Lower the glycemic index and glycemic load of carbohydrates eaten.
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As people age, they tend to produce larger and larger amounts of insulin as their insulin receptors become inefficient. Insulin promotes glucose (sugar) utilization, protein synthesis, and the formation and storage of neutral lipids. Excess insulin results in chronic inflammation, weight gain, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and heart disease to name just a few. In most cases, the progressive increase in insulin production with its devastating effects on the health is totally preventable. This method of prevention is accomplished by simply lowering the glycemic index and glycemic load of the carbohydrate foods eaten.
Glycemic index refers to the tendency of a food to convert to sugar and raise the blood glucose. The usual scale of glycemic index sets 100 as white bread. It is best for foods eaten to be as low as possible on the glycemic index scale. Simple sugars such as candy, dried fruit, and fruit juice are about 140 on the glycemic index scale. Whole grains are a bit lower than 100, falling in the low to mid 90s. Potatoes are a bit over 100. Basmati rice is a bit lower. Starchy vegetables that are not high in sugar are lower, such as winter squashes in the 50s and 60s.
A number of factors affect the glycemic index of a food. Some foods just plain affect different people differently. For instance, legumes such as black beans are low glycemic index for some folks and much higher for others. However, some guidelines apply. One factor affecting the glycemic index of a starchy food is the degree of solubilization of that starch. This means the extent to which the starch has been dissolved. A grain that has been ground to flour then mixed with water and cooked into bread or pasta is fairly completely solubilized, so its glycemic index will be higher. A grain that is cooked intact without grinding it to flour will be less solubilized, so it will not digest and convert to sugar as rapidly, and thus has a lower glycemic index. A good example of this is traditional pumpernickel bread, made from grains of barley or rye that have been soaked, then made into a loaf and cooked at 200 degrees for 20 hours. This will resemble a brick more than a loaf of bread, but does have a much lower glycemic index, at about 65.
Another factor that affects glycemic index is the amount of intact fiber compared to the amount of starch. Small grains such as millet, amaranth, quinoa, and teff are very small, so have a higher fiber to starch ratio. This gives them a lower glycemic index than whole grains like whole wheat, other glutinous grains, and corn.
Another thing that affects glycemic index is how fast the food can be digested. Something that passes through the digestive system quickly will raise blood sugar faster than something that has to sit in the stomach a while. The conversion of starches to sugar happens somewhat in the mouth, but mostly in the small intestine. Eating protein and fat with starches will hold them in the stomach longer and delay the rate of their release into the small intestine. Eventually the starch will get to the small intestine and convert to sugar, but its best to do this at a somewhat slower rate. To make a potato lower in glycemic index, bake the potato, scoop out most of the white and discard it, and eat the skin with lots of butter or other tasty things.
The glycemic index of a starch can be lowered significantly by the presence of organic acids in the same meal. For instance, sourdough white bread has a glycemic index in the mid 60s because of the presence of the organic acids produced by the sourdough, whereas the same white bread if not sourdough has a glycemic index of 100. Another way to get organic acids with the starch is to eat vinegar in the same meal. Dipping focaccia bread in olive oil and balsamic vinegar will significantly lower its glycemic index. If you are going to have a starchy food at a meal, like bread or pasta, eat a salad with vinaigrette dressing in the same meal.
A somewhat puzzling factor is the second-meal effect of dairy on glycemic index. Dairy foods do not have a high glycemic index, and do not affect the glycemic index of foods eaten simultaneously very much. However, if dairy is eaten at a meal, the next meal will have a higher glycemic index than it would if the preceding meal did not contain dairy. So, if you have milk, cheese, or yoghurt at a meal, make sure that the next meal is relatively starch-free. This effect does not seem to carry over to the next day. Also, we have seen no studies determining if this effect happens with goat or sheep dairy, so we just don’t know if it does or not.
Other aspects of the second-meal effect have also been measured. It seems that the glycemic index and glycemic load of foods eaten at breakfast have a significant impact on the body’s response to foods at later meals in the day. Other meals taken later in the day have a lesser second-meal effect.
A special note about protein foods: Often overlooked is that protein foods will also convert to sugar and create a surge of insulin production depending on how much is eaten at once. Protein eaten in an amount needed to repair tissue and participate in the synthesis of proteins in the body will not raise blood sugar very much. Eat more than that, and the excess will convert to sugar for energy and energy storage. What this means is that small amounts of protein eaten at every meal are better than one huge hunk of protein eaten all at once. The actual needs for protein will vary from person to person depending on age, activity level, growth, etc. A good rule of thumb is to eat 4-5 ounces of lean protein per meal as meat, fish, or eggs. Eat more than this if doing hard manual labor, pregnant, pumping iron, or recovering from illness or injury.
Related to glycemic index is glycemic load. Glycemic load deals with the amount of carbohydrate contained in a food that can be readily converted to sugar. Eating foods with a low glycemic load will give the body little to convert to sugar.
For example, a small square of chocolate has a high glycemic index, but since it is small it has a low glycemic load. An 8 ounce bar of chocolate has both a high glycemic index and a high glycemic load. A large plate of pasta has a high glycemic load, but a few bites of pasta as a small side dish has a much lower glycemic load.
The point is that if you are eating a food with a high glycemic index, eat only a small amount of it, and you will then have a low glycemic load, and it won’t do much harm, especially when eaten in combination with a protein and good fats.
A simple way to imagine this is to think of a normal person’s blood as containing about 3-4 teaspoons of sugar at any one time. Putting a teaspoon of white sugar in a cup of tea will not disturb the blood sugar all that much. Eating a plateful of pasta that quickly converts to 30 teaspoons of sugar will have a much more significant impact on the blood sugar and insulin level. Drinking a 12 ounce glass of orange juice or carrot juice for electrolyte and sugar replacement after a grueling session of endurance exercise will be used immediately and actually take stress off of the body by helping it to recover from the exercise faster. The same glass of orange or carrot juice, which contains 12-15 teaspoons of sugar, if taken at a time when you are not active should be considered a recreational drug and not a health food.
How far can you go with reducing glycemic index and glycemic load? Doing so very stringently probably has great long-term health effects. It is likely the reason why calorie-restricted diets improve longevity for every specie of animal in which it has been measured. On the other hand, most people need to find their own comfort level of eating. Many people will not be willing to restrict carbohydrate-containing foods severely in order to enhance longevity. But we do recommend experimenting with a fairly low glycemic index and glycemic load diet for at least a few months to discover the level of impact on how you feel. Lowering the carbohydrate load of your diet to a point that makes you feel more energy, have a clearer mind, sleep better, move towards ideal body weight, and have a good libido will probably be worth any minor dietary restrictions that you have to live with to feel and function that way.
One downside of a lower carbohydrate diet for some people is that they will begin to experience some nausea after awhile. If this happens to you, make sure that your meals are not containing a lot of junk fat. A large amount and/or poor quality fats can irritate the gall bladder and create symptoms of nausea or bloating. Making sure that some starchy foods are present in meals can eliminate this problem by “sopping up” the bile being produced. For this reason some people do better with a condiment amount of starchy food with any meal that contains much fat. Occasionally, during an aggressive regulatory or detoxification process, a bowl of spaghetti will calm the gall bladder as well as the soul. This is often true during chemotherapy, metals chelation or the day before a menstrual period starts! Do not take the basic principles of healthy eating and use them to torture yourself or your loved ones. Guilt is quite physiologically damaging.