- May 6, 2020
- Modified On: November 12, 2022
- by Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
- 0 Comments
What is a Low-GI Diet Plan?
Curious about the low-GI diet plan? Find out the ins and outs of the eating style, including a low-glycemic foods list.
Like many of us, I love a fresh bagel in the morning.
The crispy crust and doughy center, in combo with a slather of cream cheese and a sprinkle of everything bagel spice is oh-so satisfying and can put me in a chipper mood.
But before long, those carb-filled calories burn off, and I’m quickly feeling hangry.
Why the sudden shift in energy and hunger?
Bagels—like white bread, white rice, pretzels—are just one of the many foods that have a high-glycemic index (GI), meaning they’re digested quickly and may cause a spike in blood-sugar levels, aka blood glucose levels.
To curb those crashes and also to lose weight, more and more people are turning to a low-GI diet plan. Despite the scientific-sounding name, this eating style is a lot simpler than you’d think.
Keep on reading to get a better idea of the low-GI diet meal plan, and find out if steering away from high-GI foods could be right for you and your lifestyle.
The basics of the diet
After reading that intro, I bet you have a million questions dancing in your head!
What’s the glycemic index? What should be on your low-GI foods list? What foods are part of the low-glycemic diet plan? What are some of the LGID benefits, and what are low glycemic foods?
Whether you have prediabetes or are simply wanting to prevent type 2 diabetes, following a low-GI diet plan can be helpful.
If you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, don’t worry. There’s a lot you can do to prevent the onset of diabetes! This is very important, as having diabetes puts you at risk for other health problems including kidney disease.
Here are a few facts about a low-GI diet plan:
- Foods that have a higher glycemic load tend to be lower in protein and fiber. On the flip side, low-GI foods tend to contain more protein and fiber, as well as more nutrients.
- Looking for foods with low glycemic index? Some on the low-GI food list include soy beans, lentils, and barley. Carrots are also on the list of low glycemic diet foods.
- Breakfast cereals can be either higher GI or lower GI. It really depends on if they’re made of whole grains or not. For instance, muesli has a GI of 57 and cornflakes have a GI of 81.
- If you’re not sure if you should start a low-GI diet, you should seek medical advice from a doctor or dietitian. This is especially true if you have type 2 diabetes.
- Most dairy products fall in the middle of the spectrum for a low-GI meal plan. For instance, whole milk has a GI of 39, while fruit yogurt has a GI of 41. For more information about the lowest glycemic foods, take a look at a low glycemic food list.
- Yes, you can follow a gluten-free low-glycemic diet plan!
Health benefits of the diet
Following a low-GI diet plan yields many health benefits. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Lowers added sugar intake
The current dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugar––including honey, high-fructose corn syrup, and molasses–––o no more than 10 percent of total daily calories. For a 2,000-calorie daily diet, that’s 200 calories from sugar.
Currently, added sugars make up more than 13 percent of daily calories for Americans. Decreasing added-sugar calories could result in reduced risk of not only type 2 diabetes but also heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer.
Higher-GI foods are often higher in added sugars.
Limiting added sugar means cutting back on sugary sodas, too. As for foods to avoid, you don’t have to completely say goodbye to them––but do limit them.
A study in The Journal of Nutrition followed middle-aged adults for 14 years, finding that regular consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, but not diet soda, was associated with an increased risk of developing prediabetes.
In the study, adults drinking sugar-sweetened beverages more than three times a week––equal to about one can of regular soda per day––had a 46% percent heightened risk of developing prediabetes, versus people consuming these drinks infrequently or not at all.
Having prediabetes means you have a higher-than-normal blood sugar level and a greater likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
Losing greater than 7 percent of your body weight––more than 14 pounds for someone who weighs 200 pounds––as well as taking part in 150 minutes of weekly moderate exercise may help slow the progression from prediabetes to type 2 diabetes, according to a research review in Lancet.
