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Pilates 1901 is Kansas City's Premier Pilates Fitness and Fat Loss studio offering pilates mat, reformer and equipment classes. We also provide Stott Pilates instructor training. Located in Westport, Kansas City.

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What the heck is a glycemic load? Should I be worried?

On Tuesday we talked about an epidemic in our society; the increase of insulin resistance and diabetes in this country. The truth is, the way we are eating is making alot of us very sick!  And if we aren’t sick yet, we certainly may be overweight or unwell.

Although certainly some disease is not related to lifestyle, but many of the sypmtoms of the big three:  (heart disease, strokes, and diabetes)  can be largely diminished or controlledby making healthy choices and adopting healthful lifestyle.   An estimated 60% of Americans are obese today and 22% of those have developed insulin resistance through poor dietary choices and lack of regular exercise.

Remember, insulin resistance is your bodies inability to handle the sugar in your diet.  That means more of the sugar that is present is stored as fat.  While there is a genetic predisposition to insulin resistance, not everyone will develop a problem.  That’s because something else- something in their activity and eating patterns brings it on.   That’s because insulin resistance is also a muscle problem.

Remember when we talked about the important role that muscle plays in your metabolism?  That’s because your muscles are the main users of glycogen and insulin regulates their consumption.  Exercise increases your muscle’s responsiveness to insulin so they take up more glucose.  Inactivity decreases their sensitivity, so they take up less.  That physical inactivity combined with a genetic predisposition towards insulin resistance is often manifests a problem.

If we only ate meat and raw vegetables we wouldn’t have much of a problem because it doesn’t take much insulin to digest these foods.  Meat contains virtually no glucose and the glucose in fresh fruit and vegetables trickles into our bloodstreams slowly, requiring only small amounts of isulin.

The only foods in our diets that call for large amounts of insulin are refined carbohydrates. Insulin resistance becomes a problem only when we consume more starch and sugar than our bodies can handle.

We are discussing insulin resistance because it increases the chance of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Learning about insulin resistance is an important step toward making lifestyle changes that can help prevent diabetes and other health problems.

Some foods are easy to recognize as simple carbohydrates that are full of sugar and devoid of nutritional value.  At least we know when we choose to stuff a twinkie or a tater tot in our mouths, we aren’t eating for good nutrition.  But what about all the other supposedly  “healthy” foods that we are eating that have the same negative effect on our blood sugar levels?

How can we tell the difference between “good” carbs and “bad ones?”    Well,  cardiologist and author, Ron Thompson has just made it simpler.  In his book, The Glycemic Load Diet, Dr Thompsen takes the traditional concept of the glycemic index one step further.   The glycemic index was developed to help us look at how different foods affect our blood glucose levels.  The higher the glycemic index, the greater the spike to our blood sugar and the greater the release of insulin in response.  Repeated shocks to our metabolic system can contribute to insulin resistance, increased fat storage and risk for type II diabetes.

But sometimes the glycemic index, because it has not taken into account the serving size of each food, can mislead us.  For instance,  carrots have a glycemic index of 68 while pasta has a glycemic index of 64.

You might think, “great, I will just eat pasta and skip the carrots!”  But that would be a mistake.  Once you factor in the number of carrots you must eat to get that number (8 large carrots)  vs the amount of pasta to get that number (1/2 cup), you see the need to do what Dr Thompsen has done:  created a glycemic load table that weighs the affect of foods based on their serving size and loads.

Let’s take a look at some common carbohydrates and their glycemic loads.

ALL BRAN ½ cup :  84 GL

If there is one food you should eat even though it pushes the upper limit of glycemic load, it’s All-Bran cereal. It is by far the best source of insoluble fiber in the Western diet. In fact, it is difficult to get enough of that kind of fiber without eating bran.

There are two kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble. While there is plenty of soluble fiber in fruits and vegetables, insoluble fiber is hard to come by.

In addition to meat, our ancestors ate crude vegetation–grass, bark, roots and un-ripened fruit and berries–which contained large amounts of insoluble fiber.

Over the millenia, we humans have refined most of the insoluble fiber out of our diet. However, it is essential for good colon health.

OATMEAL 1 cup:   154 GL
(This one was really depressing to me.  I love oatmeal)  Oatmeal was one of the first foods mass- marketed to the American people. Not only were your parents brainwashed; so were your grandparents and great-grandparents.

Oatmeal is a terrible way to start the day. It will give you a glucose shock just as any other breakfast cereal. In one study, scientists fed volunteers instant oatmeal every day for six weeks and compared their food intake to a group fed eggs and fruit. The group that ate the oatmeal consumed 80 percent more calories during the rest of the day than the group fed eggs.

