The low glycemic diet is gaining an increasing number of adherents these days, and with good reason. The typical Western diet is chock full of simple carbohydrates and added sugars that cause frequent spikes in blood sugar, which eventually leads to a condition called insulin resistance or metabolic syndrome. This is a state in which the body’s cells no longer respond well to insulin, which increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Following a low glycemic diet can help keep your blood sugar at more stable levels and significantly reduce your risk of acquiring these diseases.
The Problem With High Glycemic Foods
The foods we eat fall into one of into three categories: protein, fat or carbohydrates. Carbohydrates eventually get broken down by the body into glucose, the substance that fuels our cells and gives us energy. Without glucose we would be dead, no matter how many calories of protein and fat we consume. However, on the whole, we eat far too many carbohydrates, and the worst kind of carbohydrates at that.
Simple carbohydrates such as sugar, potatoes, refined flour, etc. are quickly transformed into sugar by the body and cause insulin to flood the bloodstream. Prolonged exposure to high insulin levels causes a number of health problems, including high “bad” LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, low “good” HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, insulin resistance and a far greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand which include beans, legumes, whole grains and most vegetables, are digested more slowly (often due to their high fiber content) and gradually release their sugars into the bloodstream, so that insulin does not remain at elevated levels. These provide you with a steady supply of energy so you do not end up feeling hungry soon after you have eaten, causing you to reach for a snack before the next meal. A low glycemic diet can not only help to keep you from snacking between meals, it can benefit your health in other ways as well.
A Low Glycemic Diet Improves Cholesterol Levels
Studies have shown that those who follow a low glycemic diet show lower levels of LDL cholesterol, healthy levels of HDL cholesterol, and lowered triglycerides. While cholesterol in itself is not the culprit in heart disease, it does point to the fact that there is inflammation somewhere in the body, a condition that can cause heart disease and other problems. Lower levels of “bad” cholesterol are good because they indicate that your body is not in a state of chronic inflammation.
Reduces the Risk of Cancer and Type 2 Diabetes
High glycemic diets have been linked to an increased risk of many different kinds of cancer, including breast, colorectal and esophageal cancers. Researchers at the University of Sydney who performed a meta-analysis that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition were surprised to find such a strong link between a high glycemic diet and cancer. They found that high glycemic foods not only raise insulin, but also spur high levels of a substance called insulin-like growth factor one, both of which increase your risk of cancer. Research has also indicated that cancerous tumors thrive on glucose, so a low glycemic diet is helpful in starving any potential tumors of the fuel they need to survive.
It is well known that people have a high risk of developing diabetes when their insulin is chronically elevated, as it is with a high glycemic diet. A diet of low glycemic foods can reduce your risk of developing this disease, and can help to manage it if you already have diabetes.
May Reduce Macular Degeneration
One of the leading causes of vision loss in people aged 65 and older is macular degeneration. A large-scale study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those who maintained a high glycemic diet had a significantly greater risk of developing early age-related macular degeneration than those who followed a low glycemic diet. In fact, they found that a high consumption of low-glycemic fiber in the form of high-fiber cereals such as oatmeal had a protective effect against the development of macular degeneration.
An Added Weight Loss Benefit
As if the preceding health benefits were not enough, a low glycemic diet can help you maintain a healthy weight. Because low glycemic foods will provide you with a steady release of energy, you will not be tempted to snack to fill the hunger gap between meals, reducing your daily calorie intake. In addition, the lack of raised insulin means that the food you eat is more likely to be used by your cells for energy, rather than immediately shunted into your fat cells for storage, which is what happens when your body is suddenly flooded with sugar.
Overall, following a low glycemic diet is a good way to keep yourself in top health, and can reduce your risk of developing a number of chronic diseases.