If you’ve ever been on a diet or have trouble managing your blood sugar levels, you were probably advised to avoid “simple” carbohydrates that metabolize quickly. Too many of these so called “fast-carbs” like white flour, potatoes and white rice can result in “sugar spikes” that can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes.
Instead, health experts say that most of the carbs in your diet should consist of “slow carbs” like whole grains, legumes and high-fiber foods that metabolize slowly and help keep blood sugar and energy levels steady throughout the day.
Now, there’s another reason to favor slow carbs. A new study indicates they reduce markers for inflammation that are associated with an increased risk of many cancers as well as cardiovascular disease.
The study involved 80 healthy men and women, half of normal weight and half overweight or obese. Among the overweight participants, a slow card diet reduced a marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein by 22 percent.
This finding is important for everyone, but may be especially important for overweight individuals as they are at greater risk for a variety of health conditions linked to inflammation.
Making the Switch to Slow Carbs
The best way to know if the carbohydrates in your diet are fast, slow or somewhere in-between is to familiarize yourself with the Glycemic Index (GI). It is a system that ranks the potential of a food to raise your blood sugar levels. Pure glucose is given a value of 100. Foods that score below 55 are considered low-GI foods, and foods that score between 55 and 59 are considered medium-GI foods. Foods with a score of 70 or above are high-GI foods.
Diets that consist of slow carbs are called low-glycemic load diets as they put less burden on the body to keep blood sugar in balance.
A Word of Caution
The presence of fat, fiber and protein in a food slows down your body's conversion of carbohydrates into glucose. So foods high in carbs that are also high in protein, fat or fiber, may score low on the glycemic index. This can give less healthy foods like candy bars and ice cream a deceptively low score due to high fat content.
So, don't choose foods based solely on their GI ranking. It’s important to consider overall nutrient content. Choose low-GI foods with fiber and protein over those with saturated fats and sugars.
If you’re curious about the glycemic index of foods you’re eating, you can look them up by food type or alphabetically here.
Linus Pauling Institute