What's worse than sugar?

There are a number of ways to view the blood sugar-raising or insulin-provoking effect of foods.

One way is glycemic index (GI), simply a measure of how high blood sugar is raised by a standard quantity of a food compared to table sugar. Another is glycemic load (GL), a combination (multiplied) of glycemic index and carbohydrate content per serving.

Table sugar has a GI of 65, a GL of 65.

Obviously, table sugar is not good for you. The content of white table sugar in the American diet has exploded over the last 100 years, totaling over 150 lb per year for the average person. (Humans are not meant to consume any.)

What is the GI of Rice Krispies cereal, organic or not? GI = 82-- higher than table sugar. GL is 72, also higher than table sugar.

How about Corn Flakes? GI 81, GL 70--also both higher than sugar.

How about those rice cakes that many dieters will use to quell hunger? GI 78, GL 64.

How about Shredded Wheat cereal? GI 75, GL 62.

All of the above foods with GI's and GL's that match or exceed that of table sugar are made of wheat and cornstarch. Some, like Shredded Wheat cereal and rice cakes, don't even have any added sugar.

Stay clear of these foods if you have low HDL, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, or small LDL. Or, for that matter, if you are human.

Keep the eloquent words of New York University nutritionist, Marion Nestle, author of the book, Food Politics, in mind:

“Food companies—just like companies that sell cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, or any other commodity—routinely place the needs of stock holders over considerations of public health. Food companies will make and market any product that sells, regardless of its nutritional value or its effect on health. In this regard, food companies hardly differ from cigarette companies. They lobby Congress to eliminate regulations perceived as unfavorable; they press federal regulatory agencies not to enforce such regulations; and when they don’t like regulatory decisions, they file lawsuits. Like cigarette companies, food companies co-opt food and nutrition experts by supporting professional organizations and research, and they expand sales by marketing directly to children, members of minority groups, and people in develop countries—whether or not the products are likely to improve people’s diets.” ??

Comments (11) -

  • Peter Silverman

    9/16/2008 2:24:00 PM |

    What puzzles me is why the Japanese who eat their high glycemic diet (rice and more rice) have such low rates of heart disease and diabetes and live a lot longer than we do.

  • Jenny

    9/16/2008 2:26:00 PM |

    Dr. Davis,

    Be wary of the Glycemic Index. It has been promoted very heavily by the grain companies as a way of confusing the public that their products are healthy.

    The Glycemic Index values are established by testing foods in completely normal people. Anyone who has abnormal glucose tolerance (i.e. prediabetes) is likely to have a very different reaction to a supposedly low GI food than a normal person.

    Oatmeal, for example, can give devastatingly high readings to someone with pre-diabetes, though it is supposedly low GI. Whole wheat bread was proven to raise blood sugars just as high as white bread in people with diabetes in a recent study.

    People will have much better results if they ignore the Glycemic Index and pay attention to the total carbohydrate count of a serving of the food they eat.

    Every gram of that carbohydrate will require the same amount of insulin to be processed. If it is done slowly, you might not see a high blood sugar, but you will have elevated insulin, which will worsen weight gain and other symptoms of metabolic syndrome.

    You might find it interesting to research the extent to which the grain industry has been promoting the GI concept. I get quite a lot of fancy spam from PR firms working for organizations with names like "the Whole Grain Council" telling me how healthy low GI foods--like their grains--are for people with diabetes.

    They aren't.

  • rabagley

    9/16/2008 2:52:00 PM |

    Don't forget that sucrose is the one-two punch of damaging foods.  Half of it is glucose, a.k.a. blood sugar and the cause of the glycemic index/glycemic load values.  The other half is fructose, which causes your liver to immediately stop whatever it is doing and create triglycerides that directly raise your serum triglyceride number.  As in, one of the two numbers in the typical cholesterol test that actually means something (and means high risk).

    Sucrose creates the fats (triglycerides) in your blood and then guarantees that they make you fat through insulin's action that pushes triglycerides across liposome (fat cell) cell walls.

    It's especially important not to be fooled into thinking that GI and GL are the whole story of why sugar is bad for you.  Otherwise, you end up believing silly assertions like, "White grape juice is better for you than HFCS because white grape juice has a lower GI."  White grape juice is 80% fructose, so of course it has a lower GI than HFCS which is 55% fructose.  Doesn't make it any better for you.  It's just bad for you in a different way.

  • Francis St-Pierre

    9/17/2008 6:40:00 AM |

    This quote is right on the money, except for one detail. The author assumed corporations are against regulation, when in fact they love it and depend on it.