The claims that oatmeal is “heart healthy” are just advertising hype. In some experiments large doses of the kind of fiber found in oat husks lowered cholesterol slightly, but there isn’t enough of that substance in oatmeal cereal to do you any good at all.

If you do eat oatmeal, make sure it is not instant, but whole grains.  To lesson the GL you can always add some whey protein.  Or maybe I will just have an omlette!

YOGURT- plain 6 oz. : 27 GL

Commercially sweetened: 110 GL

Yogurt is healthy food unless it’s commercially sweetened. The flavored yogurts sold in grocery stores are sweetened for kids. A typical 6-ounce serving contains as much as 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of added sugar. Glycemic loads range around 110.

If you add your own fresh fruit to plain yogurt, you’ll find that it tastes great with no added sugar or maybe a single teaspoon, which would have negligible effect on the glyemic load. Don’t bother with low-fat yogurt. Just get the no-sugar-added kind.

NUTS   ¼ cup : 10 GL
Feel free to enjoy nuts, but DO remember they are very calorie dense! They are an ideal food for someone trying to reduce glycemic load. Keep some around at home or at work for comfort food, but be sure to measure them out into serving sizes to keep real about your caloric intake. Nuts are full of protein, fiber and healthy mono-unsaturated and omega-3 fats, but contain insignificant amounts of carbohydrate. Nuts have a dry, crunchy consistency that nicely takes the place of crunchy starches, such as crackers and chips. They are one of the oldest foods in the human diet.

1.5 oz. slice:   170 GL

We love whole grain bread but you need to eat it with a healthy dose of respect.   A hearty slice of whole grain bread will shoot your blood sugar up higher than a slice of white bread. Sure, it has more fiber than white bread but not enough to do you much good. The average slice has about 2 grams compared to 12 grams for a half-cup of bran cereal (The recommended daily allowance is 25 grams.)  It has more vitamins and protein, but vitamin and protein deficiencies are unheard of in developed countries.  When eating, choose the one highest in fiber and don’t over eat!

TORTILLAS 1 ¾ oz. : 80 GL

If you miss sandwiches made with bread, tortillas are the answer. Their dough is unleavened so your intestinal tract digests them more slowly than bread. They are one of the few wheat or corn flour products you can enjoy without giving yourself a glucose shock.

To make a “wrap,” just wrap a tortilla around a generous portion of sandwich makings, fold one end so the ingredients don’t fall out, and gobble it up. A sandwich made with two slices of bread has a glycemic load of 260, while a wrap made with a wheat flour tortilla has a glycemic load of about 80. The glycemic load of a whole-wheat tortilla is about half that.

We also recommend a breakfast burrito to get the day started.  Just scramble a couple of eggs, throw in some green and red peppers, a little onion and a tablespoon of pico de gallo and wrap it in a whole wheat tortilla. A great mix of protein and carbs!

CHOCOLATE 2 – 1’ squares:
37 GL Milk chocolate: 50 GL
Semisweet dark:  27

You absolutely do NOT have to give up chocolate to follow a low-glycemic load diet, as long as you use it to satisfy your sweet tooth and not to fill up on. A good rule of thumb is to eat no more than you can hold in your cupped hand. Chocolate is full of anti-oxidants and flavonoids that are thought to be good for your heart and blood vessels.

So you can see that the amount of the food must be taken into consideration when considering the full effect, or load of the food.

The failure to recognize the correct glycemic indexes for serving size may cause a lot of people to deprive themselves of healthful foods they didn’t need to avoid.  Research studies consistently show that the more fruits and vegetables people eat, the less obesity, diabetes and heart disease they have.  The fiber in fruits and vegetables prevents glucose shocks and reduces hunger without adding calories.  The volume of eating this way is also satisfying and provides much fewer calories.

Click here to upload a GLYCEMIC LOAD TABLE

In next week’s post we’ll look at the role of exercise in preventing insulin resistance and what you learn might surprise you!  At Pilates 1901, we want our clients to have the education and the tools to change their lifestyles to support healthy choices.

In last night’s Leaner Stronger Sooner Film Series workshop, we watched Morgan Spurlock’s movie,  SUPERSIZE ME.   This movie details Morgan’s experiment – what would happen to his body and his health if he ate 3 meals a day only from McDonalds?   The results were devastating.  This young man not only put nearly 23 lbs on in 30 days but developed severe liver and triglyceride problems due to the high fat, high sugar diet McDonalds meals.  If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to do so.  I don’t think I will ever think the same way about fast food;  it is anything but innocuous fun.

For more information on our Leaner Stronger Sooner Fat Loss program, call the studio at 913 499 7510 or email And,  if you missed our last post on insulin resistance, click here.

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