Here is my first “special guest posting” by my friend Frances O’Neil who is not only an outstanding nutritionist but a life-long elite endurance athlete. I love her writing and believe that is offers benefit in a scientific yet assimilable way. Let me know what yo think. PK
Dietary Glycemic Load, What Is It and Why Should I Care?
by Frances O’Neil, R.D., M.S.W., C.D.E.
The majority of Americans have been on a diet at some point in their lives. Maybe it was a low fat, high carbohydrate diet popular in the 80’s and early 90’s, or the more recent high protein, low carbohydrate Atkins-type diet. Whichever it was, the likelihood that the weight was gained back and then some and the individual ended up with at least the beginnings of a chronic disease are very good. If this is you, listen up. Research in the area of chronic disease is shedding some much needed light on how the typical American diet is contributing to chronic disease and what changes need to be made to reverse it.
According to a report in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008, “higher after meal blood sugar is a universal mechanism for disease progression.” It goes on to state “significant positive associations were found for type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gall bladder disease, breast cancer, and all disease combined.”
The typical American meal contains rapidly digested and absorbed carbohydrate which creates sharp fluctuations in after meal or “post prandial” blood glucose levels. These sharp fluctuations have been linked to appetite stimulation. The high blood glucose levels that are produced require a larger amount of insulin to be delivered into the bloodstream. Higher insulin levels block the body’s ability to burn fat and increase fat storage. When fat can’t be burned, our appetite and food intake increases.
Maybe some of you are thinking the high protein, low carbohydrate diets are the way to go. Well, I’ll l give you ½ credit for that. The problem is such diets allow protein sources that are high in unhealthy fats and at least start off being very restrictive creating unnecessary and, for some people unbearable, stress. Lastly, these diets are just that, diets. They have a beginning and an end. To be healthier and lose weight and maintain that healthier, lighter body (the hard part), one needs to commit to a lifestyle change.
So what to do? Well, by now you’ve probably figured out that you need to keep your post prandial blood glucose excursions to a minimum. This is where the concept of dietary glycemic load comes in. The concept was developed by Harvard School of Public Health professor and researcher Walter Willett, M.D., and his associates as long ago as 1997. Glycemic load is the degree of rise in blood glucose levels and insulin demand produced by a specific amount of a specific food. A food’s glycemic load is determined by several things most of which are included in the number assigned to carbohydrate containing foods see: http://www.mendosa.com/common_foods.htm
The principle of glycemic load is illustrated in Dr. Willett’s “Healthy Eating Pyramid” see: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/pyramid-full-story/index.html. In his research, Dr. Willett takes issue with the USDA’s “Food Guide Pyramid.” He points out that the USDA pyramid deems eating refined starches acceptable. It does not distinguish between proteins that contain healthy fats and those that contain unhealthy ones and it recommends too much milk. The USDA pyramid, around since 1992, is a widely recognized and deeply entrenched icon within American culture. The American public, nutrition and public health experts have come to appreciates it’s well-honed and colorful message. Dr. Willett was out to change people’s minds and to put the government’s pyramid out of business; an epic challenge for anyone. Some of Dr. Willett’s healthy eating principles also called into question industry giants, think dairy and beef, who have a long history of using their political muscle to influence the USDA’s recommendations. As a result, Dr. Willett’s pyramid has yet to see the light of the day. Be advised, it is not my intention to lead anyone to believe that Dr. Willett’s way is the only way, but his guidelines do keep blood glucose fluctuations to a minimum, include suggestions for eating healthy proteins and fats, strongly enforce other critical lifestyle changes, allow for great flexibility in terms of quantity and apply to most every healthy individual whether you’re captain of the recliner or an NFL lineman. Dr. Willett also has a book, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.
If you want to get off the roller coaster and improve the quality and quite possibly quantity of your life, it’s worth a peek. And remember, lifelong good health requires a lifestyle change. So before you start, consider the following… If you or someone you know has a chronic disease be it hypertension, diabetes, etc., the doctor prescribes pills to help manage the condition. On the bottle of pills, it states, “take one (or more) everyday.” If the person chooses to take the pills simply when they feel like it, the condition remains uncontrolled. A quality life requires a daily commitment to living healthier. Every day becomes on opportunity to “get better.” But you have to “take your pills.” They may be bitter at first and an inconvenience, but when you start to feel better, taking your pills becomes a walk in the park.