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September 2000 Issue
Beyond Cholesterol, Beyond Triglycerides, it's --- The Glycemic Index!
by Michael Fick
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Controlling the GI of your meals and snacks requires neither a scale, a calculator, three hands, a cap, nor memorization of the GI list. If you eat a baked potato, for example, you need to offset that by eating an equivalent amount of low-GI fruit, beans, vegetables, etc. Heck, even a Snickers bar has a low GI -- which just emphasizes the need to include calorie, fiber and fat content in your food selection criteria as well. Keep a GI chart handy until you develop a feel for the GI of your favorite foods. Use it to guide you in planning meals and snacks and to modify your favorite food list if necessary. It's more a matter of how we combine our foods than what we eat unless your bedroom floor is knee-deep in Twinkie wrappers. And, of course, realize that overall calories still control our weight regardless of GI levels.

A web search on "glycemic index" finds many sources of GI information, much of it promoting special GI foods. We should ignore that and eat real food, but some sites do print GI charts. There's an excellent, thorough GI chart and brief GI tutorial at www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm.

Look at that chart now and notice that even most sweet fruits have low GIs. That's Mother Nature for you; she wraps most foods -- from nuts to grains to fruits to vegetables -- in balanced packages of nutrients tailored to present fiber, vitamins, minerals, fats, GI, and even flavors in the right proportions and wrappers to optimize their effect on our health. It's man who messes it all up by grinding real food into oblivion and manufacturing imitation food from the resulting paste, thus reducing our health for their profit.

We have genetic preferences for sweets and fats because our ancestors often had to survive for days on one meal, and those who caught and ate more calories lived longer. When man invented Twinkies and Wonder Bread -- both much easier to find and catch (and with much higher GIs) than an agitated wildebeest -- those genes began killing us. The explosion in heart disease that accompanied food manufacturing early last century is only recently slowing now that we've learned that manufactured food plus fat-and-sugar-seeking genes are killing us.

Read a book on the topic. They're interesting reading for those who care at all about their health, and will provide both data and motivation to add foods' GI to the fiber, calories, and fat content you already use in planning your meals. Two excellent books include Andrew Weil's Eating Well for Optimum Health (published by Knopf) and The Glucose Revolution by Miller, et.al. ( Marlowe), available at bookstores. (Both also address the folly and risks of low-carbo fad diets.)

The latter book discusses how athletes -- which we should all be for a few hours each week -- can use high GI foods to recover more quickly from heavy exercise. There's nothing like a mountain of pancakes swimming in high-octane syrup and smothered with tofu dessert -- followed as soon as possible by another dose -- to recover from a day of play, labor, or working out so you can repeat it tomorrow. Glucose tablets may work more quickly, but don't provide the same satisfied smile. (I'm not sure which is more fun: windsurfing every day or eating to windsurf every day.)

Accept it; eating right is initially complicated. But if this column can present the tips of healthy-eating icebergs in mere 1,200-word bites, you can take it from there with minimal effort. If you think it's all overkill because your uncle has lived on meat, potatoes, and cigarettes for 93 years, realize that for every person like your uncle there are thousands who died decades earlier than necessary precisely because they lived like your uncle but lacked his rare genetic protection. Remember that many fatal medical problems require both bad genes and bad habits, and we can control the habits.

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