Since we’ve been talking about cravings this month … one of the reasons we can have certain cravings is because of the foods we eat …
We need to talk about the glycemic index (GI) … because it may play a role in your cravings (though not nearly as big a role as many people believe…read on.)
We don’t generally pay a lot of attention to it – for example, the GI isn’t listed on food labels.
A lot of times, the foods we crave (hello, starchy sugary carbs!) fall high on the GI scale – and eating them can make us crave even more!
In a nutshell, the GI ranks foods on a scale of 1 to 100, based on how fast they cause your blood sugar levels to go up.
Foods with a high glycemic index (GI) make it go up faster, and those with a low GI raise it more slowly.
This matters because when your blood sugar goes up and down quickly, you can get cravings – and feel tired, shaky and blah … not to mention HANGRY (hungry + angry) …but not always.
Let’s dive in…
On the glycemic scale, each food is ranked by how it affects your blood sugar when it’s eaten alone, on an empty stomach.
Here are some samples of foods with their GI numbers:
Baked russet potato – 111 (yes, over 100!)
White rice – 89
Sweet potatoes – 70
Banana – 62
Potato chips – 51
Green peas – 51
Apple – 39
Carrots – 35
Peanut M&MS – 33
Barley – 28
There’s a longer list here: https://extension.oregonstate.edu/sites/default/files/documents/1/glycemicindex.pdf
According to the Mayo Clinic, foods that have a GI score of:
- 70 or more have a higher glycemic index
- 56-69 have a medium glycemic index
- 55 or less have a lower glycemic index
So does that mean you should only eat foods with a low GI?
Not if you’re a metabolically healthy adult, and weight train! (High levels of muscle and normal to low body fat levels make you much more insulin sensitive.)
And even if you’re not fit, and your blood sugar is something of a concern for you, instead of focusing only on each food you eat on its own, it can be more helpful to look at the overall “glycemic load” of your meal or snack …
Because normally we eat a combination of food (not just one at a time!)
Example: eating a baked potato on its own will spike your blood sugar much faster than eating fiber-rich broccoli and protein-heavy steak along with it. But how often do you eat just a plain baked potato? Don’t you also add in some fats like butter or sour cream? Toppings? Protein? Well, these other food items will slow down the rate of absorption and lower the glycemic load of your meal.
You’ll probably get fewer cravings if you eat higher-glycemic foods with other food items in a mixed meal of proteins, carbs, and fats. (Maybe there’s some wisdom to eating dessert only after you’ve finished your dinner.)
Also, it’s important to look at the other benefits a food contains. As you can see on the list, nutrient-rich sweet potatoes have a GI of 70, while sugary snacks like peanut M&Ms have a GI of 33. So while peanut M&Ms are lower on the glycemic index, they’re not as healthy.
Need another example of why the glycemic index isn’t as important as people think? Low-fat, low-carb yogurt is also low on the glycemic index, but it actually causes high amounts of insulin secretion. And as you are probably aware, frequent consumption of skim milk and low-fat Greek yogurt is not associated with weight gain.
Can you see how complex this is?
In reality, cravings have a lot to do with how satiating a food is, and whether foods are eaten in isolation, more than a particular food’s glycemic index.
I hope this helps shed some light on the glycemic index and what it actually means for you, your cravings, and your results!
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