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3 Low GI Carbs You Should be Eating

Before We Begin…what is GI?

GI = Glycemic Index

Glycemic Index = a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate, once eaten, raises your blood sugar; a lower Glycemic Index is typically better as it means the carbohydrate will provide a more sustained or ‘time-released’ source of energy.

Now on to the low-glycemic carbs.

swpot apple quinoa

Sweet Potatoes

Not only do sweet potatoes taste great (at least most people think so), but they also have a rather low glycemic index (roughly 65 depending on the source, method of cooking, etc).

AND they are extremely rich in many nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, copper, and the list goes on.

Just about any time you see someone’s list of “Super Foods,” it’ll have sweet potatoes on it, and for good reason!

Quinoa

Pronounce keen wah, quinoa is another low GI (of about 50) source of carbs that has lots of nutrients.

If you’re wondering what quinoa tastes like…imagine if oats and rice had a baby…it’d be called quinoa.

Btw, it’s great for either breakfast or dinner.  I guess we owe that to it’s hybrid nature.

Apples

Fruits sometimes get a bad wrap because they contain ‘fruit sugar.’  (More on this erroneous bad wrap later.)

When it comes to apples, who really cares that they have a few grams of sugar?!  The reason we avoid sugar to begin with is because it spikes our blood glucose (blood sugar).

But apples have a GI of roughly 35, which is extremely low…meaning they do NOT spike your blood sugar, largely because they contain so much fiber.

For these reasons, and because they’re convenient and taste good, I’d highly recommend consuming apples on a regular basis.

Your friend in fitness,

Dr Clay

Related Reading: Does the Glycemic Index Really Matter Q & A

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Does the Glycemic Index really matter?

Question:

Dr Clay, I’d like to get your take on something.

I’ve always heard we should eat “complex” carbs which have a low glycemic index.  But I’ve recently read that the glycemic index doesn’t really matter.  Now I’m confused – should I worry about the GI or not?

Thanks for any info you can give me.  ~ Brett S. / Bloomington, IN

Answer:

That’s a good question, Brett.  You’re definitely not the only person confused about the Glycemic Index – or GI as it’s often called – and whether or not it’s worth us being concerned with.  It’s a topic of debate in various circles, from professional bodybuilders to nutrition PhD’s doing research.

What Research Says about Glycemic Index (GI)

Speaking of research, quite a bit has been done on the GI and trying to access its importance.

In summary, research doesn’t help much…it’s yielded mixed results.

Some studies show that eating low GI foods is beneficial.  It seems that eating lower GI foods has a tendency to help control one’s appetite better than high GI foods.  Additionally, over time, eating low GI carbs may also help to reduce inflammation by keeping one’s blood sugar and insulin levels more stable over time.  And a reduction in inflammation does a LOT, we’re finding, to improve our overall health.

Other studies show no difference.  However, I personally feel this is because of the difficulty in controlling all the subtle variables in a study like this.

But one thing’s for sure, studies are NOT showing that high GI carbs are better than low GI carbs.  They either show no difference or that low GI carbs are better.

My Experience with Glycemic Index Importance

Early on in my bodybuilding career I found that when I ate a white potato as my carb source (which has high GI), I would feel great for about 60-90 minutes after eating.  Then, almost out of nowhere, I’d soon hit the wall again and find myself tired, hungry, and irritable.

Fast forward a couple years and I’m getting ready for another competition, only to notice that I feel MUCH better between meals!  I soon put two and two together and realized that it was due to my having switched to more complex, low glycemic carbs like sweet potatoes and oatmeal.

(At the time – early 90’s – it wasn’t normal to eat oats when dieting due to the measly couple of fat grams. I’m sure glad I thought outside the box a bit, because I felt much better eating oats… and the couple fat grams didn’t slow my fat loss at all.)

For me (and many, many others), eating a high GI carb left me tired and out of energy well before my next meal…just the OPPOSITE of sustained, steady energy!

“…eating a high GI carb left me tired and out of energy well before my next meal.”

Whereas when I have sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa, or other low GI foods, my energy lasts quite well until my next feeding time.

