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Carbohydrates And The Glycaemic Index - Detailed Explaination!

Updated on February 11, 2013
A few examples of carbohydrate rich foods.
A few examples of carbohydrate rich foods. | Source

Knowledge of Carbohydrates

Some of you may have heard of the glycaemic index before others may not have. This hub shall explain exactly what it is, how it affects the body and how to use it in your advantage.

To begin the understanding process of the glycaemic index, it is first important have a solid understanding of carbohydrates. So I will briefly cover this topic area as well.

Carbohydrates are a source of energy that the body to function properly. The carbohydrates are broken down in the stomach and converted to glucose. Glucose is a form of sugar which is transported around via blood and used by the body as energy.

Here's where it starts to get a little more detailed...

There are two types of carbohydrates. These are complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates are found naturally in foods and also refined in processed foods. They are commonly referred to as starchy foods. Here are some examples of complex carbohydrates;

  • Nuts
  • Wholemeal Bread
  • Chickpeas
  • Brown Rice
  • Oats
  • Potatoes
  • Root Vegetables

Now simple carbohydrates are also found in natural and refined forms. They are also known as sugar. This includes natural sugars, which can be found in vegetables and fruit. A day to day simple carbohydrate is the sugar you use every day in your tea's! (Obviously depending if you drink tea or not) Simple carbohydrates (sugar) cause tooth decay unless proper dental hygeine is maintained. Here are some examples of simple carbohydrates;

  • Pastries, biscuits and cakes.
  • Prepared Sauces
  • Soft Drinks
  • Chocolate
  • White Cane Sugar
  • Sweets

Both types of carbohydrate are converted into glucose, any unwanted glucose is converted in glycogen, this glycogen is stored either as fat around the body or in the liver. However, complex carbohydrates deliver the body with a more sustained and slower release of energy than its' counterpart, the simple carbohydrate. Glucose can also be converted from fats and protein however, they do not provide nowhere as pure energy as that of a carbohydrate. Too many carbohydrates in your diet will result in the body storing glycogen in the form of fat around the body. Consequently, eating too many carbohydrates will add fat onto the body.


Examples of foods with glycaemic index rating.
Examples of foods with glycaemic index rating. | Source

What is the Glycaemix Index?

The glycaemic index is like a ranking system for food. Every carbohydrate from every different source of food and drink, can be absorbed at different rates. This means that some carbohydrates will give you a sudden burst of energy, while others can release their energy slower to the body, in a more sustained manner. The carbohydrates which release energy slowly have a lover glycaemic index rating then the ones which release energy quickly. The table located to the right of this paragraph is packed with examples of how foods rank on the glycaemic index. The lower the number next to the food, the slower it releases energy into the body.

So the glycaemic index itself allows you to see what foods will give you energy the quickest and which foods will give you a slower release throughout the day. Handy! Do you not think?

A graph illustrating effects of high and low glycaemic index values.
A graph illustrating effects of high and low glycaemic index values. | Source

How This Knowledge Can Help You?

By knowing what foods will give you energy throughout the day, you can plan ahead. The reason breakfast cereals, such as Weetabix are such a common favourite in the morning is because they release energy slowly throughout the day, so you do not feel tried. Complex carbohydrates are widely considered to give you a more sustained, slower release of energy throughout the day. However, it is important to get the balance right. Having high glycaemic index foods is not a bad thing, sometimes you need a, 'pick me up,' during the day. Which is exactly what the high ranking glycaemic foods will provide you with.

This knowledge can be applied to many different elements of your life. For example, after a workout, your muscles are tired and low on energy, effectively they are, 'hungry,' for glucose, this glucose will allow them to recover depleted glycogen stores. This sudden increase in energy will result in glucose bringing transported to the tiring muscles. Along with this glucose are amino acids. Amino acids provide growth and repair for damaged muscle. Therefore to make the most out of your workouts, be sure to have some higher ranking carbohydrates afterwards!

If there is no need for the glucose, so no muscles are tiring and you are not active. Then the excess glucose will top up your liver stores. However once these liver stores are topped up any glucose on top of this is stored as fat around the body. Eating a higher ranking carbohydrate will give you a temporary energy spike, however afterward because there is no glucose to be absorbed at the same rate, you will find a subsequent dip in your energy levels, this may be combined with tiredness and mood swings.

Another benefit of knowing this information is that, by eating lower ranking carbohydrates, your body will have a constant supply of energy throughout the day, therefore offsetting the effects of hunger, because the body does not need any more energy. When we are hungry, we do not tend to snack on unhealthy things more as an impulse. On top of this, if we down have energy throughout the day from carbohydrates then the body will start to break down protein into glucose as well. This will take away the effects of recovery and muscle growth from eating the protein. Consequently, the more you digest protein into glucose, the less the protein can be used for muscle growth. Therefore it is key, especially for those wanting to gain muscle, to give a constant supply of glucose to the body, which comes conveniently from low ranking glycaemic foods.

The graph to the top right of this text section, displays how high glycaemic index rated foods, will not provide energy for the body nowhere near as long as lower glycaemic index foods. Instead only giving you a spike of initial energy, follow by a massive drop below the breadline (could not resist the carbohydrate related pun... Sorry) This drop will make you feel tired, and more crucially hungry.

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A More Accurate Reading

The concept of the glycaemic index is very useful and helpful, however it can not be taken as a precise measurement of eating particular carbohydrates. The reason for this is because the conversion to glucose rate is greatly determined by the quantity of food which has been eaten.

There is another rating system, this is called the, glycaemic load. A glycaemic load rating takes into consideration the glycaemic index of the carbohydrate eaten along with the amount of that carbohydrate consumed. Therefore giving you a more accurate prediction of how it is going to effect your glucose conversion rate.

The glycaemic load seems like a perfect measure however it does take a little mathes to calculate, here is how it is done!

Firstly discover what the glycaemic index of a particular carbohydrate is, either using the table in this hub, or the vast knowledge center called the Internet. From here, take the glycaemic index rating and multiply it by the number of carbohydrates in grams in that meal. Once you have done this, simply divide by 100. Displayed a little clear below;

(Glycaemic Index x Grams of Carbohydrates Eaten) / 100 = Glycaemic Load.

Here is a real life example of this;

A banana has a glycaemic index of about 60. (different sources will vary slightly) Whereas chocolate has a glycaemic index of around is around 50. So surely chocolate has a slower release rate? Wrong. Here is why.

A typical banana weighs about 120 grams, of this about 24 grams are carbohydrates. Therefore 60 (GI Rating) x 24 (Carbohydrates in Grams) = 1440. Then divide this by 100 gives us 14.4. Therefore a typical banana has a glycaemic load rating of 14.4.

Now if a chocolate bar weighed 120 grams, it would provide about 75 grams of carbohydrates. So 50 (GI Rating) x 75 (Carbohydrates in Grams) = 3750. Then divide this by 100 leaves us with 37.5.

So in contrast chocolate has, gram for gram double the impact on your glucose levels than that of a banana. Even with its' deceptive glycaemic index rating.



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