Eat Your Way to Health and Fitness? Eliminate Carb Confusion and Lighten Your Load, Says This Theory

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The diet and
weight loss industry is booming. Everywhere you turn, there’s one
gimmick or another guaranteed to melt the pounds away. From billboards
and magazines to TV and radio ads, you can’t escape the promises
of the latest and greatest. Trying to figure out what works and
what doesn’t is enough to drive you crazy.

Folks, forget
about low-fat this, carb-free that, and diets that require rocket
science-level math to compute portion sizes and caloric intake.
There’s an easy way to eat your way to health and fitness.


are your body’s primary source of energy. As they are digested and
released into the bloodstream as glucose, they signal cells in the
pancreas to produce insulin, which escorts glucose into the cells,
where it is metabolized into energy.

According to
conventional wisdom, carbohydrates are lumped into two main categories:
simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are so named because they
contain only one or two simple sugars, such as sucrose or fructose.
Starchy carbohydrates, comprised of long chains of sugars, are considered
complex. The old school of thought figures simple carbs are bad
and should only be eaten in limited quantities, while complex carbs
are given carte blanche since, in theory, they have less of an impact
on blood sugar levels.

Turns out,
it’s much more complicated than this. We now know that the effect
carbohydrate foods have on blood sugar goes far beyond the old simple-complex
model. Starchy complex carbohydrates such as potatoes and rice rapidly
drive up blood sugar levels like "simple" carbs, while
the blood sugar effects of "complex" grains are dependent
on factors such as particle size. For example, whole oats behave
quite differently than instant oatmeal. This is why a preferred
method of evaluating carbohydrate foods based on the glycemic index
(GI) has evolved.

Index vs. Glycemic Load

The GI measures
the degree to which carbohydrate-containing foods trigger a rise
in blood sugar levels. (Proteins and fat have little effect on blood
sugar.) Foods with a low GI provoke smaller, more sustained elevations
and provide a nice, steady supply of glucose and energy. Foods with
a high GI, however, prompt rapid blood sugar spikes, followed by
equally dramatic plummets. If you’ve ever experienced a "food
coma" a few hours after a carb-heavy meal, you now know why.

Building on
this knowledge, Walter Willett, MD, professor at the Harvard School
of Public Health, and colleagues took the concept of the GI and
expanded it into something more practical: the glycemic load (GL).
Simply put, GL takes into account quality and quantity. It is determined
by both the GI of any given food, plus the amount of available,
or net, carbohydrates (fiber excluded) in a standard serving.

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3, 2009

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