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Admit it – you love carbohydrates. The intoxicating smell is impossible to resist: crusty bread rolls, toasted bagels, sugary donuts – mmmmmm. The only thing stopping you from slipping on your shoes and heading out to the bakeshop right now is knowing that those foods will go straight to your thighs and hips as soon as they pass your lips. However, not all carbs are created equally – each works differently in our bodies. Choosing carbs that have a low glycemic index won’t pack on pounds to your weight, and can even reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

 

What is the glycemic index? You’ve seen this term on food labels and book covers, but may not know what it means – you’re not alone. Though this is a common phrase, most people don’t understand what it is. The glycemic index, or GI for short, is a measurement of how carbohydrates break down during digestion and the effect of their release of glucose (sugar) on blood sugar levels. The speed at which this occurs determines whether a food has a high or low G.I., the latter being most effective in our bodies.

 

What foods have high GI’s? Unfortunately, most of your favorite comfort foods: pizza,  cookies, candy, chips…have a high glycemic index rating. This explains why they have “empty calories” – our bodies digest them so rapidly that we feel hungry soon after eating them. Therefore we continue eating and our blood sugar levels sky rocket, leading to higher production of insulin, which can result in diabetes. However, there are times when foods with high GI’s come in handy, especially after a workout – just keep in mind that the energy boost you feel will be short-lived.

 

What foods have low GI’s? Natural foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes have a low glycemic index rating. However, don’t be fooled by potatoes and rice – these starches have high GIs, and should be part of a balanced diet. Foods with low glycemic indexes will boost your energy and heighten your post-meal satisfaction – you won’t want to continue eating, though there’s no guarantee that you won’t be tempted by that candy bar…

 

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Is the Gycemic Index the Secret to Optimal Health? Not necessarily. While foods with low GI’s are beneficial to your weight, heart, and blood, it’s still important to pay attention to nutritional content, calories, and the number of grams of carbs that you consume. Many products are marketed as good-for-you because of their low glycemic indexes (agave nectar for example), even though they lack sustenance. As you learn time and time again, your health depends on a balance of diet and exercise, and it’s all about moderation. Rest assured, they’re no GI police to catch you when you fall under the spell of a decadent piece of cake, but your body will thank you if the indulgence is followed by a walk around the block.

 

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