The Glycemic Index

Last week I mentioned that carbs such as potatoes, bread, rice, and pasta are bad because they are the equivalent of dumping a couple of teaspoons of sugar directly into your blood, which causes a spike in blood sugar levels, triggering a responsive release of insulin, which is usually too much, pushing the blood sugar level low, which results in hunger. Does that mean all carbs are bad?

The answer is no, just those carbs that are high on the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a relative ranking from zero to 100 of carbohydrates in accordance with their effect on blood glucose (blood sugar). Carbs that are high on the index are those that are metabolized quickly, resulting in the spike in blood glucose levels. Carbs low on the index are metabolized more slowly, releasing their sugars more gradually. A ranking of 55 or lower on the glycemic index is consider better than a higher ranking. Not surprisingly, the foods most people consider the best tasting are high on the list. Here’s a list from Harvard Medical School of 60 typical foods.

FOOD Glycemic index (glucose = 100)
White wheat bread* 75 ± 2
Whole wheat/whole meal bread 74 ± 2
Specialty grain bread 53 ± 2
Unleavened wheat bread 70 ± 5
Wheat roti 62 ± 3
Chapatti 52 ± 4
Corn tortilla 46 ± 4
White rice, boiled* 73 ± 4
Brown rice, boiled 68 ± 4
Barley 28 ± 2 (I’m not sure why they put barley on the “high” list)
Sweet corn 52 ± 5
Spaghetti, white 49 ± 2
Spaghetti, whole meal 48 ± 5
Rice noodles† 53 ± 7
Udon noodles 55 ± 7
Couscous† 65 ± 4
Cornflakes 81 ± 6
Wheat flake biscuits 69 ± 2
Porridge, rolled oats 55 ± 2
Instant oat porridge 79 ± 3
Rice porridge/congee 78 ± 9
Millet porridge 67 ± 5
Muesli 57 ± 2
Apple, raw† 36 ± 2
Orange, raw† 43 ± 3
Banana, raw† 51 ± 3
Pineapple, raw 59 ± 8
Mango, raw† 51 ± 5
Watermelon, raw 76 ± 4
Dates, raw 42 ± 4
Peaches, canned† 43 ± 5
Strawberry jam/jelly 49 ± 3
Apple juice 41 ± 2
Orange juice 50 ± 2
Potato, boiled 78 ± 4
Potato, instant mash 87 ± 3
Potato, french fries 63 ± 5
Carrots, boiled 39 ± 4
Sweet potato, boiled 63 ± 6
Pumpkin, boiled 64 ± 7
Plantain/green banana 55 ± 6
Taro, boiled 53 ± 2
Vegetable soup 48 ± 5
Milk, full fat 39 ± 3
Milk, skim 37 ± 4
Ice cream 51 ± 3
Yogurt, fruit 41 ± 2
Soy milk 34 ± 4
Rice milk 86 ± 7
Chickpeas 28 ± 9
Kidney beans 24 ± 4
Lentils 32 ± 5
Soy beans 16 ± 1
Chocolate 40 ± 3
Popcorn 65 ± 5
Potato crisps 56 ± 3
Soft drink/soda 59 ± 3
Rice crackers/crisps 87 ± 2
Fructose 15 ± 4
Sucrose 65 ± 4
Glucose 103 ± 3
Honey 61 ± 3

There are some surprises, at least to me, on this list. Rice crackers, typically thought of as a diet snack, have a GI value of 87, while chocolate is only 40. White spaghetti is better than couscous.  Potato chips are actually better than popcorn (another supposedly “healthy” snack food). Of course, this list is only one measure of a food’s value.  While chocolate might have less than half the GI of rice crackers, there’s no accounting for the number of calories in similar portions. And popcorn, if it’s unbuttered, has far less fat than potato chips.

Nevertheless, for people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, a glycemic index evaluation of all foods is now recommended by the American Diabetes Association, the Canadian Diabetes Association, the UK Diabetes Association and others to maintain blood glucose levels and thereby better manage or prevent diabetes.

Week 2 Results

Week 3 began yesterday, so it’s time to see if this low carb eating is still helping weight loss. Again, it’s kind of hard to tell from the bathroom scales, but it looks like I’m down another 1-1 1/2 lbs. for the week, making my total weight loss somewhere in the 3-4 lb. range, having started around 211 and now being somewhere in the 207-208 range.


Week 1 Results

End of Week 1.

It’s been a couple of days since Week 1 of low-carb August ended. The most objective result, weight loss, is encouraging. Here’s where I was on August 7, one week after starting.  If you look at my starting post, you can see the needle was a skosh above 210 and on August 7 is was a couple of thin little lines below 210. Healthy weight loss is 1-2 lbs. per week, so even though this isn’t as dramatic as what happens on Biggest Loser, it’s progress.

