According to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a diet rich in carbohydrates with a high gylcemic index raises the risk of heart disease in women. A carbohydrate’s glycemic index is measured by how quickly and to what extent blood sugar rises after eating that food. Foods with a high glycemic index include processed and refined carbohydrates like corn flakes, white bread, white rice and sweetened beverages.
The study, which was conducted over a period of eight years in Italy, followed over 15,000 men and 32,000 women. At its conclusion, researchers found that women who consumed the most carbohydrates had over twice the incidence of heart disease as those who consumed the least; after digging deeper into the data, they were able to determine this risk to be associated with the intake of high-glycemic foods in particular. This finding only applied to women; the men in the study did not experience similar outcomes.
Because the sugar and starch in refined carbohydrates is very quickly digested and absorbed, your blood sugar spikes after eating a high-glycemic food, and eventually crashes, leaving you feeling tired or even hungry shortly after eating. Conversely, according to the Glycemic Index Foundation, choosing a diet rich in low-glycemic foods helps to reduce hunger while keeping you fuller longer due to the steady effect on blood sugar levels it produces. Such a diet has also been shown to help improve blood cholesterol levels and even prolong physical endurance.
To judge whether a food is likely to have a high glycemic index, check the label. Look for the total amount of “sugars” (you’ll find it listed under “carbohydrates”). The higher the number, the higher the glycemic index is likely to be. Foods higher in fiber and protein also tend to have lower glycemic indexes, so check those values as well. If you have time to research your foods in advance, the University of Sydney offers a reliable online database where you can look of values for thousands of foods. If you’re in a hurry, look for products where whole grains are the first ingredient listed (as opposed to “enriched flour,” which is code for refined); these tend to be less refined, and higher in fiber. Also, choose cereals based on whole oats, barley, or bran. But don’t be deceived by clever packaging techniques — just because products claim to be “made with whole grains” or are labeled “multi-grain,” it doesn’t make them whole grain–or low-glycemic–foods.