Summary of Low Glycemic Index/ Glycemic Load for Weight Loss
- Low glycemic index/ glycemic load diets result in little or no difference in body weight change compared to higher IG/CG diets. The mean difference was -0.82 kg, which is not statistically significant.
- The study included 10 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with 1210 participants, with interventions lasting between eight weeks and 18 months.
- The study suggests that foods that are low GI or low glycemic load diets may not significantly impact weight loss or BMI change in overweight or obese individuals compared to diets with a higher GI or load.
Unraveling the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load: A Closer Look at Your Diet
As our understanding of human nutrition evolves, we encounter various terminologies influencing our dietary choices. Among the most significant are the “glycemic index” and “glycemic load,” buzzwords that have sparked interest among fitness enthusiasts and athletes. But what exactly do these terms mean, and how do they relate to weight loss?
The glycemic index (GI) was introduced in 1981 as a method to classify foods on the glycemic index chart based on their effects on how high blood glucose rises after a meal. (Jenkins et al., 1981) Since then, it has been the subject of over 10,000 scientific articles and several popular books (i.e., The Glucose Revolution: the authoritative guide to the glycemic index—the groundbreaking medical discovery, Fast Carbs, Slow Carbs: the simple truth about food, weight, and disease, and Always Hungry? Conquer cravings, retrain your fat cells, and lose weight permanently), which tout the potential health benefits of low-GI diets. These benefits are believed to include better weight control and a reduced risk of obesity.
What is the Glycemic Index?
The GI is a measure that ranks carbohydrates in foods on a scale from 0 to 100 based on how is GI calculated in terms of their effect on blood sugar levels (Brand-Miller et al., 2003; Foster-Powell et al., 2002). Foods with a high GI value are rapidly digested and absorbed, causing a swift rise in blood sugar, while those with a low GI value are digested and absorbed more slowly. High-glycemic foods include white bread, white rice, sugary drinks, and processed snacks. These foods are quickly digested and absorbed, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels. Conversely, foods with GI values that are low, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are recommended for better blood sugar control.
Correspondingly, the glycemic load (GL) accounts for the GI of a food and the amount of carbohydrates it contains, offering a more realistic representation of a food’s impact on blood sugar levels. (Salmerón et al., 1997) It is calculated by multiplying the carbohydrate content of a food by its GI and dividing by 100. The glycemic load of a food indicates how much it will raise blood sugar levels and is used to assess the impact of carbohydrates on blood glucose levels.
The Appeal of Low GI/GL Diets for Weight Loss
High-GI foods, often referred to as “fast carbs,” are thought to be linked to weight gain and obesity. (Brand-Miller et al., 2002; Ludwig, 2002) The rationale behind this is rooted in the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity. This model suggests that high-GI foods increase postprandial insulin secretion, directly accelerating fat storage. (Ludwig & Ebbeling, 2018) Given this, it’s easy to understand why low-GI diets have gained popularity for weight management.
Historically, there’s been a strong conviction that diets rich in low-GI/GL foods that are low GI contribute to better weight management. The theory behind this belief stems from how our bodies respond to different types of carbohydrates. Consuming low-GI/GL foods theoretically leads to more gradual changes in blood sugar, which could help control appetite and body weight (Ludwig, 2002).
Research has seemingly supported this claim. Various studies suggested a correlation between a diet comprising low GI/GL foods on the glycemic index chart and a reduction in body weight. This has led to the increased popularity of diets emphasizing low GI/GL foods, with proponents asserting they hold the key to sustainable weight loss (Brand-Miller et al., 2003).
New Research Challenges Established Beliefs
However, the tide may be turning on this once-accepted viewpoint. Despite the common perception of low-GI diets’ superiority for weight loss and obesity prevention, research on the topic has produced conflicting interpretations of results. Some studies have failed to support the efficacy of low-GI diets in reducing fasting insulin concentrations.
Research featured in the Cochrane Library questions the effectiveness of low-GI/GL diets for weight. (Thomas et al., 2007) This study critically examined the association between GI/GL and body weight and found less persuasive evidence than previously assumed.
