Glycemia, glycemic index, glycemic load: let's be clear
We often hear about blood sugar, the glycemic index of foods and the glycemic load of the meal. But what do these terms mean? And why are they so frightening? As often happens, everything related to the sugar world is demonized. In this article we will try together to understand what these concepts mean, if and when they should worry us and how to learn how to manage carbohydrates in a functional and intelligent way.
What are these parameters
Glycemia (from the Greek γλυκύς, glukýs, "sweet" and αἷμα, haîma, "blood") is the value of the concentration of glucose in the blood . The presence of glucose in the blood is essential because it is our primary source of energy, used by all our cells.
However, when the levels of the latter are too high, there is the risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, while normally our body has a regulation system capable of keeping blood sugar relatively constant throughout the day.
The glycemic index (GI) of a food is a parameter that indicates the change in our blood sugar after taking 50g of sugars . Attention: we are talking about 50g OF SUGAR, and not FOOD. It is therefore a very misleading parameter, because it only takes into consideration the quality of the sugars contained and not the quantity. Per example, carrot turns out to have a high GI but low in carbohydrates. To reach 50g of the sugars necessary to raise blood sugar, you should consume about 500g of carrots.
To improve this concept, the glycemic load (CG) was born, which takes into account both the type of sugar but also the quantity. It is calculated as follows: IG xg carbohydrates / 100 . From this we obtain that, for example, a plate of pasta is able to raise the blood sugar more than a banana, which on the contrary has a higher GI than pasta.
Glycemic index and load of foods - practical utility
The GI is therefore an artificial parameter, especially useful in laboratory tests. The GC, on the other hand, seems to be convenient for evaluating a meal more completely, but it is still limited : in fact, almost all foods are composed of more macronutrients and not just carbohydrates . Bread also has a protein portion (yeah, grains contain some amino acids). However, many studies have confirmed that blood sugar is influenced by the composition of the whole meal and not just by a food taken individually. Per this reason some foods, even if composed of very few carbohydrates (such as, for example, some dairy products) are able to raise blood sugar levels.
Manage your blood sugar
In general, people with diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance should pay attention to the composition of their diet: it is certainly more important to evaluate the load than the glycemic index, and one should choose not to overdo it with both the kcal and the carbohydrates introduced.
The Italian Diabetes Society explains in its guidelines that diet is essential for:
1) check the carbohydrates ingested;
2) reduce fat intake, to correct any dyslipidemias;
3) correct any excess weight, a predisposing factor for the development of type 2 diabetes (also called "adult diabetes" or NON insulin-dependent diabetes, due to the characteristics linked to its late onset and not linked to the total lack of insulin).
But how can we act to better manage sudden rises in blood sugar?
What to eat and how to supplement when you have high blood sugar
We have seen how both the IG and the CG actually have different limitations. Reducing the glycemic load of the meal can therefore certainly be useful, but you have to learn how to do it the right way.
In fact, it is not necessary to eliminate foods with a high glycemic index , it is enough just to compose our dish in such a way as to make it balanced and not too “ loaded with easily usable sugars ”.
It seems a difficult concept, but it is not at all like this: by always combining the different macronutrients and guaranteeing a good portion of fiber (therefore always accompanying our meals with vegetables) the overall glycemic load of the meal will already be greatly reduced, avoiding unnecessary glycemic spikes and guaranteeing us energy for a longer period of time.
A few examples? A plate of wholemeal pasta with tuna and cherry tomatoes; brown rice with chickpeas and zucchini; a fish couscous with peppers and aubergines… and many others could be listed. It is also always very important to season our preparations with a drizzle of raw EVO oil, to bring good fats to the dish (which in addition to reducing the overall glycemic load of the meal have many beneficial aspects on the health of the individual). In fact, it should be considered that the presence of fats (it is better to always choose vegetable ones) and Protein (legumes, lean meats, white fish, eggs and lean dairy products) considerably contributes to the reduction of the glycemic index.
Therefore, it is better not to base the organization of your meals too much on the calculation of GI and CG, because there are many and varied aspects to consider, and choosing what to eat based on these parameters alone could be limiting and misleading. The best thing is always training, with a valid and solid foundation of nutrition education .
And how can we instead take advantage of plant phytoextracts to help us control carbohydrate metabolism? There are several compounds with evidence to support glycemic management, and are normally called " GDA " ( Glucose Disposal Agents ). GDAs are supplements capable of helping the body in the absorption of carbohydrates, also by directing them towards the formation of hepatic and muscle glycogen. Below we list some of the active ingredients or phytoextracts that find application in improving insulin sensitivity.
- Alpha lipoic acid (ALA) - fat-soluble molecule abundantly present in mitochondria, its use is recommended for the treatment of hyperglycemia and also for the female population suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It is proposed as a NON-pharmacological solution in case of pre-diabetes to normalize blood sugar levels, and has many works in support of its functionality, making the benefit derived from its intake evident.
- Berberine - widely used in traditional Chinese medicine, this alkaloid molecule is recommended for those suffering from insulin resistance, to improve insulin sensitivity and consequently the management of blood sugar. It appears to have greater effects when administered in synergy with other compounds (such as magnesium or cinnamon).
- Chromium picolinate - a microelement belonging to the group of minerals, it is used for its action on insulin. The picolinate form is the most bioavailable.
- Bitter Orange Extract - thanks to its Synephrine content, it contributes to the balance of body weight, metabolic stimulation and lipid metabolism.
- Bitter melon - from this fruit, which is believed to be one of the most effective fruits in supporting the metabolism of carbohydrates thanks to the mixture of saponins it contains, a concentrated extract in carantina is obtained to be used in combination with some of the compounds mentioned.
- Banaba - Banaba is a plant native to Southeast Asia and the corosolic acid extracted from the leaves inhibits the action of two enzymes responsible for breaking down more complex carbohydrates into glucose, thus allowing the maintenance of lower blood sugar levels .
- Cinnamon - cinnamon extract, much more concentrated than normal cinnamon used for flavoring in food, is useful for controlling blood sugar levels
- Gymnema extract - this plant, whose leaves are rich in gurmarin, works by binding to the taste receptors on the tongue, mitigating the perception of sweet taste and consequently lowering the desire for sugar-based foods.
Although they are important, the glycemic index and glycemic load are limiting and easily "bypassed" parameters: learning to eat properly, do physical activity and take advantage of the extracts that nature offers us are criteria that can certainly have a greater influence on the management of the metabolism of carbohydrates compared to complicated calculations, without necessarily having to give up the consumption of fruit, bread, pasta or potatoes. We therefore learned that, although carrots are a food with a high glycemic index, they should not be eliminated from the diet: just do not consume half a kilo on an empty stomach and without seasoning. Easy isn't it?
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