The other results are less objective. How do I feel, how am I doing, that sort of thing. I feel hungry most of the time. I don’t know that this is so much a result of cutting carbs as it is of simply being more aware of what I am eating and not eating between meals. Most of the books that tout low-carb diets are premised on the fact (theory?) that for a lot of people, eating most carbs, especially the potatoes-rice-pasta-bread varieties, is no different from dumping several teaspoons of refined sugar directly into your system. Your body quickly breaks those carbs down into simple sugars. All that sugar causes a release of insulin, but the body overcompensates and releases too much insulin. As a result, blood sugar is quickly lowered and the hunger cycle begins again, usually met by a donut or candy bar. And around and around the mulberry bush we go.

Accepting that fact (theory?), cutting carbs should reduce hunger pangs. Anyway, that’s the story I’m telling myself to keep going, because around 3:00 in the afternoon, I’m about ready to kill for a bag of potato chips or a bagel.

I write “fact (theory?)” because over 30 years of mildly following diet and nutrition trends has convinced me that they (the experts) are making up a lot of it as they go.  Eggs were good until they were bad, but now they’re good again. Bagels were considered a safe, low-fat food until they realized that these carbs are as bad, if not worse, than higher fat foods. Steak was a great source of protein until red meat was linked to cancer. In the 1950s and 60s a typical college football team had steak and eggs for a pre-game breakfast. Then the idea of carbo loading came up and those foods were replaced with pancakes, waffles, toast, oatmeal and the like. In recent years research has shown that carbo loading needs protein to effectively utilize the carbohydrates, so the meat is back on the table.

And so it goes.

One Week!

Today is Day 7 of low-carb August. Since I’m doing this to try to lose weight, and make my blood work look better at my upcoming annual physical (where I’ll be reminded I’m overdue for a colonoscopy, but that’s another story), I’m anxious to see what the scale shows tomorrow morning.

The first week has revealed a few things. First, I don’t think I’m as committed to this as I was to Meatless August. I say that because I’ve already slipped a couple of times and changed the rules. It’s my experiment and I’ll make the rules….. Anyway, the weekend, with family events, was difficult to stay on track.  And I’m finding it harder to say what carbs fall into the forbidden zone and what carbs just need to be cut back on.

So my two rule changes are: potatoes, rice and pasta are forbidden. Bread is not forbidden but it’s disfavored. That means an occasional roll as a side but no sandwiches, hamburgers or hot dogs with buns; pizza; or breakfast meals like French toast, pancakes or waffles. Essentially anything where bread serves as the foundation of the meal. That’s change #1. Change #2 is, depending on the circumstances, I’m allowing myself one cheat day a week. I used this change on Sunday when our son had us over for hamburgers, hot dogs, and bratwurst. I allowed myself one small serving of pasta salad, but had no bun for my burger or bratwurst. I did, however, eat more than a serving of potato chips.

Monday I was back at it. Eggs for breakfast. As much as I love eggs, I think once or twice a week low fat yogurt with granola or bran in it will add variety. Cottage cheese with tuna, raw cauliflower and broccoli, chopped celery and a spoonful of mustard; string cheese; cherries and strawberries for lunch. Dinner was a small pork chop, salad, and one-half of a zucchini stuffed with sausage and cream cheese.

Finally, and this is off topic, but I entered three photographs in the Cache County Fair. Here they are.

November campground, black and white category


What are you looking at? Human interest category

Into the storm. Scenic category


Two Days In

Not much to report since I started low-carb August day before yesterday. As I mentioned, on Thursday I had a luncheon. It was grilled chicken, salad, rice and rolls, which didn’t leave a lot for me to eat. By late yesterday afternoon I was suffering from hypoglycemia and trying to mow the lawn in 92 degree heat. Not fun.

Today I started with my go-to breakfast, eggs with veggies. This is the omelette before I folded it over and topped it with sliced avocado and green salsa. I added a banana (not to the omelette. That’s just gross). Breakfast isn’t a problem. For lunch I stopped at the salad bar at Smith’s supermarket. They have quite a good salad bar with lots of toppings. It remains to be seen what dinner brings.

Adventures in Eating, Part Deux

Cave man steaks

Last August I went meatless. It was interesting but I didn’t notice any particular health benefits and I didn’t lose any weight. This August I’m going low carb. You can’t go carbless or no-carb because, well, you need carbohydrates to live. But for a lot of people with pre-diabetes or Type 2 diabetes, like me, low carb is recommended.