The study included six randomized controlled trials comparing low GI or load diets with a higher GI or load diets or other diets. The trials involved a total of 202 participants. The duration of the dietary interventions ranged from five weeks to six months.
The study suggests that low GI or load diets may effectively reduce body mass. Still, more research is needed to determine their long-term effects and impact on other health outcomes.
A common issue in this field of research is inadequate reporting and residual confounding, making it problematic to attribute changes in body weight entirely to a low-GI diet. For instance, dietary fiber, which impacts body weight, was not always measured or reported as the dietary GI changed. (Augustin et al., 2020)
Furthermore, there’s a lack of consistent association between body mass index (BMI) and dietary GI in observational cohort studies. The findings of meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) offer little support for the idea that low-GI diets are superior for weight loss.
Debunking the Myth: The Intricacies of the New Findings
A new 2023 article titled “Low glycaemic index or low glycaemic load diets for people with overweight or obesity” from the Cochrane Library discusses the effects of low glycemic index (IG) or low glycemic load (CG) diets on weight loss in overweight or obese individuals.(Chekima et al., 2023)
The study included 10 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with 1210 participants, with interventions lasting between eight weeks and 18 months. Seven of these studies compared low IG/CG diets with higher IG/CG diets, and three studies compared low IG/CG diets with any other diet. The participants included children, adults, and older adults over 65.
The main findings of the study are as follows:
- Low glycemic index / low glycemic load diets probably result in little or no difference in body weight change compared to higher IG/CG diets. The average difference in weight loss between low and high glycemic diets was -0.82 kg or .4 pounds.
- The evidence from four studies that reported changes in body mass index (BMI) suggested that low glycemic index / low glycemic load diets might result in little or no difference in BMI change compared to higher glycemic index / glycemic load diets.
- One study that evaluated participants’ mood suggested that low glycemic index / glycemic load diets might improve mood compared to higher glycemic index / glycemic load diets, but the evidence is very uncertain.
In conclusion, the study suggests that low glycemic index or low glycemic load diets may not significantly impact weight loss or BMI change in overweight or obese individuals compared to diets with a higher GI or load. However, there might be a potential improvement in mood with low IG/CG diets, but the evidence is very uncertain.
Low GI/GL Diets Vs. Other Weight Loss Strategies
When the new research findings are compared against previous studies, it is clear that there’s a significant divergence in results. It begs the question: Why are these discrepancies present? The answer lies in the varying methodologies, sample sizes, and population demographics across studies.
Realizing the Implications and Redefining Weight Loss Strategies
These findings imply that there’s much more to consider when formulating effective weight loss strategies. While the GI and GL of foods that are low GI are essential considerations, they should not be the sole focus. A more holistic approach that considers other factors, such as total energy intake and macronutrient quality, may be more effective for long-term weight management.(Dansinger et al., 2005)
Concluding Thoughts: Navigating the Path to Effective Weight Management
In conclusion, the once prevalent belief in the efficacy of low GI/GL diets for weight loss has come under intense scrutiny. The journey to effective weight management is far more complex and demands a personalized and multifaceted strategy. This new research serves as a reminder that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dieting and weight loss. (Wing & Phelan, 2005)
While the GI and glycemic load can offer insights into how different foods might impact blood sugar levels, the evidence does not consistently substantiate their superiority for weight loss or obesity prevention. This indicates that other factors, such as total calorie intake, diet quality, physical activity, and an individual’s metabolic health, play significant roles in weight management.
Remember to maintain a balanced perspective as we continue to navigate towards a better understanding of weight management.Remember, every step towards understanding is a step towards better health.
