3: The Low Glycemic Diet

Note: a word of caution.  Everyone is different.  Before undertaking any change in your dietary habits, it is always wise to consult your doctor or nutritionist.  The low-glycemic diet is healthy and safe for 99.9% of the people on it, but if you have a unique health condition or you’re taking medications for an existing health condition, you should be supervised.  Medications frequently need to be adjusted to accommodate changes in weight, blood pressure, sugar levels, and cholesterol/triglyceride numbers achieved on a low-glycemic diet. It’s also a good idea for everyone to get their blood numbers tested before starting so improved health scores can be tracked.

Here is a summary of the ground rules of a low-glycemic diet…

  • When you eat foods containing sugars (breads, pastas, grains, fruits, beans, vegetables), try to choose foods that have a low-glycemic index and are absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream.  There’s a link in the sidebar to the Mendosa GI database; other lists are available via Google search, along with glycemic-index apps for iPhones, Blackberry, and Android phones;
  • Read the labels of processed foods you buy.   Avoid products with added sugar, honey, fruit juice, fruit concentrate, etc.  The words “syrup”, “sweetener”, and anything ending in “ose” can usually be assumed to be a sugar.  There’s no such thing as a “good” sugar;
  • Do not eat foods containing high-fructose corn syrup;
  • Eat plenty of unprocessed, carb-free protein foods like fresh meats, chicken, pork, fish, eggs, and cheese.  Protein is the cornerstone of your diet;
  • Choose foods that are high in fiber such as fruits, legumes, and vegetables: avocados, pearl barley, beans of all kinds, steel cut oatmeal, whole grain breads and pastas;
  • Breads and pastas should only be whole wheat or whole grain;
  • Avoid “low-fat” processed foods, sauces, and salad dressings.  They are high in sugar;
  • Eat lots and lots of fruits and vegetables;
  • Eat lots of olive oil and foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids such as: avocados, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage; dark leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, collards, etc.; fish including salmon, scallops, halibut, shrimp, cod, sardines, anchovies, and albacore tuna; nuts of all kinds including almonds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, pine nuts, and sesame seeds; healthy oils like olive oil, canola, and flaxseed oil;
  • Eat eggs, with yolks, 4-5 times a week;
  • Don’t drink fruit juice.  Eat the fruit (with the fiber) instead;
  • Don’t drink sugared drinks of any kind: sodas, sports drinks, Red Bull, sweetened teas, etc.;
  • Eat only fresh, unprocessed, natural fats.  Eat real butter, not margarine.  Use real half-and-half or cream and not non-dairy coffee creamers (loaded with sugars).  Low- or non-fat milk and cottage cheese are fine, but avoid low-fat hard cheeses;
  • Do not eat foods containing trans-fats.  Avoid anything that contains the word “hydrogenated”, including “partially hydrogenated oils,” “hydrogenated oils,” or “mono-dyglicerides.”  (Note: the term “0% trans fats” on a label means nothing…the FDA allows up to 2.2 grams of trans fats per serving before the trans fat needs to be disclosed to the consumer);
  • Unless it’s a special occasion, limit alcohol consumption to one glass of wine per day with a meal (preferably red wine…contains less sugar than white).  This has nothing to do with calories.  The ethanol in alcoholic beverages metabolizes in the liver similar to fructose and creates by-products that, over time, cause cirrhosis and fatty-liver disease.  Remember the motto: “one drink- good for the heart; two drinks- bad for the liver.”
  • Avoid beer (high in carbs).  One hard liquor drink with a meal is OK, but make sure the “mixer” is low-sugar;
  • EAT A HIGH-PROTEIN BREAKFAST EVERY DAY.  It will curb your hunger all day long;
  • Drink lots and lots of water.

Much of the above may seem counter-intuitive to everything you’ve been told about how we should eat (eat carbs, avoid fat), but please remember that before I started eating like this, I was a card-carrying member of the metabolic syndrome club.   Eating low-glycemic, I’ve lost 43 pounds in months, not years, and my blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars are now all normal.

What do I now typically eat?

Four to five times a week, I’ll have eggs for breakfast.  Sometimes I’ll make one of my favorite breakfasts, heuvos rancheros.  I’ll mix black beans with salsa and heat them both in a pan, then pour the mixture over a whole wheat tortilla.  Next I’ll fry two eggs in real butter and top them both with slices of real cheddar cheese.  When the cheese is melted, I’ll put the eggs/cheese atop the bean/salsa mix and top the whole thing with slices of fresh avocado.  Slice up an orange and I’m good to go…usually until the late afternoon without a drop of hunger.

