Extreme Newsletter—Diet and fitness tips, recipes, and motivation

Issue #042 (08/17/10) All About the GI

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Everything You Need to Know about the Glycemic Index

By Steve Edwards

Those of you who pay attention to your diet probably hear a lot about something called the glycemic index (GI) these days. It's become another in a growing list of misunderstood buzzwords in the nutrition world. Today, we'll take a look at everything you need to know about the GI, which is going to take a lot less of your time than reading through an entire GI diet book.

That's not to ding these books, by the way. If you're bored, you'll probably learn something by reading any one of them. But in my experience, the GI isn't the be-all and end-all of your diet concerns. So I take the opposite approach and say that if you learn to eat properly you can strike the phrase from your vocabulary entirely.

Fruit Dessert, Small Salad, and Sweet Potatoes

Simply put, the GI is a way to measure how carbohydrates react in your blood. It's measured on a scale from 1 to 100+, where products with a GI of 55 or under are classified as low GI, those with a GI between 56 and 69 are classified as medium GI, while those with GI of 70 and above are classified as high GI. A high GI number means that a food is quickly converted to glucose in the blood (in layman's terms, a "sugar rush"). The lower the number, the slower the food is converted to glucose. The scale was invented for people with diabetes, but the advent of processed foods becoming a cornerstone of the American diet and the rise of type 2 diabetes have given the average person a good reason to pay attention to the GI index of foods.

Essentially, if we ate nothing but natural whole foods, the GI scale would have little meaning for anyone who didn't have diabetes. Even then, the highest GI foods have low numbers in their natural state. It's the cooking and processing of food that alters it so it breaks down much more rapidly. Eating too much food that's converted to glucose rapidly can lead to type 2 diabetes over time. Pretty much, the highest of high GI foods are processed junk foods. There are a few exceptions, which we'll get to, but essentially, if we eat a balanced healthy diet with very little junk food, the GI index is far less important to us.

BananasSugar is the big villain in the GI world. In nature, sugar comes from plants, where it's surrounded by fiber. Fiber in foods slows digestion, lowering the GI number of even foods that are high in sugar, like bananas. Processing, as well as some types of cooking, breaks down or strips these plants of their fiber. This makes them sweeter to the taste, but it also makes them less healthy. And along with the fiber, processing usually removes a lot of the vitamins and minerals.

The main problem with the American diet, as stated above, is that we're eating too many processed foods. Although we seem to understand that desserts are mainly sugar, crafty advertisers have been pulling the wool over our eyes by hiding the fact that most American processed foods are not much better for us than sugary desserts are. Breads, cereals, some potatoes and pastas, some rice, crackers, chips, fruit juices, sodas, and condiments, plus almost anything that's ever received a "no fat" label or comes in a box or bag, is high in sugar and probably low in fiber and nutrients. When these processed, packaged foods are all you're eating, you cause your body's insulin response to work overtime. Do this enough, especially without exercise (the great equalizer in the sugar game), and you can wind up with type 2 diabetes.

Of course not every food in the categories I listed above is bad. There are companies that make healthy versions of pretty much everything. But marketers can be tricky. As a consumer, it can be hard to know what you're getting. Even reading food labels can be misleading, which is why every diet that comes with a Beachbody® program consists mainly of whole, natural foods.

So the very simple rule is to make sure your diet consists mainly of whole, natural foods and you will no longer have to pay attention to the GI index. There are some variables worth mentioning, especially since eating nothing but natural foods can be challenging in today's hectic world. Here are 10 quick tips to help you understand the GI index:

  1. Desserts. These tend to be mainly sugar and/or fat, and as such, they generally don't try to fool anyone with health claims. If we could keep our desserts small and make them a once-a-day indulgence, we'd have no problems. My tip is to do just that: with desserts, keep a close eye on portion size and frequency. Also, fatty desserts lower the GI influence of the sugar, meaning that, especially if you're insulin sensitive, a richer, fattier dessert might actually be preferable to a "no fat" dessert that's all sugar. But either way, unless you're diabetic or borderline, if indulging in desserts is the only way you stray from your diet, it's not going to cause much harm in the big picture.
  2. Sports. When you're active, and especially when you're operating at your physical limit, your body burns up its stored carbohydrates (known as blood sugar) very rapidly. During and after hard or long bouts of exercise, sugar isn't bad for you—in fact, it's actually good for you. This is the only time this is true. Unfortunately, we often like to eat sugary stuff at the opposite times, like when we're watching TV, and no Wii Fit® game has yet been designed that'll burn off blood sugar, unless you do it all day long. When you're not active, you should severely limit your sugar intake.
  3. Sports DrinksSports drinks are for sports. This may seem redundant, but Gator/Power/Acceler-ades, et al., are only good when you're playing sports that make you sweat. This is also true for things like P90X® Results and Recovery Formula™. These aren't your standard foods. They're formulated for when you're playing sports vigorously. The difference between the "-ades" and Results and Recovery Formula is that the former only give you sugar and a small amount of electrolytes, which you lose when you sweat, whereas the latter uses its sugar (which gets absorbed rapidly when you're out of blood sugar) to transport all sorts of other nutrients to help repair your body after exercise. Oh, and also that the "-ades" market themselves as things you might want to drink all day long, exercising or not.
  4. Salads are your friends. Not only are they loaded with fiber, but many of the things we tend to put on salads, including vinegar, lemon juice, and lime juice, as well as pickled vegetables, etc., tend to have acids that lower the GI index of other foods.
  5. Add protein to all your meals. Like fats, proteins slow absorption rates of high GI foods.
  6. Use semolina or whole wheat pastas. These have a much lower GI number (around 30 to 55) than pasta made from refined, enriched white flour.
  7. Use long-grain or brown rice. All rice is fairly high in the GI index, but long-grain rice can be fairly low (50 to 60), whereas white short-grain rice can be as high as 130.
  8. PapayaEat crisp fruit. Fruit isn't a real concern unless your diet has an inordinate amount of it. If so, the mushier—and sweeter—a fruit becomes, the higher its GI number. But even the sweetest fruits, like ripe papaya, are only around 60.
  9. Beware of fluff. Fluffy and puffy foods tend to have a high GI number. Cereals are a good example. When a cereal is chewy, that generally means it has more fiber and is less processed, as opposed to soft, fluffy cereals that have been excessively processed and injected with air (and sugar). Potatoes, especially white, fluffy ones, can have extremely high GIs, often in the 90s. Fortunately, we tend not to eat potatoes plain, and, as stated above, adding meats, fats, and acidic ingredients will bring the number way down. Oddly enough, sweet potatoes, despite the deceptive name, have a very low GI number. Yams, too.
  10. Some sugar can be OK. If you see a trend here, it's that sugar speeds itself into your system, and if this is your primary mode of eating, it's bad. However, sugars can also speed other nutrients into your system, so you'll sometimes see sugar as an ingredient alongside a lot of healthy nutrients to serve this purpose. A good example is Beachbody's Shakeology® meal replacement shake. It has around 10 grams of sugar (40 calories) in a serving that also contains a lot of protein and 70 other healthy ingredients. In lab tests, Shakeology scored a 24* on the GI, as low as a lot of vegetables. So while sugar is generally the GI villain, you need to look at the entire profile of the foods you're eating before you pass judgment.

*Shakeology was tested by Glycemic Index Laboratories, Inc., a leading facility for testing the metabolic responses to foods and ingredients. GI Labs is the only lab in North America recommended by the Glycemic Index Foundation. GI Labs follows a Determination Standard protocol of testing in vivo with 10 human subjects. GI Labs' protocol exceeds the standards set by the World Health Organization.

I've been a type 1 diabetic for 30 years. I drink it before I do my workouts and it sustains a healthy blood sugar level for me all the way to the end.—Shannon C., Rhode Island

Related Articles
"9 Nutrition Myths Exposed"
"6 Foods with Hidden Sugar"
"The 4-1-1 on Fiber"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, August 23, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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3 Cool Soups for Summer

By Joe Wilkes

It's summer and the mercury is rising. The last thing any of us is in the mood for is a hot, steaming bowl of chicken noodle or miso soup—which is too bad, because for those of us who are keeping an eye on our calories, soup can be filling, nutritious, delicious, and most importantly, low in calories and fat. But cheer up, soup lovers—we don't have to wait for the first cold winds of autumn to bust out the soup bowls. By borrowing a couple of pages from the cookbooks of our friends across the Atlantic, we can keep a fridge full of refreshingly cool, healthy, soupy goodness.

Woman Eating Soup

Gazpacho

Gazpacho is a traditional soup from the Andalusian area of Spain. It's generally made with a tomato base and can include onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, and stale bread to thicken it. It was served memorably in the Spanish film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, where the suicidal heroine blended her gazpacho with a bottle of sleeping pills and accidentally served it with hilarious results. Gazpacho can be made in a blender (though we recommend omitting the sleeping pills), or for those with knife skills, it can be made chunky-style, with the vegetables diced into small pieces. The ingredient list can be as varied as both your imagination and your produce department allow. Try steering toward fresh vegetables and low-calorie ingredients. If you want to give yourself a protein boost, you can garnish the soup with some chopped boiled egg whites or diced lean ham.

Gazpacho Recipe

    Gazpacho
  • 4 cups tomato juice
  • 6 whole tomatoes, fresh or canned, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup jicama, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • Tabasco® Sauce (to taste)
  • Worcestershire sauce (a dash, to taste)
  • Chives, parsley, and/or cilantro, coarsely chopped (for garnish)
  • Bowl or pitcher
  • Blender (optional)

Combine all ingredients in bowl or pitcher, or whirl in blender first to desired consistency. Refrigerate overnight to allow flavors to blend. Serve with chives, parsley, and/or cilantro as a garnish. Makes 8 servings.

Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Refrigeration Time: Overnight

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
91 3 g 3 g 14 g 3 g <1 g

Borscht

Borscht was a staple in my Russian grandmother's house. When I was a child, I was a little skeeved out by the fluorescent purple-white liquid with bits of egg floating in it, but as I got older, I learned to appreciate the great flavors and the health benefits of the soup. Now, you'll always find a pitcher in my fridge and a couple of bowls in my freezer filled with this tasty concoction. Borscht comes from Russia, Poland, and the Ukraine, and as with Spain's gazpacho, there are as many different ways to make it as there are cooks. Borscht generally uses beets as its base, and you can also add vegetables like onions, cabbage, and tomatoes to the mix. Beef broth makes for a heartier stock, and many chefs choose to garnish the soup with chopped egg. The coup de grace is usually a generous dollop of sour cream swirled into the dark violet broth, but come on—this is a Beachbody newsletter. We'll be swapping the sour cream out for nonfat or low-fat yogurt.

Borscht Recipe

    Borscht
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 to 6 medium-sized beets, julienned
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 16 cups low-sodium chicken, beef, or vegetable broth
  • 1 head cabbage, chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (for garnish)
  • Fresh dill, chopped (for garnish)
  • 3/4 cup nonfat or low-fat yogurt, preferably Greek style (for garnish)
  • Large frying pan
  • Large stockpot

In large frying pan, heat olive oil, then sauté beets, onion, and carrot until softened. Stir in tomato paste and set aside. In large stockpot, bring broth to a simmer, then add cabbage and potatoes. Simmer for a few minutes, then add the beet/onion/carrot mixture. Add bell pepper, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper, and simmer for 15 minutes. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Place each serving in soup bowl or mug; top each with half a chopped boiled egg, a pinch of dill, and a tablespoon of yogurt. Makes 12 servings.

Preparation Time: 25 minutes

Cooking Time: 25 to 35 minutes

Refrigeration Time: Overnight

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
154 10 g 4 g 20 g 3 g 1 g

Vichyssoise

This rich, creamy soup made with potatoes, leeks, onions, and heavy cream is considered by many to be a French classic. Although, some trace the soup's provenance to the Ritz Hotel in New York, where a French chef created a creamy, blended, cold version of his peasant mother's potato-leek soup, which he named after his hometown of Vichy, France. Wherever it comes from, it's the soup that renowned chef, Kitchen Confidential author, and Top Chef judge and haranguer Anthony Bourdain credits with launching his love for food. And it's the favorite cold soup for many a gourmand. Usually, it's off-limits for those watching the bathroom scale, as the traditional incarnation contains loads of heavy cream. However, with a few adjustments and substitutions, a delicious variation can be made that's satisfying without being ruinous to your healthy diet. In fact, one of the main ingredients, the leek, is the vegetable that Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat, credits as an important part of her slimming regimen. Read more about Guiliano's book and "How French Women Stay Slim (Without Starving)" in the Related Articles section below.

Vichyssoise Recipe

    Vichyssoise
  • 4 large leeks, white and light-green parts
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 medium potatoes (Yukon Golds are good), peeled and finely diced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups evaporated skim milk
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Ground white pepper (to taste)
  • Chopped chives (for garnish)
  • Food processor or blender
  • Large saucepan

Rinse leeks well, removing all sand and grit. In a food processor or blender, chop the leeks and onions finely. In a large saucepan, sauté the leek and onion mixture in olive oil until vegetables appear translucent. Add potatoes and chicken broth, and simmer until potatoes are soft, to the point of dissolving. Pour saucepan contents into food processor or blender and puree. Pour into bowl; cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove chilled soup from refrigerator, stir in evaporated milk, and add salt and pepper to taste (we specify white pepper because it makes for a more appealing-looking dish). Ladle each serving into bowl or mug, top each with a tablespoon of chopped chives, and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 to 25 minutes

Refrigeration Time: Overnight

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
238 13 g 4 g 43 g 2 g <1 g

Related Articles
"How French Women Stay Slim (Without Starving)"
"7 Days, 7 Dinners"
"7 Days, 7 Lunches"
"8 Foods to Boost Your Metabolism"

Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with Steve Edwards, the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development (who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards), in the Beachbody Chat Room on Monday, August 23, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Recipe: Tasty Turkey Wraps

Turkey Wraps

Need a quick lunch? This simple recipe is easy to make and delicious to eat. It can be a 1-serving meal, or try cutting it into sections to make yummy and healthy party hors d'oeuvres.

  • 1/3 cup fat-free cream cheese
  • 2 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 10 basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 4 medium whole wheat tortillas
  • 3/4 lb. smoked turkey breast, sliced
  • 4 lettuce leaves, shredded

Combine cream cheese, tomatoes, and basil in a small mixing bowl. Lay tortillas out and spread 1/8 of the cream cheese mixture on each. Place 1/4 of turkey on each tortilla; spread 1/4 of remaining cream cheese mixture on each. Divide shredded lettuce among the tortillas and roll each into a tight cylinder, making sure each is seam-side down. Cut wraps in half diagonally and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
263 27 g 2 g 28 g 5 g 1 g

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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