Augustin, L. S. A., Aas, A. M., Astrup, A., Atkinson, F. S., Baer-Sinnott, S., Barclay, A. W., Brand-Miller, J. C., Brighenti, F., Bullo, M., Buyken, A. E., Ceriello, A., Ellis, P. R., Ha, M. A., Henry, J. C., Kendall, C. W. C., La Vecchia, C., Liu, S., Livesey, G., Poli, A., . . . Jenkins, D. J. A. (2020). Dietary Fibre Consensus from the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC). Nutrients, 12(9). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12092553
Brand-Miller, J., Hayne, S., Petocz, P., & Colagiuri, S. (2003). Low-glycemic index diets in the management of diabetes: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Diabetes Care, 26(8), 2261-2267. https://doi.org/10.2337/diacare.26.8.2261
Brand-Miller, J. C., Holt, S. H., Pawlak, D. B., & McMillan, J. (2002). Glycemic index and obesity. Am J Clin Nutr, 76(1), 281s-285s. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/76/1.281S
Chekima, K., Yan, S. W., Lee, S. W. H., Wong, T. Z., Noor, M. I., Ooi, Y. B., Metzendorf, M. I., & Lai, N. M. (2023). Low glycaemic index or low glycaemic load diets for people with overweight or obesity. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 6(6), Cd005105. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD005105.pub3
Dansinger, M. L., Gleason, J. A., Griffith, J. L., Selker, H. P., & Schaefer, E. J. (2005). Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone diets for weight loss and heart disease risk reduction: a randomized trial. JAMA, 293(1), 43-53. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.293.1.43
Foster-Powell, K., Holt, S. H., & Brand-Miller, J. C. (2002). International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002. Am J Clin Nutr, 76(1), 5-56. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/76.1.5
Jenkins, D. J., Wolever, T. M., Taylor, R. H., Barker, H., Fielden, H., Baldwin, J. M., Bowling, A. C., Newman, H. C., Jenkins, A. L., & Goff, D. V. (1981). Glycemic index of foods: a physiological basis for carbohydrate exchange. Am J Clin Nutr, 34(3), 362-366. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/34.3.362
Ludwig, D. S. (2002). The glycemic index: physiological mechanisms relating to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. JAMA, 287(18), 2414-2423. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.287.18.2414
Ludwig, D. S., & Ebbeling, C. B. (2018). The Carbohydrate-Insulin Model of Obesity: Beyond “Calories In, Calories Out”. JAMA Intern Med, 178(8), 1098-1103. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.2933
Salmerón, J., Manson, J. E., Stampfer, M. J., Colditz, G. A., Wing, A. L., & Willett, W. C. (1997). Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in women. JAMA, 277(6), 472-477. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.1997.03540300040031
Thomas, D. E., Elliott, E., & Baur, L. (2007). Low glycaemic index or low glycaemic load diets for overweight and obesity. Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online), 18, CD005105. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD005105.pub2
Wing, R. R., & Phelan, S. (2005). Long-term weight loss maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr, 82(1 Suppl), 222s-225s. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/82.1.222S
How can I make my own low glycemic index food?
To make your own low glycemic index food, focus on choosing whole, unprocessed ingredients. Opt for foods high in fiber and healthy fats, like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid refined sugars and processed foods as they tend to have a higher glycemic index.
What is the Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index is a numerical scale that ranks carbohydrates based on their potential to raise blood sugar levels. It measures how quickly carbohydrates are digested and absorbed, leading to an increase in blood glucose concentrations.
Understanding the GI Scale:
The GI scale categorizes foods on a scale from 0 to 100, with pure glucose serving as the reference food with a GI of 100. Foods with a GI below 55 are considered low GI, those between 55 and 70 are moderate GI, and those above 70 are high GI.
Factors Influencing the Glycemic Index:
Several factors influence the glycemic index of a food item. The presence of fiber, fat, and protein content, as well as the level of processing and cooking methods, can all affect the GI value. For instance, unrefined grains, such as barley and rye, tend to have lower GI values compared to white flour-based products.
Health Benefits of Low-Glycemic Foods:
Consuming low-glycemic foods has several potential health benefits. Firstly, these foods promote a slower rise in blood sugar levels, preventing sudden spikes and crashes, which may contribute to insulin resistance. By choosing low GI foods, individuals can better manage their blood glucose levels, making them particularly beneficial for individuals following a diabetic diet or those seeking to prevent the onset of diabetes.
Understanding the glycemic index and its implications is crucial for making informed dietary choices. Ultimately, prioritizing low-glycemic foods can contribute to a balanced and sustainable approach to nutrition, supporting our well-being and vitality.