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Watch Daily Glycemic Load for Diabetes Protection 

Calorie counting may become a thing of the past as the usefulness of tracking glycemic load becomes increasingly apparent. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate a low-glycemic-load diet were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

Carbohydrates and glycemic load

Carbohydrates are classified as either simple or complex based on the length of the carbohydrate chains that compose them, but better measures of carbohydrate quality have been developed:

  • The glycemic index tells us how a food affects blood sugar levels in comparison to a similar amount of a glucose drink, table sugar, or white bread.
  • Glycemic load takes into account both the effect of a food on blood sugar levels and the amount of carbohydrate in a typical serving. For example, the carbohydrate in a carrot has a strong effect on blood glucose levels, so it has a high glycemic index; however, a carrot is mostly water, so its carbohydrate content is small and its glycemic load is low.

Estimating daily glycemic load

The meta-analysis looked at data from 24 studies to find a relationship between daily glycemic load and diabetes risk:

  • The people in the studies reported their daily food intake on questionnaires.
  • Glycemic load values were assigned for each food.
  • The glycemic loads of the foods eaten in an average day were added to determine an initial daily glycemic load.
  • Because some people eat a lot and others eat very little, each person’s initial daily glycemic load was adjusted to reflect the daily glycemic load for a person with the same diet eating 2,000 calories per day.

Low glycemic load diet prevents diabetes

The researchers found that eating a low glycemic load diet was protective against diabetes. Their analysis showed:

  • The range of daily glycemic load across the studies was approximately 60 to 280 grams.
  • For every 100-gram decrease in daily glycemic load, diabetes risk dropped by 45%.
  • The protective effect of a low daily glycemic load was stronger in women.
  • European Americans seemed to benefit more from a low-glycemic-load diet than people of other ethnicities.

“Altogether, our meta-analysis supports that glycemic load is an important and underestimated dietary characteristic that, among others, contributes significantly to the incidence of type 2 diabetes,” the study’s authors said.

Reduce your daily glycemic load

Here are some general ways to decrease your daily glycemic load and reduce type 2 diabetes risk:

  • Choose fruits and vegetables with a high water content. Starchy fruits and vegetables like bananas and potatoes have higher glycemic loads. Dried fruits (including raisins) and fruit juices are also very glycemic.
  • Use whole grains. Choose brown rice over white rice and whole or steel cut oats over instant rolled oats. Pasta and bagels are best avoided—they have especially high glycemic loads because they are carbohydrate-dense.
  • Snack on nuts. Nuts and seeds are low in carbohydrate and therefore have very low glycemic loads. They also have healthy fats that may also help to prevent diabetes and its consequences.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2013;97:584–96)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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