How To Use The Glycemic Index To Lose Weight
Weight loss diets come and go. Every year there are new plans, guides and sometimes even diet revolutions. But what really makes a good diet plan? Why do some systems remain popular for years while others fade away? The short answer is science. Some diet plans are based on a limited number of personal experiences which for one reason or another do not help everyone who tries them. The diets which really work are those that are based on human biology and nutrition and so far the best system is the glycemic index.
Dr. Atkins, most famous for his Atkins New Diet Revolution, described the Glycemic Index as a “Wonderful Tool”. The Atkins Diet is typical of diets which have lost popularity. This is really unfortunate as the main problem with the “Atkins diet” was not the diet plan itself but how many people failed to understand it and implemented it incorrectly. Today many nutritionists use the Glycemic Index to help the overweight and especially diabetes patients to manage their weight.
Losing weight is really a very simple process. By that I mean that the biological process which leads to the breakdown of fat (and also muscle tissue if done incorrectly) is well understood and physically very easy to implement. The problem that we have is overcoming our desire to eat, our appetite. This is where the glycemic index really helps. To understand how it works you need to know a little bit about human biology.
The glycemic index (GI) is a scale from zero to one hundred which measures the speed at which sugars locked up in carbohydrates are digested and converted to blood sugar (glucose). High GI foods, such as raw sugar, sports drinks and soda, white bread and white rice, are all digested very quickly and raise blood sugar levels to high levels. Why is this bad though?
Blood sugar levels control fat accumulation and fat burning. The human body is very sensitive to the amount of glucose in the blood so to control levels two hormones are released. Insulin, which most people have heard of, regulates the uptake of glucose into muscle and fat tissue for storage. The reason why people with diabetes lose weight is because their insulin levels are not sufficient to store new fat. Also they do not have energy to exercise due to a shortage of glycogen (glucose stored in muscle tissue) which fuels muscle contraction.
The other hormone is glucagon. Glucagon raises blood sugar levels when they fall too low. It does this by prompting the breakdown of both fat and muscle tissue to extract the sugar. It does this because the brain is fueled by sugar and when blood sugar levels fall the brain cannot function properly.
So, eating a diet which consists mostly of low GI carbohydrates and lean proteins (as well as healthy fats from fish, nuts and dairy) helps you to manage your blood glucose levels and avoid spikes in insulin. This reduces the chances of fat accumulation and increases the likelihood of fat break down after exercise when blood sugar runs low.
Such a diet also helps you to manage your hunger which means that you eat less. As low GI carbohydrates are digested slowly your receive a more constant supply of energy. This is why a bowl of oats for breakfast can ward off hunger until lunch time whereas if you eat a bagel for breakfast you will probably be feeling hungry by mid-morning.
Another important aspect of the diet is to ensure that the low GI carbohydrates are well-balanced with lean proteins. Protein is vital to prevent muscle wastage which can occur on reduced calorie diets, and you do still have to reduce calories to lose weight on a low GI diet. Protein also serves another function. When you digest protein the body releases another hormone called PYY which regulates hunger. The same hormone is released during exercise.
This is why regular exercise and plenty of protein can also help with weight loss – you simply feel less hungry and so eat less, and the exercise raises metabolism too. A win-win situation.
Jon Wade is the author of the Low GI Diet Plan which helps you to manage weight loss with healthy eating.