Low GI does NOT mean High Quality!

I’ll leave you with this, Brett.  Although I certainly feel that eating (relatively) low GI foods is a good rule-of-thumb, just because something has a low GI does NOT mean that it’s nutritious!

For example, regular milk has a GI of ~ 27 (1), which is really low.  Yet we know that drink whole, full-fat milk isn’t “good” for us.  Sure, your body may break down the carbs in whole milk more slowly, and they may result in steady blood glucose levels, but it sure as heck doesn’t mean it’s gonna do your body good.

Another example: ice cream and pineapple both have a GI of ~ 60.  But would we jump to the conclusion that ice cream and pineapple are equally healthy?  Of course not!

same GI? yes. same nutrition? NO!

How to Use the Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index is really nothing more than a measure of how fast the carbs in a food end up in our blood stream.  And as a general rule-of-thumb, we want our carbs to trickle, not flood, into the bloodstream.

First and foremost, we need to focus on eating natural, nutrient dense foods.  There’s a reason I made that Step 1 in Set Your Metabolism on Fire!  Natural foods tend to be low GI, too.  But even when they’re not, they’re still packed with lots of beneficial nutrients.

Once you’ve got eating natural foods down, and that solid base of good nutrition laid, then you can start to finely tune your diet by trying lower GI carbs in place of higher GI carbs.

Just as you wouldn’t build a house on sand, you shouldn’t worry about the Glycemic Index of your carbs if you’re eating crappy food anyway.  Build a solid foundation with natural food, then refine from there.

I hope that helps to clarify a bit about the Glycemic Index for ya.

Your friend in fitness,

Dr Clay

 

References

1) International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002

 

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Jasmine Rice and its Glycemic Index (GI): good choice or not?

Question:

Hello Dr. Clay;

Jasmine rice sure tastes good, but....

First, I want to thank you for all the information you are providing to us readers :)

I really enjoy Basmati rice myself, but I just LOVE Jasmine rice. Can you please tell me if Jasmine rice and Basmati rice are almost the same?  Should I just stay away from Jasmine rice all together?

Marlene

Answer:

I hate when I have to give someone bad news.

It reminds me of that time when I was just 8 years old and had to tell Mr Williams across the street that on the 4th day of his and his family’s week vacation, the rabbit he’d entrusted me to feed died.  That’s right, Fluffy died while under my care :(  I dreaded the Williams’ family return SO much, yet Mr Williams was extremely nice about it and insisted it wasn’t my fault.  Though I told him not to, he still even paid me the $10 he’d promised.  What a nice guy…but I digress.

Marlene, I know you love Jasmine rice…but I’ve got some bad news.  You may wanna sit down.

Jasmine rice has a Glycemic Index of 109…(sigh) which is really high.

I hope you take this as well as Mr Williams did regarding their beloved pet rabbit.  The truth is…I’m just the messenger telling you what Ms Kaye Foster-Powell and her colleagues reported in the International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002 (1)

The question remains, now that we know Jasmine rice has a high glycemic index, what should we do?

I think the best bet is to generally avoid Jasmine rice and opt for a rice variety – or other carb source – that has a lower glycemic index.

I do have a bit of good news, however.  Because research has shown that having high GI (simple) carbs right after a workout is actually a good idea, feel free to have Jasmine rice after your workout…within a couple hours is a good rule-of-thumb.

And don’t forget to combine those high GI carbs with some protein.  Whether it’s simply a whey protein shake or some low-fat fish, like tilapia, combining protein with your post-workout carbs really enhances recuperation from that workout.

Sadly, they are not the same

Summary

Here’s my down-n-dirty answer to your question: you can have Jasmine rice, but only if you earn it by working out first. Unfortunately, Jasmine rice does not have a low GI like Basmati.

Your friend in fitness,

Dr Clay

PS  Marlene’s question comes from a previous post called Choosing the Healthiest Rice with the Lowest Glycemic Index, which you may wanna check out.

 

Resources:

Am J Clin Nutr 2002;76:5–56.