Helps prevent diabetes
Many people who choose to eat off of the low-glycemic foods list have a heightened risk of diabetes. And people with diabetes end up having a higher risk of heart disease.
The good news: It turns out that in addition to eating less higher-GI foods, cooking meals at home may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Let’s hear it for the low-GI diet plan!
In a study in PLOS Medicine, study authors researched almost 100,000 healthcare professionals, following them over a 24- to 26-year period.
The study didn’t look at particular foods eaten at home, just whether or not they were prepared at home.
The findings: People eating between five and seven midday meals at home per week had a 9% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Dinner had an even bigger impact: Adults eating the same number of meals at home had a 15 percent lower risk of developing diabetes. The volunteers also gained less weight and were less likely to become obese.
These results are in line with previous studies linking fast food intake and increased risk of diabetes, as well as ones connecting frequent dining out (including eating at fast-food establishments) with weight gain.
Foods to eat
Wondering what to eat on a low-GI diet? Here are some ideas.
Strawberries have a glycemic index of 41, making them a good fit for a low-GI diet plan.
I love adding berries to smoothies, overnight oats, and other healthy meals.
And research in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research shows that the anthocyanins in strawberries could help improve insulin resistance, which may mean good things for improving the insulin sensitivity of people with diabetes or prediabetes.
In the small study, subjects received a meal with either no strawberries—or 10 grams (about 1/3 of an ounce), 20 grams, or 40 grams of freeze-dried strawberry powder.
Volunteers consuming the greatest amount of strawberry powder saw the biggest drop in post-meal insulin levels at the 6-hour post-meal mark. That’s pretty cool, right?
Eggs are one of my favorite foods—they’re a good source of protein. When I need an easy go-to dinner, I’ll whip up an egg-white veggie omelet or scrambled eggs.
Plus, eggs have a glycemic index of 0.
Now, a study of 2,332 middle-aged and older Finnish men in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that people eating more eggs–including ones in recipes––had a significantly decreased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
In the study, low intake was about 1 medium egg per week, while high intake was about 3 ½ medium eggs weekly.
A possible explanation for these findings is that in the United States and many other countries, eggs are often eaten alongside other fatty foods.
This includes processed red meat like bacon and sausage, which are associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
In this study, egg eaters were less likely to smoke and ate a healthier diet, including unprocessed red meat and foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and fruits and vegetables. As well, eggs offer many nutrients that could benefit health.
Eggs are known to be a high-cholesterol food, with about 200 milligrams (mg) cholesterol per egg. When the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines came out, we heard that dietary cholesterol is no longer the concern we once thought it was.
The report, which was submitted to the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services in preparation for the development of the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines, notes that there is no conclusive link between intake of dietary cholesterol–––like the cholesterol found in eggs––and blood cholesterol levels.
These findings are reiterated in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The previous recommended daily cap for dietary cholesterol was 300 mg, and cholesterol has often been linked with high blood sugar levels and increased risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
In fact, other research shows that more important for lowering blood LDL cholesterol levels is increasing intake of monounsaturated fat––found in avocados, olives, and nuts–and polyunsaturated fats–found in canola oil and flaxseeds.
Also important is keeping intake of saturated fat less than 10 percent of calories.
These findings show we shouldn’t be afraid of moderate egg intake––and that this egg intake should be alongside foods that are either low in fat or rich in healthy fats, as well as nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
Other studies still link very high egg intake with increased risk for heart disease. People who have heart disease or diabetes should speak with their doctor about egg intake on a low-GI diet plan.
Feel guilty after eating a giant bowl of popcorn? Don’t! Especially if you’re eating the air-popped, no-butter variety.
Not only is the go-to movie snack made from whole grains, it’s also low carb. But the munchie falls in a gray area when it comes to the low-GI diet.
That really means you can pair it with a healthy fat (i.e., a couple of Tablespoons of almonds or pistachios) or a protein (like a hardboiled egg) to help steady your blood-sugar levels. So it can absolutely be part of a low glycemic meal plan, even though it’s not on the low-GI foods list.
