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The Glycemic Index Diet

The Promise

Diets based on the glycemic index -- Sugar Busters, the Zone Diet, and Nutrisystem – are more famous than the original “G.I. Diet.”

The glycemic index was designed to help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels. And what works to control blood sugar, the theory goes, should help you drop extra weight.

Like its better-known children, the glycemic index diet focuses on carbs. It gets a little complicated, but here's the basic idea: Some foods -- like white bread, cookies, and white potatoes -- make your blood sugar rise quickly. On the glycemic index diet, you eat carbs that produce a steadier rise in blood sugar; and the fiber in those foods helps you feel full longer. You're not as hungry, and you feel more satisfied.

Does It Work?

Sticking to a low glycemic index diet may help prevent conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

But it's not certain that this diet can help you lose weight any better or faster than a low-fat, generally healthy diet.

One study showed that people on a low-glycemic diet lost more fat than those on a high-glycemic diet with the same calories. More studies are needed to confirm that.

What You Can Eat

Foods on the glycemic index diet are scored on a scale of 0 to 100 based on how much they raise your blood sugar level.

  • High-GI foods (70 or higher): white rice, white bread, pretzels, white bagels, white baked potatoes, crackers, sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Medium-GI foods (56-69): bananas, grapes, spaghetti, ice cream, raisins, corn on the cob
  • Low-GI foods (55 and under): oatmeal, peanuts, peas, carrots, kidney beans, hummus, skim milk, most fruits (except those listed above and watermelon)

On the diet, you try to eat more foods in the low-GI category, and fewer in the high-GI group.

Level of Effort: Medium

You don't have to do any calorie counting or portion control, and you can eat a pretty varied diet. You also don't need to cut out almost all carbs. You do need to be selective about your carbs, checking the glycemic index value of the foods you eat.

Limitations: The glycemic index diet can be confusing. Just because a food is low on the index doesn't mean it's healthy. And some high glycemic index foods offer a lot of nutrition.

For example, parsnips have a higher glycemic index value (52) than vanilla cake (42).

Also, the diet doesn't offer advice on non-carb foods. It's up to you to figure out how many calories and how much fat you're getting each day. And eating some foods in combination -- like a high-glycemic-index carb with protein and fat, for example -- can affect how much your blood sugar rises.

Cooking and shopping: You can shop and cook like you normally would, but you need to use ingredients that are low on the glycemic index.

Packaged foods or meals: None are required, but certain programs -- like Nutrisystem -- that follow the glycemic index diet do include packaged meals.

In-person meetings: No.

Exercise: Exercise is not part of this diet.

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