Understanding the Glycemic Index and Blood Sugar Regulation

3.11 Understanding the Glycemic Index and Blood Sugar Regulation 

The glycemic index (GI) refers to the total increase of blood glucose after consuming a specific carbohydrate-containing food relative to a reference food [41]. Physicians developed the GI in 1981 for people with diabetes [41]. It’s a guide to food selection that help us recognize and manage the GI content in foods. Consuming low GI foods helps prevent large increases in blood glucose (blood sugar), which is important for managing or avoiding the onset of T2 diabetes. Glycemic variability measures the peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels in the time following the consumption of food. Blood sugar spikes associated with foods high in sugar, fructose, and high fructose corn syrup are a known risk factor for developing many clinical conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease [41, 42].


When we consume carbohydrates, our body breaks them down into glucose, a type of sugar that is used by every cell in our body for energy. As our body produces glucose, blood sugar levels rise [41, 42]. This stimulates the pancreas to make insulin, a hormone that helps our cells take in glucose from our bloodstream lowering our blood sugar levels. If we frequently eat meals and snacks high in carbohydrates, elevated glucose levels require the pancreas to continuously release insulin which can lead to a state of insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a condition where insulin isn’t working effectively to allow glucose to be used as an energy source [111].


In this state, the pancreas is working over-time to produce insulin to try and keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range. If we don’t change our style of eating, eventually, the pancreas wears out leading to the onset of T2 diabetes. The purpose of a low GI diet is to keep our blood sugar more stable throughout the day [41, 42] and reduce the need for taking insulin medications that can cause weight gain. To avoid developing diabetes and other conditions this means we moderate the intake of foods containing glucose (sugar), fructose, high fructose corn syrup, and saturated fats to avoid blood sugar spikes and dips [42]. This is particularly true if we want to avoid weight gain following successful bariatric and pharmaceutical interventions for weight loss. As we briefly discuss other aspect of wellness, it’s important to realize that our overall focus should shift to supporting the health of our mitochondria, which in turn will improve our mental and metabolic functioning.


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