I know that this health series is stretching quite a bit, but I have to write a few more posts before ending the topic. You see, I initially wanted to write just one post on how to eat healthy, but then as I started writing, the post became too long and I decided to split it into three parts. But even as I was splitting I knew I had to give more information, because the thing about eating healthy does not end with "eat these foods and you will be fine". It goes a bit more deep and I have to explain why we need to eat them and the nuances associated with them. So if you are feeling bored already, brace for more boredom in the coming weeks as I continue this health series :)
Disclaimer: I am neither a nutritionist or a fitness adviser. I don’t have any certification. Take all my advice with a pinch of salt. I have been into health and fitness since 2008 and that is probably my only credibility. I am not liable for any health issues that might arise following my advice. Risk is all yours.
This post probably goes into more detail than you need, but I wanted to give you all the information so it will be helpful for those who take health and fitness a bit too seriously like myself. For others, you can probably skip it. In the previous post, I ended with absorption rate which is related to dietary fiber. So I wanted to expand on why dietary fiber slows absorption and the benefits of such diet. In addition, you will also learn about Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load, the indicators that will help you choose what food to each and how much. Lets start with dietary fiber.
You might have heard about dietary fiber or roughage, which is the part of food that cannot be digested by our digestive system, yet plays an important role in our body. They are known to help in reducing the risk of heart diseases, improving gastrointestinal health (promotes bowel movement, reduces constipation, protection again colon cancer, increase good gut bacteria), reducing risk of diabetes, controlling body weight etc. Dietary fiber can be found in, you guessed it, green leafy vegetables, in most vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, corn, in fruits such as oranges, grapes, berries, in pulses, whole grains, whole wheat, red and brown rice etc. Any naturally occurring food when eaten with skin and seed will give you all the fiber you need.
I prefer to eat fruits with skin where possible (mangoes, chikoos, grapes etc) to get the benefit of fiber. The thing about fiber is that you lose it if you put the fruits and vegetables in a juicer. Precisely for this reason I am thoroughly against fruit or vegetable juices, even the ones made at home. A fruit has to be eaten whole to get the full benefits. While home made fruit juice might retain all the vitamins and minerals, the sugar is absorbed way too quickly once the fiber is gone which is not what we want.
Avoid fruit juices
And don't even think about packaged fruit juices, because most of the naturally occurring nutrients (vitamins and minerals) are already gone. The juices are de-oxygenated, heated, and filled with preservatives. And you are just drinking colored, flavored, sugar juice with perhaps added vitamins and minerals (if you are lucky). The reason is that the juices are usually bleached and then colored later with natural or artificial colors. Instead I suggest you buy some sugar, mix it with water, add some orange food color and swallow a low grade cheap multi-vitamin tablet with that orange juice. That is what you get in packaged fruit juice. Did you ever wonder why all the orange juices from one company taste and smell exactly the same, irrespective of the packaging date and place of manufacturing? Do two different oranges taste exactly the same? Then how do these companies do it? Read more here.
So eat naturally occurring whole foods when possible. But how do I know the absorption rate of the food I am about to eat so I can choose to eat slow digesting food? That is where GI comes in.
Glycemic index (GI) basically indicates how quickly the food gets absorbed and in turn affects your blood sugar level. A GI number ranges from 1 to 100. A lower GI number indicates slower absorption and thus is better. Food with GI of 55 or less are considered good and anything above 70 tend to spike sugar in blood and we know why that is bad from the previous post. It is quite easy to find GI for anything you are about to eat. Just search for it on your favorite search engine. I searched for "white rice gi" and got 73 for boiled white rice, where as a boiled carrot has a GI of 39. While GI will tell you how your sugar level gets affected, it does not take into account the serving size. Which is where GL helps.
Glycemic load (GL), takes into account the GI and the number of grams of carbohydrates per serving of the food you are about to eat. A GL of 11 or less is considered low and hence good for you. A GL of 20 or more is considered high. For example, the GI for watermelon is 72 which is high, but if you eat about 120 grams as a serving size, the GL is just 4 which is low. Likewise a snickers candy bar might have a GI of 55 which is low, but the GL for it is 22 which is high. So just don't go by GI alone.
In the end, GI is akin to what to eat, because you should prefer food with lower GI, the quality of food. Where as GL is akin to how much to eat, because too much of even a healthy thing can be bad, and hence quantity matters as well.
Perhaps there is too much information here than you need, but here are the highlights for you in case you did not want to read the full post.
- eat food with good amount of dietary fiber because of its many benefits
- GI tells you how the food effects sugar in blood (related to gaining fat)
- GL is a better indicator since it takes serving size into account