Why no hunger?  Because the fat releases hormones that tell my body I’m satiated, so I’m not hungry.  Everything on the plate is low-glycemic, so my blood sugar doesn’t rise.  Without a rise in blood sugar, insulin doesn’t kick in to lower my blood sugar level and make me ravenously hungry.   Going all day without an ounce of hunger is a feeling I never experienced until I started eating low-glycemic.  How many calories are in that meal?  I’m sure more than any weight loss plan would allow, yet I was averaging a 10-pound a month weight reduction.

Other mornings I’ll scramble eggs with onions and vegetables, put the entire mixture in a whole wheat pita pocket, and then top the pita with cheese and melt the whole thing in the microwave.  This I’ll often serve with a slice of ham or sausage.  Fruit is always included in my breakfasts; toast and hash browns are not.

When I’m not eating eggs for breakfast, I’ll make a quesadilla with cheese, salsa, avocado, and tomato, or I’ll cook up some Aidell’s chicken-Italian sausages and eat them with a slice of whole wheat toast, and fruit.  Other mornings I’ll cook up steelcut oatmeal, which unlike ordinary oatmeal has a low-glycemic index.  For sweetener, I’ll use a little honey or artificial sweetener (more about honey in a moment).  If I’m making oatmeal for breakfast, I’ll always cook up a protein with it like ham, bacon, or sausage to contain my appetite later in the day.

I often skip lunch because I’m just not hungry.  That’s the amazing thing about eating this way…you can go hours and hours and not be hungry or even think about food.  But if I do eat lunch, it’s usually a salad with some protein (grilled chicken, fish, etc.).  On this diet, you can eat a Cobb Salad that provides protein in eggs, bacon, and cheese, or you can have a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, which I’ll have on whole wheat bread or whole wheat pita.

Other favorite lunches include a simple Caprese salad…I slice up fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh tomato, and fresh basil, and then top the plate with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  The cheese provides fat and protein and is very filling.  It also provides lots of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin B-12.

One of my favorite (and most nutritionally complete meals) is a Caesar Salad: a can of anchovies, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and Parmesan cheese tossed with romaine lettuce.  It has everything– the olive oil and anchovies are high in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and antioxidants, and the anchovies provide calcium, iron, phosphorus, niacin and selenium…as well as being a good source of protein. The romaine lettuce is a good source of riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, thiamin, folate, iron, potassium and manganese, as well as being a good source of dietary fiber.  The cheese adds more calcium and protein, along with enough fat to keep you satiated.  Most times the salad alone is a complete meal, but you can always add a piece of grilled or baked chicken or fish.  We eat a Caesar salad 3-4 times a week. I’ve included the recipe in the “Dinner” section of the top header bar.

Fruit and nuts are always on the menu.  Between meals, or sometimes AS a meal, I’ll eat a bunch of fruit or have nuts and cheese.  If you’ve tried eating fruit, nuts, and cheese as part of a deprivation diet, you’d be hungry all the time, because the lack of fats and calories during the day would make your body think it’s starving.  But as part of the larger low-glycemic eating lifestyle, with enough calories, protein, and fat in your diet to quell your hunger, fruit, nuts, and cheese are a completely filling snack.

So we keep a bowl of assorted seeds and nuts on the kitchen counter, alongside a bowl of fresh fruits.  These are “free foods” to eat whenever you feel like a snack. The fruits provide lots of fiber and vitamin C, and by mixing the nuts and seeds together, you get all 9 essential amino acids in one snack (the essential amino acids are the 9 proteins the human body cannot make and which must be obtained in food).

My wife’s favorite breakfast, lunch, or snack is unsweetened yogurt, topped with toasted almonds and honey.  Like in the oatmeal breakfast, the honey is fructose, but eaten in such small quantities (you don’t need a lot of it because fructose is 78% sweeter than sugar) it’s harmless to the body.

One staple of our diet now is bean soups.  Saute an onion with garlic, add a can of diced tomatoes (or dice some tomatoes fresh), pour in some chicken stock, and then pick your “bean or beans du jour” — canned black beans, pintos, kidney, garbanzo, etc.  Choose one type of bean or any mixture of them.  Add Italian seasoning and some chicken or sausage and you have a hearty meal that you can store in your refrigerator for lunch, dinner, or a mid-day snack.

We no longer eat rice of any kind.  Instead, we eat pearl barley which has a low-glycemic index, a wonderful nutty flavor, and an amazing 8 grams of fiber per serving.  We cook up the barley and then mix it with assorted sauteed vegetables and some butter.  Wonderfully creamy and delicious, even without the veggies!

