Betty and Judy are two women I know well who are both recently diagnosed with diabetes. You know what that means, right? New medicine, new worries and fears, and above all, new Google searches. No, I’m not joking, I know perfectly well that my invisible partner in caring for my patients is the infamous Dr. Google.
The biggest change both these ladies are going through, though, is a changing relationship with food. This can be so confusing! Everybody knows that eating sugar is bad for diabetics, but is that ALL they need to know?
Of course not. What to put in your mouth is the single biggest decision you will make on a daily basis that impacts your health. So how do you learn new ways of eating that don’t make you completely frustrated?
Today I’d like to introduce you to a (maybe) new concept called the Glycemic Index. This is a measure of how eating a certain food impacts your blood sugar. High-glycemic-index foods make the blood sugar go up a lot, and low-glycemic-index foods don’t.
This is a rough “average” measure and everyone’s body is different, but it gives new diabetics (and some “older” diabetics who are looking to get serious about diet) a place to start with meal planning and food choices.
The American Diabetic Association has more information about the glycemic index of certain foods and there are TONS of websites with glycemic index information. I don’t want to give you an exhaustive list since that’s easily available.
Helping you understand how to use this information is much more important. In general, if you’re diabetic or concerned about obesity or diabetes, you will want to generally choose lower-GI foods for most of your meals and snacks.
It’s also important to understand how individual foods impact your own body. That’s where your glucometer comes in handy. If you are eating a food and aren’t sure how your body reacts to it, you’ll check your blood sugar 2 hours after eating it. If your sugar is higher than expected, that means that, FOR YOU, that food may have a higher glycemic index than average.
Here’s an example. Suppose you’re planning to have grilled chicken, roast potatoes and salad with vinaigrette dressing for dinner. You’re not quite sure how the potatoes are going to affect your blood sugar, so you check 2 hours after dinner and find your sugar is much higher than expected. Oops! What happened?
The potatoes had a bigger impact on your sugar than expected. We can assume it’s the potatoes since chicken and salad don’t affect the sugar much at all. Does this mean you can never have potatoes again? Of course not.
The other concept to understand is the glycemic IMPACT. This is a combination of glycemic index and portion size. If you eat a small amount of a higher-GI food, it has less IMPACT on your sugar than if you eat a larger portion. So if you are planning to eat a food that you know tends to raise your blood sugar, eating just a small portion will minimize its impact.
What about just eating meat and cheese and eggs? Low-carb diets have been recommended for those who are diabetic or who are trying to lose weight. The problem with low-carbohydrate diets is that they have no fiber, which is essential for proper bowel function and the health of digestive bacteria. Just adding a psyllium fiber supplement isn’t good enough, your body needs whole grains, beans and other sources of healthy plant fiber.
Your body is unique, and I can’t tell you exactly how any individual food will treat you. However, with information about glycemic index, proper portions, and your trusty glucometer, you will be able to create meals and snacks you love that don’t throw your blood sugar out of whack.
Check here to see my favorite low-glycemic-impact weight loss program that has helped a number of my diabetic patients lose weight and get their sugars under better control.
QUESTION: Are you diabetic or trying to lose weight? Have you used glycemic index information to help in meal planning? Do you think it would be useful for you?