Getting Familiar with the Glycemic Index: How the GI Can Help You Make Healthy Food Choices (and Seven Tips to Help You Get Started)

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 9/16/2015, 3:10 p.m.
With a plethora of complicated, confusing, and often-contradictory diets out there, it can be difficult to know which foods to ...
Warren Honeycutt:

By Warren Honeycutt

As you close the restaurant menu and place it on the table, you feel pretty darn proud of yourself. After all, you've just bypassed quite a few unhealthy entrée options and decided on the grilled chicken. You certainly don't suspect that your side dish—a choice between corn on the cob, steamed broccoli, or a baked potato—might sabotage your efforts to lose weight. (They're all vegetables, right? How unhealthy could they be?) But that's exactly what could happen if you aren't familiar with the glycemic index (GI). Turns out, the best choice is broccoli, the next best is corn, and in last place—dead last—is the baked potato. In fact, you might as well eat a candy bar.

If you're thinking something along the lines of, Huh? What is the glycemic index and what does it have against baked potatoes?, read on.

The glycemic index is a reliable way to measure how various foods and drinks will affect your blood sugar. In particular, the GI can help you make choices that will leave you feeling satisfied longer, and that won't turn to fat soon after you eat them.

If you take the time to learn the basics about what the glycemic index is, how it works, and how to apply it to your daily habits, you will see results in your weight loss efforts.

At the risk of sounding obnoxious, I want to tell you a little about myself and my experience with fitness and nutrition. I am a championship bodybuilder and have been a Southern Classic Physique Champion, two-time Mr. Tennessee, and six-time Mr. America finalist. Now, at age 62, I enjoy perfect health without any prescription medications. Incorporating everything I've learned over the years, I offer personalized fitness training through my comprehensive Get Lean program, which features detailed fitness videos for exercising at the gym, at home, at the office, and while traveling; personalized meal plans; motivational material; and more.

Here are seven things you should know about the GI and how to use it:

The GI is like golf: You'll want to avoid high scores. In a nutshell, the glycemic index measures how quickly the body will break down the carbs in a given food and convert them to glucose. Each food is assigned a rating on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being pure glucose.

Generally speaking, the higher on the glycemic index any given food is, the greater the effect it has on raising your blood sugar. As we'll discuss, high blood sugar is something to avoid if your goal is to maintain a healthy weight.

Not all carbs are created equal. High-GI foods cause a spike in blood sugar. This prompts the body to store fat and tricks the brain into craving more food. It's easy to see why these carbs are considered "bad" for individuals who want to improve their health and lose weight.

Meanwhile, foods that are lower on the GI take longer for the body to break down, creating a slow and balanced rise in blood sugar. These "good" carbs leave you feeling satisfied longer and help regulate your metabolism. So don't be put off if you see that a particular food has a high number of carbs. Check its GI rating first. If those are "good" carbs that create a slow burn, you'll be better off in the long run than if you ate lots of low-carb, high-GI foods that leave you feeling perpetually hungry.