I’ve done the South Beach diet before and honestly it was the only diet on which I lost significant weight. During four months one summer, between the end of July and about Thanksgiving, I lost nearly 20 lbs. But not to worry; they came home. So I’ve decided to try again. The true South Beach diet starts with almost total abstinence from most carbs. No refined flour, no potatoes (white, red, sweet or otherwise), no pasta, no rice, no fruit for the first two weeks, no juices except vegetable juice, no dairy initially. It’s tough. So I’m modifying it a bit. I’m saying “no” to the flour, pasta, potatoes,  and rice, but I’m allowing fresh fruit and dairy. I don’t eat a lot of either so allowing these shouldn’t impact the month too much. The hard part will be no bread or pasta. Also, I’m cutting out junk food, which eliminates potato chips, one of the basic food groups. I refuse to give up my diet Coke, however. This is an experiment, not a death sentence.

I began this morning with eggs, a staple of my breakfasts. Two scrambled eggs with mushrooms, onions, roasted eggplant, topped with cheese and homemade green salsa. I’ve never put eggplant in eggs before. They added a nice sweetness and I’l definitely do it again.

Lunch was cauliflower soup, raw veggies, cherries, strawberries (1/2 cup of both). Two sticks of string cheese made a nice mid-afternoon snack, but by 4:30 I was really hungry.

Dinner was an experiment in cooking. Nice New York cut steaks and corn on the cob cooked directly on hot coals. Add 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, 1/2 avocado and a couple of bacon wrapped, cream cheese stuffed jalapenos, and it was a tasty meal.

To cook meat directly on the coals, salt, pepper and coat with garlic liberally. Get a nice pile of charcoal (I didn’t have enough and had to finish the steaks in a cast iron frying pan), about 1100 degrees. For the corn, pull back the husks of the corn, remove the silk, and pull the husks back up. Tie with kitchen twine and soak in water for about 30 minutes. Then put everything on the hot coals. I used an instant read meat thermometer to get my steak to a perfect medium rare doneness. With the right amount of coals, I think it would have taken 10 minutes or less.

Tomorrow I have a luncheon. They always have delicious hard rolls and some form of potatoes. I’ll let you know how it goes.

For the record, here’s where I’m starting weight-wise. Yep, my tank is full.

How to Watch The Tour de France. Everything You Need to Know.

Each July the French put on a little bike ride called the Tour de France.  They’ve done this every year since the start of the Twentieth Century, except for a few times in the 1940s when the French were tenants of Germany.

            On this side of the pond, the Tour is just there for sportswriters to have something to write about between baseball’s All Star Game and preseason football.  In Europe, especially in France and the UK, sports fans are going nuts this week with Wimbledon, both France and England in the semi-finals of World Cup play and this little bike race. Things are so crazy in England that on Saturday last, Wimbledon was pushed off the prime BBC channel in favor of England’s World Cup match. That’s the equivalent of the New England Patriots or the Golden State Warriors games being shown on The Shopping Network.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Tour de France, here, as a PSA, is a primer. First, no one watches The Tour de France.  It’s “The Tour.”  If you’re a bit of a snob (and what is more français than snobbery) it’s Le Tour.

Teams in Le Tour are made up of different types of riders. Just as baseball, football and basketball have position players, cycling teams have position riders.  There’s a team leader.  This is the rider best able to endure the different types of torture found on Le Tour. Along with him are other overall riders. This group makes up the GC, or “General Classification” of riders. The GC is where the eventual winner will come from. Also on a team are sprinters, hulking beasts (relatively speaking) whose specialty is going fast and pulverizing lesser riders; climbers, whippets who flit up mountain roads to the tops of the Pyrenees and Alps without breaking a sweat; and domestiques, apprentice riders whose job is to take care of the rest of the team by shuttling water and food from the team car to the riders, giving up their bikes to a rider who has crashed if necessary and generally being slaves to the rest of the team. If a GC rider falls and rips his shorts, a domestique will give him his.

Le Tour is raced over 21 days, or stages. There are flat stages, mountain stages and time trials, different venues where the different riders can strut their stuff.  The overall race leader wears a yellow jersey.  Each day, there is a stage winner, the rider who finished that stage fastest.  It’s theoretically possible to win Le Tour without winning a single stage, and except for the second day, the prior day’s stage winner isn’t necessarily the yellow jersey.  Note how the leader has been reduced to the color of his shirt.  If you want to ask who the race leader is on a given day, you say, “who’s in yellow today?”  Of course, if you’re a true aficionado, you don’t ask because you know.

