Back when I was struggling (I mean REALLY struggling) with my weight I couldn’t figure out what had caused my weight gain and I sure as heck couldn’t figure out how to fix it.
I was desperate to lose the pounds I had gained but nothing I tried worked. This was back when low-fat was all the craze. So of course I tried it. I bought all the low-fat “healthy” foods off the shelf. Yep, that’s right, I fell hook line and sinker for the marketing scam that processed garbage with the low-fat label was going to make me skinny. And you guessed it; all it did was make me fatter and more miserable.
I even tried supplements like Metabolife that promised to boost my metabolism and yep, make me SKINNY. Well, all that did was make me a little crazy (or as my husband would say, more crazy).
See, what I hadn’t figured out yet is that my weight gain (and my constant fatigue, horrible periods, acne, and infertility…just to name a few) was stemming from a MUCH bigger issue, a hormone imbalance.
And one of the biggest contributors to my hormone imbalance was poor blood sugar balance. See, poor blood sugar balance wrecks havoc on our hormones and is a leading cause of weight gain.
If you are looking to lose weight and balance your hormones then understanding and managing your blood sugar is step #1.
To manage your blood sugar it helps to understand a couple key concepts, glycemic index and glycemic load.
What is the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load?
Glycemic this and glycemic that. Does it matter?
You’ll notice that they both begin with “glycemic.” That’s one tip that they have to do with sugars and carbs. Not only how much sugar is in foods, but more importantly, how it affects your blood sugar levels.
In general, diets that are high on the glycemic index (GI) and high in glycemic load (GL), tend to increase the risk of sugar issues.
Glycemic Index (“how fast”)
The most common of the two terms is “glycemic index” (GI).
As the name suggests, it “indexes” (or compares) the effect that different foods have on your blood sugar level. Then each food is given a score from 0 (no effect on blood sugar) to 100 (big effect on blood sugar). Foods that cause a fast increase in blood sugar have a high GI. That is because the sugar in them is quickly processed by your digestive system and absorbed into your blood. They cause a “spike” in your blood sugar.
So, you can probably guess that pure glucose is given a GI rating of 100. On the other hand, chickpeas are right down there at a GI of 10.
Regarding GI: low is anything under 55; moderate is 56-69, and 70+ is considered a high GI food.
Remember, this is a measure of how fast a carbohydrate containing food is digested and raised your blood sugar. It’s not a measure of the sugar content of the food.
How the carbohydrates in food affect your blood sugar level depend on other components of the food. Things like fiber and protein can slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, and this can make even a high-sugar food, low on the GI scale.
So, lower GI foods are better at keeping your blood sugar levels stable because they don’t increase your blood sugar level as fast.
Glycemic Load (“how much”)
The glycemic load is different.
Glycemic load (GL) doesn’t take into account how quickly your blood sugar “spikes”, but it looks at how high that spike is. Basically, how much the food increases your blood sugar.
GL depends on two things. First, how much sugar is actually in the food. Second, how much of the food is typically eaten.
Low GL would be 0-10, moderate GL would be 10-20, and high GL would 20+.
Example of GL and GI
So, let’s compare average (120 g) servings of bananas and oranges:
Food GI Serving size (g) GL per serving
Banana 48 120 11
Orange 45 120 5
*Excerpt from: Harvard Health Publications, Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods
As you can see, the banana and orange have almost the same glycemic index.; this means they both raise your blood sugar in about the same amount of time.
But, the average banana raises the blood sugar twice as high (11) as the orange does (5). So, it contains more overall sugar than the same amount (120 g) of orange.
Of course, this is all relative. A GL of 11 is not high at all. Please keep eating whole fruits. 🙂
What does this all mean for your health?
While we tend to think of blood sugar only in relation to diabetes, poor blood sugar balance causes a whole host of other issues long before it causes diabetes. If you are struggling with your weight and/or think you have a hormone imbalance than you should be aware of the effects that foods have on your blood sugar. Understanding glycemic index and glycemic load are a couple tools that can help you with this.
The GI and GL are just two factors to consider when it comes to blood sugar. Some high GI foods are pretty good for you but if you want to reduce the impact on your blood sugar, have them with a high-fiber or high-protein food.
Here is a low GI recipe to get your started with better managing your blood sugar.
Recipe (low GI): Mediterranean Salad
1 cucumber, chopped
½ cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup black or kalamata olives
¼ red onion, diced
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp basil
½ tsp oregano
1 dash sea salt
1 dash black pepper
Place first five ingredients together in a bowl.
Add remaining ingredients to a jar (to make the dressing) with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously.
Add dressing to salad and gently toss.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Add chopped avocado for even more fiber and healthy fat.