I'm back in action in the blogosphere. I apologize for not making any new posts last week, it was partially due to the holiday, but I have also been putting some work into becoming an official resaler for the Greens products that I sell through Amazon on this website. To make a long story short, there aren't exactly a lot of massive (or even minor) profit margins available in the world of retail and shipping is not an easy feat to accomplish at a low cost. As promised though, I will now continue on with my series of diet reviews.

So today has been a particularly "Low Glycemic Index" charged day in my life. On my way to work I had a lengthy phone discussion with my mother who recently got somewhat severely injured and broke a few bones in a battle with a staircase. She has gone three weeks now living on pain medications and doing her best to force solid food down, but hasn't had much success. At the start of this weekend she went cold turkey and ditched the pain medications, and surprisingly pain was the least of the symptoms. She reported hot and cold flashes as well as extreme moodiness and inconsistent energy levels. The average person would probably write this off as a "detox" which it is, but not have a clue how to fix it other than to wait it out. As a general rule, there aren't too many quick fixes to three weeks of anti-pain medications and general starvation, but there are things you can do to speed things up. What has happened here is that she has likely consumed all of her body's Glycogen (sugar) reserves as well as depleted most of her nutritional reserves throughout the last 3 weeks. I recommended she gulp down some Gatorade for a quick spike in energy and to recover some brain power, and then force down some high fiber "Low Glycemic" nutritious foods to help level off her blood sugar levels and avoid a crash. Low blood glucose levels are likely the culprit of the most obvious symptoms of low energy levels and moodiness, but the hot and cold flashes are likely the bodies attempt to "sweat out the bad." We discussed how the hot flashes and sweat typically took place after drinking water, because the body finally had more water to use in its detox. My mother of course knew most of this being a nurse herself, and her husband had already suggested most of these things, given that he is a biology major as well as an all around educated guy, but it makes a nice segue (yes, that's how you spell "segway") into the concept of the "Low Glycemic Index Diet."

What is the Glycemic Index?
The Glycemic Index has gained popularity over recent years due to its inclusion in popular diet plans such as South Beach, Nutrisystem, The Zone, Sugar Busters, Glucose Revolution, and Ending the Food Fight. It was originally developed to help diabetics monitor blood glucose level increases from food. The basic concept is that a glass of orange juice causes a much quicker rise in blood sugar than a bowl of oatmeal, which takes longer because of the type of carbohydrate and amount of fiber. The response is affected by many factors, including the quantity of food, the amount and type of carbohydrate, the cooking method, degree of processing, and more. On the Glycemic Index scale, each food is assigned an index number from 1-100, with 100 as the reference score for pure glucose. Typically, foods are rated high (greater than 70), moderate (56-69), or low (less than 55).

There is no doubt that the Glycemic Index works well for diabetics who simply cannot handle irregularity in their blood sugar levels, but recent diets have made the assumption that monitoring blood sugar levels will help control weight gain as well. Using the Glycemic Index in diet plans is based on the concept that low-index foods are more satisfying, take longer to absorb, make you feel full longer, and therefore make you less likely to overeat. Coincidentally, most low-glycemic foods tend to be healthier, less processed, more nutrient rich, and high in fiber. 

How it Works for Weight Loss:

There is good reason to believe that combining low-glycemic carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats will naturally crowd out many of the less nutritious high-glycemic foods and you will lose weight as a result. Anyone that has ever had a glazed doughnut knows that it wont satisfy you for very long and that 40 grams of sugar probably could have been better used it if were eaten 1 gram at a time over the course of 2 hours. However, the question is whether or not the Glycemic Index itself accomplishes an effective separation of these foods. 

In 2010, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the Glycemic Index, in combination with higher protein, helped overweight adults in eight European countries maintain their weight.  However, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that "consistent evidence shows that Glycemic Index and/or glycemic load are not associated with body weight and do not lead to greater weight loss or better weight maintenance.

One might conclude from the above that the weight loss was due to an increase in protein intake.

A 2008 report, which analyzed data from 37 studies and was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, linked low-GI diets to lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. However, it was noted that they did not prove that the low-GI diets prevented those diseases.

In addition to the above controversy over the topic, there are some intuitively problematic conclusions that the glycemic index seems to draw with regard to weight loss (not diabetes). For example: 

Brown and white rice rank comparably on the index scale as do white and whole wheat bread, yet clearly the whole grain choices are healthier.

Some scores are confusing. For example, carrots are a nutrient-rich, high-fiber vegetable that can range from low to high on the GI scale. Likewise, some candy that includes nuts gets a better GI score than a potato. Ripe bananas have higher GI scores than under-ripe bananas. Cook pasta al dente and it ranks lower than fully cooked pasta.

Not only do the food scores vary within the same type of food, but so does the response from person to person. It can even vary within the same person from day to day.

My Thoughts:
Unfortunately, we haven't found our one size fits all solution to weight loss yet. The Glycemic Index is not by any means a failure though, it just won't let you ignore everything that you already know about nutrition and focus on only one thing. When we take a moment to think about our food, it doesn't require a medical journal to realize that white bread (made from highly refined and often even bleached grain) is going to break down more quickly than that chewy piece of whole grain that still has its skin intact. It should also be fairly easy to recognize that apple juice has much more readily available sugar than an apple which you only manage to chew into 1 cm chunks before it gets to your stomach. In most cases though, if you carry a Glycemic Index chart around with you, you're going to be healthier than the average American (especially if the chart is heavy), but I've seen too many dieters who see one slightly bad item that they like which falls under the diet, and they eat it for every meal causing the whole diet to be a failure.

There are a few other things to consider when adopting a diet like this though. While the foods are generally nutritious, this criteria alone does not direct you to find a balanced diet as far as nutrition goes. Also, while glucose is a major culprit in America's obesity problem, you still need to be wary of what you replace your calories with. 

Let's see if it passes my diet criteria test:
  1. The correct ratio of Carbohydrates (40%-50% of Calories), Fats (20%-30% of Calories), and Proteins (25%-35% of Calories): Possibly, but not prescribed.
  2. Very high in all nutrients, and diverse enough to include all essential nutrients: Possibly, but not prescribed.
  3. Devoid of foods that can be identified as obviously harmful: In general yes, but would still allow for low sugar processed foods like Margarine.
  4. Ideally but not necessarily, tested by centuries of tradition: No.

It is apparent to me that this diet criteria could work wonderfully for some, but unfortunately has the potential to be abused if not used in conjunction with other diet advice. I have, of course simplified the diet to focus on the Glycemic Index itself, where many of the books and diets mentioned at the start only used it to monitor the type of carbohydrates one takes in. They then recommended an overall diet with criteria for fats and protein. After all of that explanation though, it appears we keep ending up right back where we started. Eat your fruits and vegetables, monitor your calorie ratios (Carbs, Fat, Protein), and keep yourself informed enough to know when food is good or bad for you. One positive for the "Meatatarians" out there, is that this type of a diet leaves room for some lean-protein in the form of meat. I will save my comments on types of meat for a future post, but as a preview I highly recommend sticking to the grass fed or free range varieties whenever possible.    

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