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Good carbs, bad carbs: making healthy choices this holiday season, from the Harvard Health Letter

Many of the traditional foods of the holiday season—fresh bread, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pie—are packed with carbohydrates. Some carbs cause blood sugar to soar more than others. The glycemic index is a helpful tool for choosing good carbs during the holidays and every day, reports the November 2012 Harvard Health Letter.

Blood sugar and insulin levels rise every time you eat something containing carbohydrates. How high they rise, and how fast, depends on the food. White rice has almost the same effect as eating pure sugar—a quick, high spike in blood sugar and insulin followed by an equally fast drop. Brown rice and other whole grains have slower, smaller effects.

The glycemic index captures these changes by rating the effect of a specific amount of a food on blood sugar compared with the same amount of pure glucose. The lower the glycemic index, the slower the rise in blood sugar. "Glycemic index categories can be very helpful for people trying to choose a healthy diet," says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. Over the past three decades, researchers have measured the glycemic index of several thousand foods. You can find a list of the glycemic index values of 100 foods on the Harvard Health website.

Read the full-length article: "Choosing good carbs with the glycemic index"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Health Letter

  • Choosing good carbs with the glycemic index
  • Ask the doctor: Finding fiber in wheat-free diets
  • Ask the doctor: When to call the doctor about headaches
  • Hypertension? You're not alone
  • Fool your brain, reduce your pain
  • Alternative treatments for knee pain
  • Avoid landing back in the hospital
  • You may not need a Pap smear
  • Soothing dry eyes
  • Preventing psoriasis with exercise
  • What you need to know about: vaccines
  • News briefs: Mid-life fitness lowers the risk of chronic conditions later in life
  • News briefs: Bariatric surgery reduces type 2 diabetes risk in obese individuals
  • News briefs: Parkinson's disease associated with higher risk of certain cancers
  • News briefs: Biologic therapy doesn't raise cancer risk in people with rheumatoid arthritis

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.