What do flaxseeds, grapeseed oil, and sunflower seeds all have in common? They’re all sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and are ingredients I regularly include in my snacks and meals.
These types of foods tend to fall lower on the glycemic index. For example, sunflower seeds have a glycemic index of 35.
Foods rich in PUFAs have many health benefits. For one, they may help you lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol, which might help decrease your risk of heart disease.
And other research, including a study in Nutrition found an association between higher intakes of omega-3 ALA and omega 6 PUFAs and a lower risk of metabolic syndrome risk factors.
The study authors asked a random sample of adults about their usual eating habits and food choices to highlight these connections.
If you didn’t know, metabolic syndrome is a cluster of at least three specific conditions occurring at the same time—including high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar, low HDL “good” cholesterol, high triglycerides, and a larger waistline—that may put you at increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and possibly type 2 diabetes.
Here are a few PUFA-rich foods to try that offer both ALA and omega-6 fatty acids:
When it comes to fats on a low-GI diet plan, you might be wondering if you should eat butter in moderation.
Per Tablespoon, butter contains almost 12 grams of fat and 7 grams saturated fat. The same amount of olive oil has a little more fat (about 14 grams) but much less saturated fat, about 2 grams.
A meta-analysis and systematic review study in PLOS One analyzed nine prospective studies of butter consumption, finding no association with heart disease and diabetes—and a very small one for all-cause mortality.
What this suggests: Butter has a neutral association with health, neither increasing nor decreasing risk for some diseases.
While it’s not a healthful choice, in moderation it may not be harmful to your health. However, more research is needed to confirm this, including randomized trials.
This is in contrast to foods associated with an increased risk of disease, such as processed meats impacting and cancer risk, and added sugars––especially sugar-sweetened beverages––heightening risk of obesity and diabetes.
And of course, there are the foods that have a clear benefit to health, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains (such as brown rice), nuts, legumes, and oils like olive, canola, soybean, and sunflower oil.
The study authors state that margarine, spreads, and cooking oils containing heart-healthy oils like olive, canola, or soybean are healthier choices than butter.
Your best bet? If you like it, continue to eat butter in moderation—but sub in heart-healthy oils and other creamy spreads, such as roasted garlic on bread or plain Greek yogurt as a baked potato topping, when possible.
You don’t want to eat a high-fat diet, but incorporating healthy fats into a low-GI diet plan is a good idea.
When it comes to following a low-GI diet plan, you have many delicious foods to choose from and add to your diet. These include eggs, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and berries.
- Consumption of Meals Prepared at Home and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: An Analysis of Two Prospective Cohorts, PLOS Medicine
- A Dose–Response Evaluation of Freeze‐Dried Strawberries Independent of Fiber Content on Metabolic Indices in Abdominally Obese Individuals with Insulin Resistance in a Randomized, Single‐Blinded, Diet‐Controlled Crossover Trial, Molecular Nutrition & Food Research
- Sugar-Sweetened Beverage but Not Diet Soda Consumption Is Positively Associated with Progression of Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes, The Journal of Nutrition
- Prediabetes: A High-Risk State for Developing Diabetes, Lancet
- Egg Consumption and Risk of Incident Type 2 Diabetes in Men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines
- Second National Report on Biochemical Indicators of Diet and Nutrition in the U.S. Population
- Eggs, HSPH.Harvard.edu
- Facts About Polyunsaturated Fats, MedlinePlus.gov
- Association Between Interaction and Ratio of ω-3 and ω-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid and the Metabolic Syndrome in Adults, Nutrition
- Metabolic Syndrome, NHLBI.NIH.gov
- Is Butter Back? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Butter Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Total Mortality, PLOS One
- Consumption of Meals Prepared at Home and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: An Analysis of Two Prospective Cohort Studies, PLOS Medicine
What are your thoughts on a low GI diet plan for weight loss? What are your favorites on the low-GI carb list and a low GI meal plan?
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