The Glycemic Index:  A Tool For Diabetes Meal Planning

The glycemic index, or GI, is a useful tool for people with diabetes to manage their diet for better blood sugar control. The glycemic index measures how much a food containing carbohydrates may increase blood sugar levels. Foods with a high glycemic index are digested and absorbed quickly which causes a rapid increase in blood sugar levels.  In comparison, foods with a low GI value are digested slowly causing a slower increase in blood sugar levels.  Low GI foods are typically rich in fiber and protein but may also be high in fat, saturated fat and calories.

This index is based on the weight of the food, 50 grams, and not the portion size. For example, 50 grams is about one cup of cooked rice but is 4 cups of cooked beets. Portion control is important for managing blood sugar and weight, regardless of the GI value of the food.  

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Glycemic Index is not related to the nutrition quality of the food. Chocolate and carrots have the same GI value of 49, which is considered a low GI food, but obviously carrots are much higher in nutrient value than chocolate. Keep in mind that the GI is based on a single food being consumed alone on an empty stomach but usually we eat foods together in a meal. One way to use the GI system is to combine high-GI foods with low-GI foods to balance the meal or try to select more medium and low GI foods.  

Several factors can influence the GI value of foods. Fruit juice has a higher level than fruit since the fruit has fiber to lower the glycemic index. The ripeness of the fruit increases the GI value, because the fruit creates more sugar naturally, as it ripens. The more processed a food, generally the higher the GI value. For example, mashed potatoes have a higher GI value than a baked potato.  

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There is no one diet or meal plan that works for everyone with diabetes.  A good foundation is to select high-fiber foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, balanced with meat, dairy and healthy fats. Choose more foods in their natural state, and less processed foods. 

Meal plans should be individualized to meet personal food preferences and lifestyle to control blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels and maintain a healthy weight. A registered dietitian can develop a personalized meal plan that works for you. To find a registered dietitian in your area, go to https://www.eatright.org/find-a-nutrition-expert .

The Glycemic Index should not be the only guide to determine food choices but is another tool to use in the meal planning process. For more information on the Glycemic Index, go to the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org.

Diabetes Alert Day: Know Your Risk

Sixty seconds can make a difference in your health.  

The Diabetes Risk Test takes only 60 seconds and can reveal your risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes, the most common form of diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 10% of adults in the U.S. have Type 2 diabetes and 33% of adults have prediabetes. The American Diabetes Association sponsors Diabetes Alert Day® every year on the fourth Tuesday in March to raise public awareness of the seriousness of diabetes, especially when it is undiagnosed or untreated. The anonymous test can be taken online or downloaded as a paper version at https://www.diabetes.org/risk-test.

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The questions will relate to the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. Some of these risk factors you cannot change like age, family history, and gender. Women who had diabetes during their pregnancy (gestational diabetes) are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. If you had a parent, brother or sister who had diabetes, your risk increases. As you get older, your risk for diabetes increases. Certain racial and ethnic groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans are more likely to develop it as well.  

There are other risk factors where you can make lifestyle changes to decrease your risk.  People who are inactive and/or overweight are at increased risk for diabetes. Having high blood pressure also contributes to your risk. Staying at a healthy weight, through diet and daily physical activity can help you prevent and manage not only Type 2 diabetes, but also heart disease, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. In fact, eating healthy is one of the most important areas you can do to lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  Making a few small changes can have a big impact on your weight and your health. 

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Being aware of your risk for Type 2 diabetes is the first step to taking control of your health.  Take the Diabetes Risk Test. If there are lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk, start today. If your risk level is high, follow up with your healthcare provider. The good news is that diabetes is controllable. The earlier you take control of diabetes; you can prevent or delay some of the complications. Over time, it can affect many parts of the body and lead to other health problems like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, and circulation problems that may lead to amputation.   

Know your diabetes risk so you can take action today.