    What keeps drug companies in business? FDA approval requirements. What did food companies push for in Canada? Total ban on "low-carb" labelling.

    So the response to greed and corporatism is not regulation but a free marketplace where everyone is allowed to compete, big or small.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Ricardo Carvalho

    9/17/2008 11:23:00 AM |

    Perhaps governments should do better regulating food publicity and food labeling. For example, in the US they're trying to implement a system called "NuVal(tm) Nutritional Scoring System". Anyone here knows how it works? The official website is http://www.onqi.org and there are 2 articles about this at http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSN2750793620071128 and http://www.nutraceuticalsworld.com/articles/2008/07/online-exclusive-nuval-nutritional-scoring-system On the other hand, if this ONQI numerical algorithm incorporates the recommendations of the "famous" USDA Food Pyramid, and ignores evolutionary nutrition (paleodiet, which was low-carb, low insulin, no grains or dairy, etc.), it will certainly be of little use.

  • Anonymous

    9/17/2008 5:29:00 PM |

    Regarding the glycemic index and sugar control, I wonder how useful would it be to get hA1c tested in most people with heart disease?

    Wouldn't it be a good gauge of glycemic control? I wonder if l it could play a role in Dr. Davis' program... Besides checking just lipid parameters, perhaps those with lower hA1c would also have less plaque?
    And it should be useful to the patient too, so they can see how well they have been eating over the past several months.

  • Anonymous

    9/17/2008 6:03:00 PM |

    The GL (Glycemic Load) is a much better everyday tool to use than GI (Glycemc Index) and here's why: The GI number doesn't account for portion size.  So a drop of glucose and a cup of glucose both have a GI of 100 (it is the reference sugar, so it has the highest rating).  Obviously the former isn't going to do much to your insulin response, and the latter is going to be devastating.  Glycemic Load takes into account portion size.  It is a real-world application of the Glycemic Index.

    Once you know this, you realize that the published Glycemic Load number of any food can be miraculously halved...by eating half of it.  (Of course, you can also double it by eating a double portion!)  It puts the whole concept into practice in a tangible, useable way.

    Nutritiondata.com uses the GL exclusively and I highly recommend their site.

  • Anna

    9/17/2008 7:43:00 PM |

    I used to think the government should do a lot of regulating, because the corporate interests don't do a good job of self regulation.  Not so sure about government regulation now.  They gotten so much wrong, it's frightening.  

    With so much of our increasingly complicated lives involving things of which we have little common knowledge anymore (how our food is produced, what to do to optimize health and avoid illness, what chemicals are hazardous long-term, how to do even simple maintenance on our belongings, etc.), it is hard to be personably knowledgeable enough about everything, so it is easier to pass most of it on to the regulators and hope for the best.  But wow, that's a massive gamble that we don't seem to be winning very often.

  • abangkuraden

    9/29/2008 4:35:00 PM |

    Japanese who lives as long as 90++ years eats their rice at the end of their meals...

  • Anonymous

    5/13/2009 6:33:00 AM |

    The example of Kitavans and also having seen our Kerala people, it makes sense to totally disregard the GI or GL indexes. What is probably more important is the harmful lectin content of grains/legumes.

    If we could simply stop eating all grains/legumes and add nourishment that is missing because of our lack of sunlight (Vitamin D3) and lack of good quality meat (Vitamin K2 and Omega3), and possibly other lacking nutrients in our diet, we could also be healthy.

    I believe that a high GI carb is actually equivalent to saturated fat, because it will become one after the action of Insulin. Of-course this does not apply to diabetic and may not apply to people with low D3/K2.

    The low GI is probably not as good because it will give glucose for a long time and will make the glucose level high for a long time.

    For people like me who have already got leptin resistance cannot possibly avoid the glucose overload if they have to keep their fat mass below the level were our brain feels the leptin. The brain thinks that there is no fat at all to convert to glucose and the low blood sugar makes us feel dizzy.

    I think that obesity is caused by WGA and similar lectins that cause leptin resistance, compounded by the fact that we don't have D3/K2 which could fight against these ailments.

    I think White Rice is the only grain that has very little lectin and can be consumed easily. The south Indians mix it with sprouted legumes and grind it then ferment it before cooking it. This whole process effectively destroys the lectins almost completely. This is probably the only safe way to consume our legumes. Wheat etc the high lectin grains are poison for our health.


  • buy jeans

    11/3/2010 12:31:05 PM |

    All of the above foods with GI's and GL's that match or exceed that of table sugar are made of wheat and cornstarch. Some, like Shredded Wheat cereal and rice cakes, don't even have any added sugar