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Correction to This Article
A Sept. 7 Health article incorrectly said that adding foods with a higher glycemic index can help mute the rise in blood sugar that occurs after consumption of other foods with a high glycemic index. Adding foods with a lower index -- for example, adding salmon and cream cheese to a bagel -- helps reduce the increase.
The Lean Plate Club: Sally Squires

The Glycemic Index, Simpler

By Sally Squires
Tuesday, September 7, 2004; Page HE01

Corn flakes, ice cream, instant oatmeal, mashed potatoes, french fries and couscous.

A recipe for a bad clean-out-the-fridge dinner? No, a list of foods that raise blood sugar levels higher than pure table sugar does. Or, to put it differently, foods with a high glycemic index.

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With an estimated 17 million Americans already diagnosed with diabetes and millions more likely to develop it, eating according to the glycemic index -- that is, taking into account how much a food raises blood sugar and overtaxes insulin production -- is gaining interest from scientists, physicians and the public.

Some think that the glycemic index could even help settle the acrimonious debate between low-carbohydrate and low-fat eating plans.

"It's the perfect compromise between the two," said David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children's Hospital in Boston. "It's recognized as healthy, it's much more flexible. It doesn't involve severe restriction of either fat or carbohydrates and will be vastly easier to follow, much more satisfying and less psychologically challenging. . . . It's very consistent with the Mediterranean diet.'"

Eating according to the glycemic index hasn't been overlooked by diet book authors. The best-selling "Sugar Busters" (Ballantine) series, by a group of New Orleans doctors, is based on the glycemic index approach. So is the "Eat Yourself Slim" (Erica House) series by Michel Montignac and the more recent "Glycemic Index Diet" (Workman) by Rick Gallop. The concept is also a key part of the popular "South Beach Diet" (Rodale).

Low glycemic foods include plenty of fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains and healthy fat, such as olive and canola oil, plus lean meat, poultry without the skin and seafood. High glycemic foods are generally highly processed foods, with minimal amounts of fiber and lots of sugar. But there are exceptions -- including white potatoes, which have a significantly higher glycemic index than sweet potatoes.

In recent years, studies have pointed to benefits of low glycemic foods not only for controlling blood sugar and body weight, but also for reducing levels of unhealthy blood triglycerides and boosting beneficial fat, high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Eating a diet rich in low glycemic foods also seems to cut levels of C-reactive protein, an indication of inflammation associated with increased heart disease risk.

Most recently, "studies show that low-glycemic-index foods seem to potentially have a protective effect for some types of cancer, especially for colon cancer," said David Jenkins, chairman of nutrition and metabolism at the University of Toronto.

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