Understanding how food affects the body

JourneyToAHealthierLifeHappy New Year! I pray that my last column (MSR, Dec. 11) gave you insight into how to live healthier and longer by understanding three simple concepts, including increasing vegetable and water intake and decreasing complex carbohydrate intake. I was hopeful that you were able to start using the three concepts as you move into this new year.

This month, I want to help you understand what happens when you eat food. It is very important to understand how food affects our body.

When you eat, all foods are broken down into smaller particles that get converted into energy for us to carry out our daily activities. One of the smaller particles that food is broken down into is glucose.

Glucose is a sugar that is the main source of energy in our body. Glucose then travels in our bloodstream and has to be taken up by the cells in our body before it can be converted to energy.

A hormone called insulin is produced in our pancreas (an organ next to our stomach), and this helps glucose enter our cells. Insulin helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels.

One misconception I had for many years was that eating complex carbohydrates like pasta, rice and potatoes were the best in not only being healthy, but were also best in helping to lose weight. That was until I understood something called the “glycemic index.”

The glycemic index classifies carbohydrate-containing foods according to their potential to raise your blood glucose level. A low-glycemic diet can potentially help you lose weight and maintain better blood glucose levels.

Foods ranked by the glycemic index are given scores (Mayo clinic):

High: 70 and up. Examples include instant white rice, brown rice, plain white bread, white skinless baked potato, boiled red potatoes with skin and watermelon

Medium: 56 to 69. Examples include sweet corn, bananas, raw pineapple, raisins, and certain types of ice cream.

Low: 55 and under. Examples include raw carrots, peanuts, raw apple, grapefruit, peas, skim milk, kidney beans and lentils.

Vegetables (livestrong.com):

1. All non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, cucumber, broccoli and asparagus, have a low-glycemic index, usually below 20, and can be part of a healthy low-glycemic index diet.

2. Avoid potatoes; whether mashed, baked or fried, they have a very high glycemic index. You can substitute for them with root vegetables like sweet potatoes, turnips and rutabagas, which have a medium-to-low glycemic index value.

Fruits:

1. Most fruits have a low- glycemic index, with the exception of watermelon and dates.

2. Temperate climate fruits, like apples, pears, berries, cherries, prunes and oranges, tend to have a lower glycemic index, less than 40 in most cases, when compared to tropical fruits like pineapple, mango and bananas, which fall in the medium-glycemic index range.

Grains:

1. Grain is the food group that provides most of the carbohydrates in the standard American diet.

2. Common grain staples, such as white rice, breakfast cereals, white and whole wheat bread, bagels, instant oatmeal and granola bars, have high glycemic index levels.

3. Try to replace these grains with low-glycemic alternatives, such as sourdough bread, stone-ground whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, barley, quinoa and steel cut oats.

This month, the goal is to eat nine to 12 servings of vegetables per day from the low-glycemic group.

Pam White is a nurse practitioner and founder of the Health Empowerment Resource (HER) Center. She welcomes reader responses to her.cen ter@yahoo.com.