COVID-19 is taking its toll in many ways. Aside from the serious tragedy of the loss of life, reports of uncontrolled hunger and eating are leading to predictions of the danger of increased obesity.
The following is intended to clarify how weight can be controlled when hunger is kept at bay using a reliable, informative tool called the glycemic index.
THE GLYCEMIC index (G.l.) began as a curious observation.
Edocrinologists treating diabetic patients would tell them to eat no sweets. This obviously meant no sugar in their coffee/tea, no cake, no chocolate and no soft drinks. When patients returned for their regular visits, the doctor routinely tested their blood for glucose. The discussion that followed naturally always entailed an inquiry about the food they had eaten since their last visit.
Doctors were puzzled to find that patients who followed their instructions and avoided sweets didn't test much better than those who said they tried to follow their orders but found it too difficult to stay away from sweet desserts and candy. This was confusing, frustrating, and seemed to be counterintuitive until 1981 when Dr David Jenkins, an Oxford University graduate doing research at the University of Toronto studied the effect of carbohydrates on blood glucose levels and the effect on weight.
He discovered that different carbs led to different increases of sugar, which cause the pancreas to release very different amounts of insulin, and we now know that insulin is the fat-storing hormone. This became a critical issue for people who want to lose weight; for diabetics who must keep their glucose under control; for prediabetics eager to avoid a diagnosis of diabetes; and for people suffering from disorders that are triggered by too much sugar in their system – such as joint inflammation, kidney malfunction, cardiac disease, and mood disorders. You may have paid attention to the sugar “high” that’s then followed by a sugar “low” after eating meals loaded with sugar, such as Chinese food, pizza and others that are seemingly sugarless.
SO, WHAT is the G.I. exactly, and how does it work?
We know that all carbs increase our blood sugar, and we now know that sugar causes a rise in insulin, which feeds our cells with the energy we need to move, breathe, talk, etc. However, eating lots of sugar for a long period of time will cause the insulin to store the extra sugar as fat, which is how we gain weight. The solution to this chain of events is found in the G.I., which is simply a very long list of foods that are listed according to how much sugar we receive when eating an item.
The foods on the list range from 0 to 100; the lower the number, the less sugar we get. No need to add or manage the number in any way. The name of the game is to eat the foods that are lowest on the list. So, to lose weight fast, eat items that range from 0 to 15 on the list; to lose weight, but slower, eat any of the foods that are from 15 to 35. If you don't need to gain or lose, eat the items that are from 35 to 55. Never eat things that are beyond 55.
Many studies have been done to establish the credibility of the G.I. One such study done at Florida Atlantic University is simple and instructive. A group of lab rats who shared the same weight, age, etc were divided into two groups and put in separate cages that had the same “gym” equipment that they all had to manoeuvre in order to reach the food at the opposite end of the cage. Those in Cage A were fed the typical (low G.I.) food that healthy lab rats are fed. In Cage B, the rats were fed only processed foods that contained high amounts of sugar (which is characteristic of the processed food marketed to us). Each group of rats was observed daily, watching for their level of activity, social behaviours and weight.
Within a short while, marked differences began to appear between the two groups. The rats fed their normal diet continued to behave as they had previously done. The experimental rats became heavy, sluggish, and showed a marked struggle to manoeuvre the gym equipment. To prove that sugar was addictive, increasing electric shocks were administered to the rats in both cages when they went for their food. When the shock became painful, the healthy rats preferred to forgo the food to avoid being shocked. The fat sluggish rats would suffer the pain of the shocks to get to the food.
And so we learned that sugar is not only fattening, it’s also addictive!
The writer is the author of three “how to” science-backed books on health and weight. She has an M.Phil degree from Cambridge University, and a social work degree from Hebrew University.