How To Detect (And Stay Away From) High Glycemic Carbs

Not all carbs are created equal! One of the most common questions I receive is about grains and how much you should be eating daily.

Since the Cityline Weight Loss Challenge kicked off, I have had the pleasure of answering many questions from viewers. One of the most common questions I receive is in regards to grain and the volume of carbohydrates that should be included in the daily diet. As you will see from the article below, not all carbohydrates are created equal! For explanation purposes, I will be dividing carbohydrates into two categories: 1) slow-burning carbs and 2) fast-burning carbs.

What are carbohydrates and why do I need them?
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for your body. This essential macro-nutrient breaks down into glucose (sugar), which is the fuel that keeps the muscles and brain running smoothly. While some people follow extremely low carbohydrate diets to lose weight (diets with less than 40-50 grams of carbohydrates per day), the results are often temporary, as the body needs more glucose to sustain itself long term. While I am not an advocate of extreme high protein diets due to the risks that are involved, I am an advocate of eating the right type of carbs in proper quantity to lose weight and burn belly fat.

Slow burning carbohydrates
As mentioned, not all carbohydrates are created equal. The “good” types of carbohydrates are those that have less impact on blood sugar, are fibre-filled, nutrient-dense and calorie-light. These types of carbohydrates offer sustained energy and do not promote belly fat storage or cravings.
Vegetables: Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens (spinach, broccoli, kale), cauliflower, peppers, zucchini, cabbage, celery and carrots are lower in carbohydrate content and can be enjoyed without restriction. Beets, yams, squash and sweet potatoes are starchier carbohydrates but can still be included in the diet as they are filled with antioxidants, beta-carotene and fibre.
Fruits: There are many misconceptions about fruit these days. Many people believe they should avoid fruit due to its high sugar content. Fruit naturally contains sugar, however it is also extremely high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. The more fibre the fruit has, the slower the release of sugar into your bloodstream, which means it won’t spike your blood sugar as quickly as other forms of sugar. However, it is important to mention that certain fruits contain more sugar than others. If you want to stick to fruits that have less sugar: apples, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are excellent choices; whereas, bananas, mangoes, grapes and kiwis are higher in sugar. Try having the sweeter fruits in moderation and limit dried fruits (very high in sugar) and candied fruits.
Grains: As we get older, our ability to digest grains tends to drop. This is not to say you need to follow a grain-free diet to fight belly fat….it just means you need to pick wisely. Whole grains such as sprouted grain bread, quinoa, brown rice and millet are all good selections of grains that can be included in the diet in moderation. Coconut flour and almond flour are lower glycemic index options for baking that offer the benefit of being gluten-free.

Fast-burning carbohydrates
The “bad” carbohydrates are those that have a big effect on blood sugar, lead to weight gain, high cholesterol and other diseases. Your body is also unable to process these types of carbohydrates as easily as natural carbohydrates, because they are heavily processed, artificial, refined and certainly do not come from nature.
White Flour: Foods made from white flour or all-purpose flour (i.e. white bread, white pasta) are examples of refined carbohydrates. The refining process makes baked goods “fluffier,” but also removes important nutrients of the grain such as fibre along with precious minerals and vitamins. Refined carbohydrates also spike blood sugar, which creates cravings for more of the wrong types of grains at the wrong times of day (i.e. after dinner). Examples include white rice, pancake mixes, desserts, muffins and white bread. When purchasing bread, opt for one that is 100% whole grain or from sprouted grain.
Sugar: Sugar is an “anti-nutrient,” meaning it can rob the body of precious nutrients. Sugar is also an ingredient that you can literally become addicted to, relying on it for energy and a little pick-me-up throughout your day. I have seen far too many of my clients initially come in being “sugar addicts” and feeling a roller coaster of energy and emotions from eating too much sugar! Many pops/sodas, energy drinks, fruit juices and processed goods (i.e. certain cereals) are made with refined sugar that can affect your mood and promote belly fat storage and intense cravings. Wherever possible – minimize added sugar in the diet. When looking at food labels, always refer to the ingredient list. If the first word is sugar or ends in “ose” (i.e. glucose or sucrose) – that is the top ingredient in the suspected food item! Try to use added sugars such as table sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, brown sugar sparingly. Coconut sugar is a better choice for baking and for using in coffee as it has a lower impact on blood sugar.

Understanding the glycemic index and glycemic load
When it comes to carbohydrates, many weight loss seekers have grown accustomed to hearing about a scale called the glycemic index. In short, the glycemic index is a scale that measures the speed of entry of a carbohydrate into the bloodstream. The faster the entry, the more insulin (a fat storage hormone) is secreted in response. An excessive amount of high glycemic index carbohyraets in the form of sugar and refined carbohydrates can result in weight gain, food fog and even Type II diabetes.

All foods are given a number on the glycemic index according to their rating with categories being as follows:

  • Low Glycemic Index food (less than 55)
  • Foods with GI index between 55 and 70 are consider intermediate
  • High Glycemic Index food GI (more than 70)

Fiber, protein and fat all act as brakes to slow the entry of glucose from a particular food into the bloodstream. Most vegetables, beans and whole grains are full of fiber, which is reflected by a lower glycemic index rating.

  • Boiled black eyed peas 42
  • Green peas 48
  • All bran 38

Examples of high glycemic index foods to minimize in diet are:
• White bread, white rolls, baguettes and bagel
• Rice cakes
• Corn chips
• Instant, baked or mashed potatoes
• Instant rice or oatmeal
• Parsnips
• Rutabaga
• Variety of cereals (i.e. Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Cheerios, puffed wheat, shredded what )
• Soda crackers
• Pretzels

To view a copy of the glycemic index click here.

Limitations of the glycemic index
The glycemic index does have some limitation. For starters – it is not an indicator of the nutrient value a food has. For example, peanut M and M’s have a glycemic index rating of 41 (low). This is due to the fat content in the candy – it slows the blood sugar response.

Another limitation of the glycemic index is that it does not take into account how much sugar a particular food contains — it is only a reflection of how quickly the sugar is absorbed. For example, the sugar in carrots is readily absorbed into the bloodstream and they are therefore ranked high on the glycemic index (74). This has given carrots some undeserved bad press. Many people decide to avoid carrots because they assume that because they are high on the glycemic index they will cause them to gain weight. This is where an alternate scale called the glycemic load of a particular food becomes very useful.

The glycemic load takes into account not only how quickly a certain food is converted into sugar in the body but also how much sugar (carbohydrate) a particular food contains.

The glycemic load categories are:
• Low (10 or less)
• Medium (11 to 19)
• High (20)

Your body’s glycemic response depends on both the type of food eaten and the amount of carbohydrate (sugar) calories consumed. The more concentrated a carbohydrate is, the more sugar it dumps into your bloodstream. Although all of the sugar that is in the carrots is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly (high glycemic index), there is not a lot of sugar to begin with (low glycemic load). As you can imagine, the same amount of dense white pasta would have both a high glycemic index and a high glycemic load.

Take-home point:
Carbohydrates are essential macro-nutrients in the diet. To lose weight and keep energy high stick to the slower-burning carbohydrates and enjoy!

Courtesy of