So here’s a summary list of some of the foods you’re NOT supposed to eat on a low-glycemic diet:

No white breads; no pastas or pasta products like couscous; no potatoes, potato products, or rice (not even brown rice); no corn or corn products like cornmeal, corn tortillas, or popcorn; no crackers, cookies, or cakes; no commercial cereals of any kind; no commercial salad dressings; no high-glycemic tropical fruits such as pineapple, cantaloupe, mangos, figs, kiwi, papaya, or bananas; no dried fruits; no high-sugar vegetables like beets, corn, pumpkin, or cooked carrots; no sugared drinks, teas, sport drinks; no coffee creamers (lots of sugar); no fruit juice (don’t panic…you can eat all the low-glycemic fruits you want, because the juice comes packaged with natural fiber); no commercial peanut butters containing sugar; no soy products except soybeans (edamame) and soy sauce; no commercial sauces (barbecue sauce, pasta sauces, steak sauce, gravies, etc.); no frozen desserts such as sorbets or frozen yogurts that are high in sugar.

That’s it.  Now here’s a summary of what you CAN have:

All meats, poultry, fish, shellfish, and eggs.  Being able to eat eggs has been my salvation because I hate egg whites;

Whole wheat or multigrain breads including rye, pumpernickel, whole wheat sourdough, and whole wheat pita; whole wheat pastas cooked al dente (overcooking increases the glycemic index); pearl barley, steelcut oats for oatmeal;

Olive oil, real butter, real mayonnaise, any nut/seed oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil;

All cheeses (real, not low-fat!), real sour cream, cottage cheese;

Milk, half-and-half, cream;

All nuts and seeds including sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, pecans, etc.;

All beans, dried or canned;

Virtually all fruits including apples, blueberries, oranges, limes, lemons, honeydew melon, peaches, raspberries, cherries (my favorite!), pears, strawberries, plums, grapes, blackberries, and grapefruit (but no grapefruit if you’re taking a statin!).

Virtually all vegetables including artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, endive, greens (collard, mustard, bok choy), tomatoes, water chestnuts, lima beans, green beans, red/yellow/green bell peppers, leeks, mushrooms, olives, peas, pickles, radishes, spinach, sweet potatoes (not a potato!), arugula, lettuce, onions, swiss chard, snow peas, squash, yams, zucchini, and sauerkraut.  Avocados are one of the best foods you can eat;

Red wine (yippee!).  You can drink in moderation on a low-glycemic diet.  Follow the motto: “One drink, good for the heart; two drinks, bad for the liver…”  Red wine is preferred over white wine, as white wines tend to be higher in sugar.  Avoid beer (malt and barley are sugars).  Mixed drinks are OK providing the mixer isn’t fruit juice or high in sugar (like sugary tonic water).  Use a mixer that is artificially sweetened.

And finally, best of all….ICE CREAM!  I kid you not.  Ice cream is actually low in sugar and contains high-quality dairy proteins (milk, skim milk, non-fat milk, whole eggs).  It’s a wonderful treat every now and then.  Make sure the ice cream contains regular table sugar (sucrose) or plain fructose and not maltodextrins, dextrose, or high-fructose corn syrup.  Note high-fructose corn syrup is NOT the same product as plain fructose, which is low-glycemic in small quantities and is a good sweetening agent for ice cream and desserts.

The best thing is how satisfying all these foods are when put together.  Sometimes in the evenings my wife and I are just simply not hungry, and we’ll have a piece of chicken and call it dinner.  One night we just steamed some broccoli and put some melted cheddar cheese on top and called it dinner.  We’re just not that hungry any more.  My wife says we eat like 25-year old female roommates.

Welcome to the low-glycemic diet.  Here’s to your health!

Next article: Understanding the Glycemic Load

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3 Responses to 3: The Low Glycemic Diet

  1. Kathi says:

    Stan, this is WONDERFUL–so concise and easy to read! Previously I had looked up charts for low-glycemic foods. They were long and hard to follow. You seem to have put everything in a simple-to-follow article. Thank You!

  2. Nate West says:

    I think that this is a marvelous site. I have lost 40 lbs on this regimen and do not feel like I am on a diet. This has also made me more lucid and my poker playing skills have improved. The explanation of the regimen is well researched and makes total sense.

  3. Linda McKay says:

    Stan, great blog, as I told you I need to get back to eating right, I also have come to consider it a way to eat for life rather than a diet. I think I’m ready to pay attention again so your blog will be helpful. I’ve been broiling chicken or fish and eating 3-4oz with a big pile of fresh mixed vegetables for lunch and dinner, maybe not eating enough for breakfast. congratulations on your success, you look great. take care
    Linda McKay

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