Time trials are a special type of masochism.  In the Individual Time Trial (ITT) riders leave the starting gate one at a time and ride a course, anywhere from 15 to 50 km. alone, in two-minute intervals.  They wear alien-like helmets and put their hands on aero-bars to slip through the wind.  You pedal as fast as you can, as long as you can and hope you reach the finish line before your heart explodes. There’s also a team time trial, or TTT, where five riders race the course together and four have to cross the finish line. The team’s time is that of the fourth rider to finish.

Mountain stages are, as one would expect, rides in the mountains.  The route of Le Tour varies, but always, always includes several days in the Pyrenees and Alps.  Fans love the mountain stages because the riders have slowed to about seven mph and spectators can run next to their favorite riders, exhorting them on to greatness. Or, sometimes, get run over.  The summit of a mountain climb is a favorite place for the loonies to come out, as the accompanying picture shows. Of course, what goes up must come down and on the downside fans can see spectacular crashes.  To get an idea of what it’s like to crash on a bicycle coming out of the Alps, strip down to your underwear and jump out of a car going 45 mph on the freeway.

If you’re watching on TV, you can find Le Tour on NBC Sports.  For three weeks, you can listen to every move described by Paul Sherwin, Phil Ligget, Bob Roll, Christian Vandevelde, Jens Voight and other lesser lights. All are former Tour riders. Paul and Phil are Brits and given to delicious understatement.  For example, on a particularly nasty climb, a rider may be falling off the back of the peloton (peloton is French for “big group of crazy riders”).  This is technically called being dropped, and it’s not a good thing.  As this rider struggles up a gradient that would make a mountain goat puke, Paul or Phil is likely to note that “he’s in a spot of bother right now.”

Bob Roll is fond of calling Le Tour “the Tour DEE France.”  It’s not that Bob can’t speak French; he’s actually quite fluent.  It’s that he doesn’t like the French so he intentionally mispronounces their pride and joy.  Various stories exist about why he’s anti-French.  Some say it’s because he can’t get a decent beer in France.

At the end of each stage, there is an award ceremony.  The stage winner is presented, gets a bottle of champagne and kisses from two lovely French women.  If you look closely, you’ll see that their lips never get nearer than two inches to the guy’s cheeks.  I mean, he hasn’t shaved for a couple of days and he’s just finished a five-hour bike ride.  Ewww!

The final day of Le Tour is madness.  There’s no race for the Yellow Jersey.  By tradition, the leader at the end of the penultimate day is the winner.  But the race finishes with eight laps around the Champs-Elysees and the sprinters go berserk, pounding the cobblestones, cutting corners, occasionally losing it and sliding into the hay bales set up to stop careening riders from plowing into the howling crowd.  Meanwhile the yellow jersey and his mates cruise into Paris sipping glasses of champagne.

Desecration or Science?

We recently returned from a vacation in Southern California where we attended the King Tut exhibit. This is the last time this exhibit will be in the United States. When this exhibit ends, King Tut and his artifacts will reside permanently in Egypt. It was fascinating. The handiwork from over 3,000 years ago was delicate and exquisite.  It was truly an experience not to be missed.

But after it was over, I got thinking. At what point does grave robbing go from being criminal and desecration to science? Or is it the circumstances under which the graves are robbed that makes the difference?

Some 20 years ago I represented one of the defendants in the Polar Mesa Cave-looting prosecution in Salt Lake City.  These guys (and women) were just souvenir hunters, rock-hound, antler-shed collectors as it were. Yet because they went into an area that was last inhabited around  A. D. 1250 they were prosecuted under federal law. As the article in the link above points out, the position of the federal government and those involved in antiquities preservation is that this was a “violation of Indian heritage.”

Wasn’t the excavation of Tut’s tomb a violation of Egyptian heritage? Does it make it less of a violation (or no violation at all) if the treasures recovered are put in a museum rather than on a shelf in someone’s house? Should we outlaw archaeological research as a violation of fundamental human rights?

Now I’m saying this (mostly) tongue-in-cheek. But think: how do you feel if you contemplate the possibility that, 3,000 years from now some archaeologists might dig up the cemetery, lift out your casket and pop it open to see how people lived in that part of the world once known as the United States? What did they wear? What did they die of? What did they eat? Does it matter to you whether those people are just souvenir hunters or whether they are the scientists of their day? Or does it matter at all? After all, you won’t be here to know.

King Tut, like the ancient people who inhabited Polar Mesa Cave, thought that when he died he would be laid to rest for eternity.  That wasn’t the case. My question is, at what point does opening a tomb, under whatever circumstances, constitute desecration and at what point is it justified in the name of science? Or should we take the position that when your time on earth is over, you have no further claim to a right to be left alone?