Banana, ripe 52
Baked beans 48
Kidney beans 27
Macaroni and cheese, boxed 64
Spaghetti, boiled 5 minutes (al dente) 37
Snack foods and candy
Corn chips 73
Jelly beans 80
Popcorn 55 Cookies
Vanilla wafer 77
Peas, green 48
Potato, baked 85
Sweet corn 55
Sweet potato 54
Source: Women's Health Watch-Harvard Health Online.
One of the latest installments of the famed Harvard Nurses Study-conducted for almost two decades (it started in 1984) by Simin Liu and Walter Willett and their associates-confirms the importance of the glycemic index. Researchers tracked the dietary habits and the health of 75,521 nurses for ten years. The research team discovered that the consumption of carbohydrates with a high-glycemic index was strongly associated with an increased risk of heart disease. They also discovered, although the data was not as strong, that "total carbohydrate intake, representing the replacement of fat with carbohydrate, appeared to be positively related to CHD [coronary heart disease] risk."
The Harvard researchers concluded, in my view quite correctly, that eating foods high on the glycemic index leads to elevated blood-sugar and insulin levels, which in turn leads to hypertension, undesirable cholesterol and triglyceride levels and other risk factors for heart disease. Since this is the largest long-term epidemiological study being conducted in America, these conclusions will not go unnoted in the scientific community.
This is a good time for me to disabuse you of the long-held notion that there was some enormous difference between socalled "simple" and "complex" carbohydrates. That theory held that simple carbs such as sugar and white flour sent glucose rushing into your blood stream faster than complex carbs such as fruits, potatoes and whole grains. But, Liu and Willett and the other researchers found that two foods that contribute most to elevating blood sugar to an excessive level (called the "glycemic load") are baked potatoes and cold breakfast cereals. These foods were traditionally classified as complex, as opposed to simple, carbohydrates. However, they behaved just as simple carbohydrates do. So the glycemic index appears to be a better gauge of the impact of various carbohydrates on your blood sugar. As research continues to associate high-glucose load with increased risk of heart disease, we need to pay closer attention not only to the amount of carbohydrates consumed, but also to their position on the glycemic index.
Choosing your carbohydrate foods from the lower end of the glycemic index is fundamental common sense, and, for a person doing Atkins, an important building block for permanent weight loss.
In addition to being helpful for weight loss, the glycemic index has enormous potential as a tool for minimizing the risk factors associated with certain diseases. As the message spreads that hyperinsulinism is a factor in certain illnesses and disease-and it has spread like wildfire in the medical establishment over the last five or six years-the glycemic index becomes an ever more important tool for selecting foods. In my practice most of my patients have symptoms of unstable blood sugar (you may know it as hypoglycemia). Time and time again I have found this condition dramatically clears up when a diet inducing a lower glycemic response is followed. Also, doctors who specialize in diabetes are learning not only how important it is to control their patients' intake of carbohydrates, but how the glycemic index can help their patients do that intelligently.
Interestingly, it has also been shown that reducing your glycemic load appears to diminish your risk of developing colo-rectal cancer. One likely reason is that cancer cells feed off sugar. Another possibility is that sugar may compromise the integrity of the intestinal tract. Moreover, hyperin sulinism, in response to a high-glycemic load, may increase the risk of cancer. Furthermore, recent studies on women who have had breast cancer have shown that women with lower insulin production have a better survival rate and a decreased incidence of recurrence than women with higher insulin levels.
Two other recent studies have shown that hyperinsulinism has also been associated with higher risk for polycystic ovarian syndrome.' It all goes back to lesson one in eating for health: Avoid glycemic load. Don't cause your metabolism to struggle incessantly with high insulin levels, weight gain and looming cardiovascular and other health tragedies.
Now let's look at another, equally exciting way to rate carbohydrate foods.
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