#181 The Diet Issue

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"Not to have control over the senses is like sailing in a rudderless ship,
bound to break to pieces on coming in contact with the very first rock."

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Is the GI Diet Right for You?
By Steve Edwards

Nutritionists can be cruel. Atkins goes bankrupt and before you can even drop "no carb" from your vocabulary, you're being told it's not carbs but something called the "glycemic index" that really matters. What the . . . ?

Don't worry. It's not as confusing as it sounds. In fact, it's downright simple. So relax, grab a cup of joe (hey, it's low on the glycemic index), and we'll have you in the know in no time at all.

Just what the heck is the glycemic index anyway?

In a nutshell, it's a way of measuring how foods affect your blood sugar levels. This is particularly important if you are diabetic, but lately it's been shown that blood sugar fluctuations affect all sorts of factors in everyone. These include things like your moods, cravings, and energy levels. And while it gets much deeper and more serious for diabetics, the basic pattern is that spikes, and subsequent drops, in blood sugar levels are bad. On the GI scale, a high number assigned to a food is bad, and a low number is good.

Where the confusion begins
The glycemic index refers to how fast glycogen, or sugar, is absorbed into your blood. By itself, sugar enters extremely fast, but if you mix it with fiber, fat, or protein, that absorption slows.

It's commonly assumed that sugar causes blood sugar spikes, which is pretty much true. But when looking at the numbers on a GI chart, you may get confused when fructose, a sugar, has a low number, like 26, sucrose, table sugar, is near 100, and a baked potato, a complex carbohydrate, is higher than both. This is because the state of the food source needs to be accounted for. Refining and cooking many complex carbohydrates, like starches, break down their fibrous structures and increase their GI number to the point that many of them enter your bloodstream like a nitrous injection. This could be good if you're playing a sport because your blood sugar is being tapped, but it's bad if you're sitting at a desk trying to concentrate. It's what we refer to as a "sugar rush."

The Glycemic Index Diet
Just when you're starting to figure out that you need a healthy ratio of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, a diet comes along that gives every food a number—more than one number, in fact. There are many books now with the words "glycemic" or "glucose" in their titles. And all of 'em are after the same thing: somehow, you are supposed to keep these numbers straight so that your diet balances somewhere in a middle zone in order to keep your blood sugar levels constant. You probably like the sound of regulating your blood sugar levels. You may not like the sound of trying to remember the GI number of every morsel of food you pop in your mouth. I know I don't. If I had diabetes I would do it. But I don't. And even though type 2 diabetes (the diet-induced kind) is increasing at an alarming rate, most of you don't have it either. So let's figure out how to avoid using the numbers.

First off, the glycemic index is not the only indicator you should consider. What's actually in the food—its nutrients—is far more important. This is why I used the coffee example earlier. You probably know that your diet needs a bit more than coffee, no matter where it sits on the GI scale. So you can't just look at numbers and, say, use Diet Coke to replace some carrots just because it has a lower GI number and expect to stay healthy. So the glycemic index doesn't really change the ratio of proteins, fats, and carbs that you eat. That ratio should be determined by your level of activity.

Luckily, most foods follow a similar pattern on the GI scale. Plain sugary stuff, like candy, is high on the index. Proteins and fats are low. Veggies tend to be low and fruits higher, but this varies quite a lot depending on the sugar and fiber ratio—essentially, you don't really have to consider them much. For example, ripe bananas and carrots are unusually high on the index, but these are healthy foods without a lot of calories and not very offensive in the overall scheme of your diet.

The big—and not so obvious—offenders are the starches. Most grains are cooked before we eat them, which causes their GI number to skyrocket. Add a bit of manufacturing—like what's done to make white rice and pastas—and you have almost off-the-chart numbers and a perfect diet to induce the famed sugar rush in cycles so harsh you may feel like you're manic-depressive. For this reason, these foods should be limited and perhaps in severe cases cut out completely. Then again, most of us don't eat pasta alone and combining foods has an equalizing effect. So pasta with a lot of meat and fat won't shock your system the same way pasta alone will. Therefore, if your diet is balanced, it's really not that big a concern.

The bottom line
A diet based on the glycemic index might help you but certainly isn't essential unless you are borderline diabetic. And if you own a Beachbody program or are a Team Beachbody® Club member, it's probably not too different from the way you've already been instructed to eat in, say, the Step-by-Step Nutrition Guide, featuring Michi's Ladder. Let's recap:

  • On the GI scale, high numbers are bad and low numbers are good.

  • Natural foods have a lower GI than processed foods.

  • Uncooked is better than cooked.

  • Whole grains have a lower GI than processed grains.

  • Table sugar (sucrose) is worse than natural sugar (fructose—not to be confused with high-fructose corn syrup, which is more processed and worse than sucrose).

  • Fruits and veggies are pretty much fine, even if their GI number is high.

  • And no matter what you eat, your diet should reflect your activity level. Does this sound familiar? If not, you probably haven't read your diet guide.

In essence, the glycemic index is just another tool you can use to keep your diet in check that basically champions the slogan that the more natural your diet is, the better it will be. And this I'm sure you've heard before.

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Show Us Your Food: Hungry Planet Review
By Denis Faye

Sometimes, even the most globally minded Americans forget to look beyond our country's borders, and that's too bad. It's a big world out there, with plenty of lessons to teach us—and I'm not talking about watching Memoirs of a Geisha to learn a little about Japan or counting a visit to Taco Bell as a venture into Latin cuisine. I am, however, talking about spending a few afternoons reading Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio's new photo-essay book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.

Even the premise of the book is fascinating. Writer D'Aluisio and photographer Menzel traveled the planet, spending time with families in dozens of countries, discussing their eating habits and way of life. At the end of their stay, Menzel took a portrait of each family next to the total amount of food they consume weekly. These photos are astounding, from the huge amount of meat the Browns of Australia eat, to the meager rations, mostly grain, that the Aboubakers of Chad consume, to the obnoxious amount of fast food devoured by the Revises of North Carolina.

And when you actually read the essays, it becomes all the more fascinating, learning how these people live. Also interesting are the sidebars listing statistics on the eating habits of each country, as well as each family's weekly food budget. To create a more three-dimensional view of some countries, the authors looked at families from different walks of life. In China, for example, the Dong family of Beijing spends $155.06 USD weekly, mostly on processed food, while the rural Cuis of the Weitaiwu Village spend $57.27 USD, and their diet is mostly fresh foods. (For the record, I found the Cuis' table much more appetizing.)

The aforementioned Revises from North Carolina, for the record, spend $341.98 USD a week, with an astounding $71.61 going towards fast food and $77.75 for beverages, largely soda and sugary drinks. Rosemary Revis found the sheer amount of junk on her family's table to be "unsettling," and she hopes the project will become the catalyst for personal change.

"Personal change" is one of the primary reasons Beachbody members should be interested in this book. Simply put, we, in America, consume too much. The next time it's an hour after dinner and you're "starving" for pudding or whatever, think about the $31.55 USD that feeds the Aymes family of Ecuador. This family of nine lives mostly on bananas and potatoes and they seem to survive without late-night desserts.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats
Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio
Ten Speed Press
$40.00 USD

All photos by Peter Menzel. ©2005 Peter Menzel. www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.

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