Here at CeliAct, we’re all about “beyond gluten-free”. While you need to follow a gluten-free diet, you need to go beyond the gluten-free diet and do more for your health.
When you go grocery shopping, the need to find gluten-free food is so monumentally important, that most other concerns go out the door. You may be pleased with a product once you’re done scanning the label for those dreaded ingredients that force you to put it down. When you deem something to be gluten-free, often other health standards are tossed aside.
Well, gluten-free isn’t enough anymore. We need to eat healthier diets, and it starts with a basic understanding of something called the glycemic index.
You may have noticed the terms “low glycemic index” or “low GI” on food packaging lately, but do you understand what the glycemic index is? Let’s explore how gluten-free eating and low-glycemic eating intersect.
What Is the Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index (GI) measures how a person’s blood glucose (“blood sugar”) responds to ingestion of a specific food. Some foods cause quick and dramatic peaks in blood glucose, while others do not. The glycemic index is a system for measurement that compares foods to either pure glucose or white bread, each of which has a GI of 100.
Each food is analyzed for its GI rating by giving 50g of it to human volunteers and measuring their blood glucose levels over the course of two hours. Low glycemic foods are those that release glucose into the bloodstream slowly and steadily, without dramatic peaks and drops.
- Low GI foods have a value of 55 or less
- Medium GI foods have a value of 56-69
- High GI foods have a value of 70 or above
What Determines a Food’s Glycemic Index?
Whether a food is low or high glycemic depends on a variety of factors. High carbohydrate foods are not automatically high glycemic. The factors that make a food high or low glycemic include whether the starch has been gelatinized, how processed a grain or other carbohydrate source is, how much dietary fiber is in the food, how much fat and protein is in the food, whether it contains acids, whether it contains enzymes, and what type of starch is in the food. Thus, some types of bread are low-glycemic despite being high in carbohydrates due to other factors in their preparation.
Why Should I Care About the Glycemic Index?
The GI is the foundation for many diets used for weight loss, such as the South Beach Diet. Research has shown it can help you lose weight, prevent or reverse Type II diabetes, or control polycystic ovarian syndrome, cardiovascular disease or macular degeneration. A low GI diet may help prevent obesity and Type II diabetes as well as related complications such as atherosclerosis, kidney disease and organ damage.
Because avoiding high-GI foods results in more steady blood glucose levels with fewer spikes, people frequently report less hypoglycemia, steadier moods, fewer food cravings, less food binging, lower blood glucose monitor readings and greater weight loss than with a conventional diet.
Are Gluten-Free Diets Low-Glycemic?
Gluten-free diets are not inherently low-GI. In fact, gluten-free processed foods, such as breads, cookies and pasta, are typically even higher GI than their wheat-based counterparts. Most processed gluten-free foods are lower in fiber, more processed and devoid of whole grains. They are often based upon high GI white rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch and corn starch. Even those that use higher-fiber, moderate-GI raw ingredients are processed in a way that may raise their glycemic index.
Combining a Gluten-Free Diet with a Low-GI Diet
In general, a low-glycemic gluten-free diet emphasizes minimally processed foods, lean proteins, dairy, nuts, seeds, legumes, non-starchy vegetables, and low-glycemic fruits. Whole grains, especially in their unrefined form, are also an important part of the diet in moderation.
Here are some additional tips to help you follow a low-GI gluten-free diet:
- Instead of consuming rice pasta, you should choose a serving of high-fiber, high-protein pasta made from quinoa. Ancient Harvest has an excellent line of quinoa-based pastas that are available in many grocery stores as well as online through GlutenFreely.com.
- Instead of eating starch-based gluten-free cookies purchased at the store, you can bake cookies with certified gluten-free oats or quinoa flour, and a low-glycemic sweetener such as agave nectar.
- A baked low-GI sweet potato is a great substitute for a high-GI baked white potato.
Focusing on incorporating healthy fats, protein, minimally processed foods and dietary fiber into your meal will help lower your gluten-free diet’s glycemic impact.