By Michael A. Smith, MD
Glycemic load is important to consider when trying to manage and control sugar metabolism — which is the ultimate goal for diabetics. Why? Because with large sugar spikes there’s a greater risk for insulin resistance — the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.
But new research is showing additional benefits of a low glycemic-load diet. It turns out that carbohydrates with a low glycemic load can also lower inflammation and boost blood levels of adiponectin. Let’s take a look at each one.
Slowly Digested Carbs Reduce InflammationIn a controlled, randomized feeding study involving 80 men and women — half of normal weight and half overweight or obese — a low glycemic diet in overweight and obese participants reduced levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, by 22%.1
Lead author and member of the Cancer Prevention Program in Seattle, Marian Neuhouser said, "This finding is important and clinically useful since C-reactive protein is associated with an increased risk for many cancers as well as cardiovascular disease. Showing that a low-glycemic-load diet can improve health is important for the millions of Americans who are overweight or obese."
This supports the research conducted at the University of Toronto. Dr. Masters and colleagues concluded that whole grains with low glycemic load — like quinoa, bulgur wheat, barley, oats, rye — lower CRP and are helpful in treating different types of inflammatory conditions like arthritis.2
So far, so good. But now it gets really interesting. Neuhouser’s team identified a key hormone affected by low glycemic carbs, which is called adiponectin.
Low Glycemic Carbs Increase Adiponectin
We call adiponectin a command signal. It’s produced and released by fat cells and has profound effects on insulin sensitivity. It’s also been shown to have anti-atherosclerotic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic roles.3-6
Basically, as adiponectin levels increase, insulin sensitivity improves. The result is better sugar metabolism. All of this from complex carbs? Who knew!
The Type of Carb You Eat Makes a Huge DifferenceYes, you can eat carbs — just make sure they’re the right kind — those with a low glycemic load. In Neuhouser’s study, high-glycemic load carbohydrates were identified as:
- Low in fiber
- Highly processed
- Canned syrups
- White flour
- High in fiber
- No to little processing
- Whole grains and oats
- Not white
Neuhouser is confident in saying, "Because the two diets differed only by glycemic load, we can infer that the changes we observed in important biomarkers were due to diet alone.”
The Right Carbs to Eat – Low Glycemic LoadHere’s a list of carbs with the lowest glycemic load. These are the carbs to eat and enjoy.
Please note: The values shown are from www.nutritiondata.self.com. Each number is based on one cooked serving. Most experts consider a low glycemic load to be less than 25.
Glycemic Load versus Glycemic IndexRemember, glycemic load is a measurement of immediate blood sugar impact — the higher the number, the greater the impact. This is different from glycemic index which is a measurement of sugar content.
A great example that clearly shows how the two are different is watermelon. Take a look at each measurement below:
- Watermelon’s glycemic index = 71
- Watermelon’s glycemic load = 3
So eat away … well, at least eat within limits. As we know, overeating anything is never a good idea. However, since these low glycemic load carbs can help ease inflammation and improve sugar metabolism, they’re certainly worth working into your diet.
- J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):587-94.
- J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):587-94.
- Atheroscler Suppl. 2005 May;6(2):7-14.
- Int J Cardiol. 2008 May 7;126(1):53-61.
- Clin Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):963-74.
- Diabetes Obes Metab. 2003 Sep;5(5):349-53.
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