“My dad believed in two things: That Greeks should educate non Greeks about being Greek and every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex....” is a humorous line from the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It’d be great if window cleaner could clear up all health issues, but it doesn’t. And it’s not funny at all when people try to resolve their medical issues with one simple solution. Case in point: blood sugar.
One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is that they are always tired – and the most common solution they use is caffeine. Now I’m a big believer in the benefits of caffeine, but not if it’s being used as a quick fix for a serious medical condition such as insulin resistance. The fact is, if someone is tired all the time and spending the majority of their disposable income at Starbucks, their fatigue could be related to a problem in regulating blood sugar. Blood sugar is also associated with growth hormone production, a biochemical produced naturally in the body that helps regulate body fat.
In the area of physique transformation, one of the keys to success is to make the appropriate nutritional and lifestyle changes necessary to stimulate growth hormone production. This is especially important as we age, as it’s estimated that the production of growth hormone decreases by half by the age of 60. Further, growth hormone levels are inhibited when we consume food that produces a significant rise in blood sugar.
Blood sugar levels are a big problem in the US now primarily due to the excess consumption of sugar; it’s estimated that the average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons (nearly half a cup and 355 calories) of sugar a day, most of it coming from corn sweeteners. That amount is simply too much glucose for the body to process properly, and the likely result is a laundry list of health problems. In fact, the government estimates that one third of children born in 2000 or later will eventually suffer from diabetes!
The solution is not to avoid every food that has sugar, as this could result in nutritional deficiencies or bad food choices – remember, just because the label on that bag of potato chips says they don’t contain sugar, that doesn’t mean they are good for you! To get you on the path to healthier eating, you should become familiar with the glycemic index.
Among the pioneering researchers credited with creating the glycemic index are David Jenkins and Thomas Wolever. In the early ’80s Jenkins and Wolever wanted to see how blood sugar was affected within two hours after ingesting foods. As a baseline, they tested a glucose solution and assigned it a value of 100; technically, the glycemic index compares the blood sugar response of a specific food to that of consuming a pure solution of glucose.
Using the baseline of 100, Jenkins and Wolever tested 62 foods; they found, for example, that an apple had a glycemic index of 39, white rice 72 and corn flakes 80. Generally, foods with a GI index of 55 or less are considered low GI, 56-69 are medium GI, and 70 and above are high GI.
There are many charts available containing the glycemic index.
One of the most extensive was developed by the University of Sydney. (It’s free)
These ratings, however, don’t tell the whole story, because the glycemic index of a food can be affected by how it is processed and cooked. Further, when a high glycemic index food is combined with a low glycemic index food, the blood sugar response is not as great. For example, Jenkins and Wolever determined that ice cream had a glycemic index of just 36 due to the fat content. In Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw’s 1986 book, The Life Extension Weight Loss Program, the authors discuss how to combine foods to lower a meal’s glycemic index. In fact, on the back cover of the book the authors are shown holding ice cream cones to illustrate this point.
Regarding carbs, the lowest glycemic response comes from dark green vegetables and dark colored berries. One reason is that these foods have a high fiber content. Among the best types of fibrous, low-glycemic foods are strawberries, blueberries, bilberries, raspberries, cherries, kale, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms, green beans, asparagus, cucumber, spinach, peppers and zucchini. Bananas and pineapples should be consumed in moderation because of their higher glycemic index.
I should also mention that the best time for you to take carbs is within 10 minutes after completing your workout, because insulin sensitivity is at its highest then. In the past I recommended 2 grams of carbs per 1 kilogram of bodyweight, but the optimal amount actually depends on the total training volume of the workout. The more reps performed, the greater the carbohydrate intake. However, the type of exercises must be taken into consideration, as someone performing a squat workout of 10x10 is going to be able to handle a higher carbohydrate intake than someone who did 10x10 of leg extensions.
Controlling blood sugar is essential for maintaining optimal health and getting the most from your workouts. A great tool to help you with healthful eating is the glycemic index – it’s even better than Windex!