For a number of years, particularly since the 1980s, when rates of overweight and obesity in the United States began to climb rapidly, experts have been concerned by the effects of different foods on appetite and blood sugar regulation. Scientists became interested in how different foods affect blood sugar, insulin release, and, in turn, energy usage and fat storage. In exploring the impact of foods on blood sugar, scientists constructed the glycemic index (GI), a scale for measuring and classifying foods based on how quickly they raise blood sugar. The best foods, according to these scientists, are foods that rank low on the index: foods that are digested slowly, cause a gradual rise in blood sugar, and lead to a moderate insulin response. The least favorable foods in terms of glucose response are those that elevate blood sugar levels quickly and lead to a rapid insulin response that results in a burst of energy that drops off rapidly.
Using the GI doesn't play much of a role in sports nutrition according to the research, despite the water-cooler chatter. Many experts have criticized the GI for a number of reasons, including reference foods not being well-defined and variations in foods that are often culture-dependent.
Research at the Australian Institute of Sport, in conjunction with researchers at Deakin University and the University of Melbourne, has examined the use of the GI in sports. Here's a summary of their findings:
Research on the GI is preliminary at present for use with weight control. There is some evidence that limiting high-GI foods can be helpful for weight control in some people, perhaps those with a predisposition for overweight or obesity. The GI also may help delve into the ways in which low-fat but nutritionally empty foods such as potato chips and some crackers and cookies can lead to overeating and weight gain from the added calories in some people. The GI may be a useful tool for some diabetic individuals, since such individuals must control insulin response closely.
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