Glucose, Glycemic Index and Your Health


Glucose, Glycemic Index and Your Health

Have you ever eaten donuts or candy and noticed that you feel energetic at first and then end up feeling lethargic?  When this happens to people, who are unaware that the high amount of sugar in the food they just ate is the reason for their sudden drop in energy, they reach for another sweet or high carbohydrate food.  This can start a “sugar cycle” and causes blood sugar (glucose) to bounce from high to low repeatedly and affects your well being and energy levels.  This often happens because too much insulin is produced in response to sugary foods, and this excess insulin causes blood sugar levels to drop below normal, resulting in low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and fatigue.  On the other hand, when your food choices help you maintain consistent normal blood sugar levels, you feel great and have the energy you need to enjoy active days.

Glucose is a major source of energy for most cells of the body including your muscles and your brain.  (U.S. National Library of Medicine)  Glucose comes from two major sources: carbohydrates in food and extra sugar stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen.  Carbohydrates (carbs) are in the foods you eat in the form of sugar, starch and fiber.  When carbs are consumed, the body converts it into glucose which triggers the production of insulin, a hormone that helps glucose enter the cells where it can be used for energy.  Once your immediate energy needs have been met, extra glucose can be stored in your muscles and liver but if you still have glucose leftover in your bloodstream your body will store this excess sugar as fat.  If your blood sugar is too low, the hormone glucagon helps release glycogen, the sugar stored in your liver.  This process helps keep your body fueled and ensures a natural balance in blood sugar.  (Mayo Clinic)

The glycemic index ranks foods and beverages based on how they affect your blood sugar level.  Foods are scored on a scale of 0 to 100 in comparison to pure glucose which is ranked at 100.  Only foods and beverages that contain carbs are ranked, since they have the biggest effect on blood sugar.  (Mayo Clinic)  The concept was developed by Dr. David J. Jenkins and colleagues in 1980–1981 at the University of Toronto in their research to find out which foods were best for people with diabetes.  (Wikipedia)  More recently, the index has been used as a guide for dieters who are trying to lose weight.

Foods ranked by the glycemic index are given scores and a lower score is preferred for maintaining a normal blood sugar level.  Below are some examples provided by the Mayo Clinic:

  • High: 70 and up.  Examples include instant white rice, brown rice, plain white bread, white skinless baked potato, boiled red potatoes with skin and watermelon.
  • Medium: 56 to 69. Examples include sweet corn, bananas, raw pineapple, raisins and certain types of ice cream.
  • Low: 55 and under.  Examples include raw carrots, peanuts, raw apple, grapefruit, peas, skim milk, kidney beans and lentils.

The glycemic index can be a helpful tool; however, one criticism is that it does not take into consideration the amount of food consumed.  The glycemic load represents the food's glycemic index multiplied by the quantity of the food consumed by weight.  While the concept of the glycemic load is helpful, doing calculations for everything you eat isn’t always practical.  To make better, simpler choices about carbs, reduce your consumption of processed and refined foods.  Eat carbohydrates with more fiber like whole grains and beans.  Fiber increases the digestion and absorption time causing a more gradual rise in blood sugar.  

When your blood sugar and insulin levels stay high, or cycle up and down rapidly, your body has trouble responding and over time this could contribute to insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance is associated with a host of health problems, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Damage to eyes, kidneys, nerves and blood vessels (

Although the exact causes of insulin resistance are not completely understood, scientists think the major contributors to insulin resistance are excess weight and physical inactivity.  (  So, if you are sedentary or overweight, it may be especially important that you adhere to a low glycemic diet to control your weight and blood sugar level.  Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet are essential to prevent many health problems and diseases.

If you or a loved one suffers from health problems and live in Tustin, Foothill Ranch, Fullerton, Yorba Linda, Orange, Anaheim Hills or most cities in North Orange County, Synergy HomeCare of North Orange County can help.  Synergy HomeCare of North Orange County provides companionship, personal care services, transportation and meal preparation for all your home care needs.  Contact us today for a free, no-obligation personal care needs assessment!

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