How to benefit from a low-glycemic diet

The glycemic index is a number that indicates how rapidly the body digests a particular type of food and converts it into blood sugar (glucose). The lower the number, the slower the carbohydrate-to-blood sugar conversion. A lower-glycemic-index diet may offer important health benefits for men, such as a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, explains the April 2015 Harvard Men's Health Watch.

Anyone can benefit from the driving force behind the glycemic index simply by avoiding highly processed foods, like white bread, white rice, and sugary desserts. These raise blood sugar rapidly, but are also independently tied to poorer health.

"Eating a minimally processed diet is going to cover a multitude of sins," says Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children's Hospital and a leading expert on the glycemic index.

Spikes in blood sugar from eating foods high on the glycemic index have been linked to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Some research suggests that eating a diet that emphasizes low-glycemic-index foods can improve health, although this hasn't yet been definitively proven.

But in the meantime, eating lower-glycemic-index foods can still contribute to a more healthy diet. Here are a few suggestions from Dr. Ludwig for eating lower on the glycemic index:

  • Eat grains that are as minimally processed as possible, such as brown rice, or unconventional whole grains like bulgur, millet, farro, and wheat berries.
  • Instead of starchy white potatoes and white rice, eat sweet potatoes or whole-grain pasta.
  • Reduce added sugars. Although caloric sweeteners like white table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are only moderately high on the glycemic index, they are independently associated with obesity and heart disease.

Read the full-length article: "Healthy diet: Is glycemic index the key?"