Much of the diet buzz in my world of middle-aged friends is about eating according to the Glycemic Index. I have become a true believer myself because the diet gets you off all refined carbohydrates and into eating more fresh food and food full of fiber. Andrew Weil, M.D., has some interesting things to say about this diet in The Healthy Heart Kit Workbook:
Nutrition has a significant effect on your heart and cardiovascular system. Your food and beverage choices influence your cholesterol profile, your blood pressure, your blood sugar levels, your heart rate, and your levels of inflammation. Fortunately you can control what you eat, and making dietary changes is often the first step toward improving cardiovascular health.
You can start by making smarter choices when it comes to carbohydrates. Just avoid high-glycemic load carbs, which cause dramatic spikes in blood-sugar levels, and enjoy low-glycemic load carbs, which break down more slowly. In addition to keeping blood-sugar levels more stable, foods high in low glycemic load carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and other heart-healthy plant compounds. The healthy fiber in oatmeal, whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables also block the absorption of cholesterol, slow digestion, and keep you feeling full longer with fewer calories.
The glycemic index (GI) measures how fast the carbohydrate in a food breaks down into sugar in the body. In general, foods with a higher GI should be avoided as they cause spikes in insulin levels. However, some healthy foods like carrots and watermelon have high GI scores, but contain only moderate amounts of quickly digested carbohydrates and a lot of slow-digesting fiber or water. That’s the book’s authors advise paying more attention to a food’s glycemic load (GL), which takes into account both the quality and quantity of carbohydrate in a food.
If you replace high-GL foods with the lower-GL alternatives below, you can reduce triglycerides, raise HDL, and cause less abnormal inflammation.
Low GL (score of 1 to 10): Most vegetables, most beans, most fruits, most dairy products, pasta cooked al dente, nuts, bran cereals, dense and chewy bread like German pumpernickel, barley, popcorn, wheat tortillas, tomato juice, hummus, and soy milk.
Medium GL (11 to 19): Bananas, orange juice, white bread, corn tortilla, oatmeal, corn, brown rice or converted white rice, pretzels, boiled or sweet potato, navy beans, and black-eyed peas.
High GL (20 and up): Bagels, white rice, corn flakes, puffed rice, French-fried or baked potato, couscous, raisins, dates, cranberry juice cocktail and fruit leathers.
Here are five handy substitutions for making your carbs count:
1. Whole grains or dense, chewy varieties for regular bread.
2. Air-popped popcorn instead of potato or tortilla chips.
3. A handful of nuts instead of a bagel with cream cheese.
4. Brown rice, barley, bulgur wheat or sweet potato instead of white rice or potatoes.
5. Oatmeal or low-sugar, whole-grain cold cereal instead of sweetened sugar.
Note: High-fructose com syrup, an artificially manipulated sweetener, presents a bigger challenge to the body than more natural sugars because it’s more readily turned into fat. It raises triglyceride levels and is linked to high blood-sugar levels and high blood pressure.
Adapted from The Healthy Heart Kit Workbook by Andrew Weil, M.D., et al (Sounds True, 2008)