea fatty fish and seaweed (sushi), parsley salad with tahini dressing, you are apt to find green leaves combined with fats over and over again. Continue reading


The Salad Dressing Situation

The last time I stopped at the local supermarket to investigate salad dressings, I learned some very interesting things. Here’s a warning: After you read today’s post, if you haven’t already done so, you’re going to start making your own salad dressing, even if it’s simply olive oil and salt (my fav), or a squeeze of lemon. Continue reading