We love our high-carbohydrate meals in the United States—especially pizza, macaroni and cheese, and French fries. But, these are contributing to an increase in diabetes, because a high “carb” diet raises the blood sugar level. Not only is obesity the consequence, but a chronic health disorder with widespread complications. Awareness of the glycemic index of your usual meals can enable you to better assess your risk of diabetes or to control its effects.
Understanding Glycemic Index (GI)
Nutritionists used to create meal plans for weight loss and diabetes prevention by mainly assessing the daily carbohydrate intake. However, not all carbohydrates are converted to glucose (blood sugar) at the same level or rate. The glycemic index (GI)—from a low value of zero to a high of 100—instead rates how much one food will contribute to raising blood sugar and how fast this happens.
Low GI foods include oatmeal and barley, whereas high GI foods include white bread and short grain white rice. Therefore, a cup of cooked oatmeal (non-instant) for breakfast is generally 150 calories (with a GI of approximately 58). Meanwhile, there are approximately 133 calories in two slices of white bread (as typical in a breakfast including two slices of toast or a lunchtime sandwich); the GI is approximately 73 per slice. It is not hard to see that oatmeal will have a lower GI.
Per the American Diabetes Association, dried beans and legumes (such as kidney beans) have a low GI—whereas popcorn, packaged macaroni and cheese, russet potatoes, and melons have a high GI. Substituting a cup of cooked lentils for spaghetti may be an excellent idea in someone who has been diagnosed as pre-diabetic or diabetic (and can also provide more protein).
Diabetes Among U.S. Children and Teenagers
According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 151,000 people under the age of 20 have been diagnosed with diabetes. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is increasing dramatically in American teenagers, and was considered a disorder of older adults until less than two decades ago.
Obesity is linked to diabetes (Type 2) in both adults and children—but sugar intake is also a major related factor. As a pancreatic disorder, insulin production is slower in diabetics than non-diabetics (or nonexistent). Since insulin regulates blood sugar level, the result is that diabetics often have to take oral medications or insulin injections to control their levels of blood glucose.
Controversies Related to Use of the Glycemic Index
Not all medical researchers conclude that classifying foods according to GI makes sense in terms of diet planning for pre-diabetic and diabetic individuals. An article by Wolever et al in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that fat and protein intake can influence the resulting GI—and need to be considered in the measurement. However, the current lab test considered the most accurate in assessing diabetes—the Hb A1C test—is affected in diabetics on a low-GI diet, so this reveals some benefit for diabetic persons to following a meal-plan using GI as a measurement tool (per an article in Diabetes Care). Therefore, low-glycemic index diets appear to be useful for diabetic management by dieticians.
The high consumption of sugar in the United States is leading to the spiral in pre-diabetes and diabetes among the entire U.S. population. If you are eating a dinner high in potatoes as well as cake and ice cream, you may be placing yourself at risk for developing diabetes.