Safe Weight Loss and Glycaemic Load
The secret to achieving your ideal weight
The secret to losing weight and maintaining an ideal weight is to keep your blood sugar levels balanced. The Low GL diet or Low Glycaemic Load diet is a simple, safe and long lasting way to achieve this. By eating a sensible diet of complex carbohydrates, good quality proteins and fats, you can actually lose weight without feeling hungry and craving sweet foods. And most importantly you will have balanced blood sugar levels, reducing your risk of developing insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease.
According to Patrick Holford, the founder of the Institute of Optimum Nutrition in London, it only takes your body 30 days to reset its whole system once you have started on a low GL diet, but you should start seeing good results quite quickly within the first couple of weeks, such as:
- More energy and vitality
- Clearer skin
- Improved memory and focus
- Reduced stress levels and improved mood
Typical symptoms of uncontrolled blood sugar levels include:
- Craving sweet foods at the end of a meal
- Mood swings
- Hard to get going in the mornings
- Needing stimulants such as caffeine to keep you going
- Gradual increase in weight even if not eating more or exercising less
- Poor memory and concentration
- Craving carbohydrates such as bread and pasta
- Tiredness and lethargy
Glycaemic Load refers to the quality and quantity of carbohydrate a food contains and how quickly it is broken down and released into the blood stream.
Glycaemic Index only refers to how quickly the carbohydrate (quantity) in a food is broken down and released into the blood stream.
To illustrate the above, a slice of watermelon has a high GI and a low GL, i.e. the sugars in it break down very quickly, but because a watermelon has such a high fibre and water content and doesn’t contain much carbohydrate it actually breaks down more slowly and has a balancing effect on blood sugar. So GL is a more useful measure of foods that contain carbohydrates.
Confusing and conflicting dieting advice
There are so many different diet plans about that it can be confusing as to know which one is the best. Calorie restricted diets do not work long-term as you are permanently hungry and your body craves food, which actually has the effect of lowering your metabolic rate, so that when you return to eating ‘normally’ you actually gain weight. High fat and protein diets such as the Atkins diet may stabilise blood sugar levels, but put you at risk from ketosis – a build up of ketones which are a breakdown product and are highly toxic. A high meat and dairy diet also increases the risk of some cancers, bone and kidney problems and heart disease. Low fat diets also don’t work as they are often high in refined carbohydrates and low in essential fatty acids (EFA’s). EFA’s are required by the brain, nerves, arteries, skin and hormones and must be ingested as the body is unable to manufacture them. Foods such as seeds and fish provide the body with EFA’s and curb fat cravings.
The dangers of high blood sugar levels
High blood sugar levels are very dangerous and damage blood vessels and arteries. When a meal is eaten the pancreas releases insulin to remove the sugar from the blood. Any excess sugar in the blood is either utilised for energy, if there is a demand, or deposited as fat and insulin inhibits the breakdown of fats as fuel. Constantly high blood sugar levels can lead to the cells becoming ‘deaf’ to insulin and requiring more and more to actually stimulate them to reduce blood sugar levels – this is a condition known as Insulin Resistance and often precedes the onset of Type II Diabetes, where the pancreas has become so exhausted it cannot produce enough insulin to meet the demands of the body. The symptoms of Insulin Resistance are very similar to the unbalanced blood sugar symptoms i.e. brain fogginess, sleepiness, low mood after eating, cravings for sweet things, etc.
The link between stress and weight gain
Being continually stressed and tired can also lead to putting on weight. The body releases adrenaline when stressed and this triggers a release of sugar into the blood stream. In the past, stressful situations would have led to a fight or flight response and so the circulating adrenaline would have been used up and the increase of blood sugar would have been burned up by running away fast or facing danger. However, the stress that we tend to deal with on a day to day basis now is more constant than this and the excess sugar, adrenaline and cortisol (produced in long-term stress situations) continue to circulate in the blood leading to excess fat, anxiety and more stress. Caffeine drinks such as coffee, tea and some fizzy drinks encourage a release of adrenaline, again unbalancing blood sugar levels.
Fat burning hormones
In order to encourage weight loss, blood sugar and insulin levels need to be balanced. The fat-burning hormone glucagon stimulates the breakdown of fat for energy when blood sugar levels are low and reduces the cravings for sweet foods. So when blood sugar and insulin levels are balanced, glucagon production is normal and fat burning will take place.
The reason for rapid weight loss at the start of a diet
Glucose (the basic building block of sugar) is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. Glycogen is composed of 1 glucose molecule bound to 3 units of water. Therefore when you first start any diet you often get rapid weight loss, as 3 times as much water is lost for every unit of glucose. Unfortunately as soon as you return to your normal diet and replenish your glycogen stores you put all the weight back on again.
Realistic weight loss
The body can only lose 2lbs of fat a week so it’s probably best to set a target of 6lbs in the first 30 days. You will probably find that you notice the loss in inches rather than in pounds. On low calorie diets, studies have found that although initial weight loss looks very promising, dieters are unable to keep to them, probably due to lack of will power and the body’s demand for energy. On average only a couple of pounds over a 3 month period will be lost compared to about 13 pounds on the Low GL diet.
Because the Low GL diet is balanced and you never feel hungry it becomes a way of life rather than a punishment.
The Low GL Diet
The ideal balance of each meal is to combine a good quality protein with a complex carbohydrate and plenty of vegetables, for example, steamed fish with brown basmati rice and broccoli. Your plate at lunch and dinner should be split into ¼ protein, ¼ low GL carbohydrates and ½ vegetables.
All foods that contain carbohydrates can be given a GL rating. The target is to consume 40GL’s a day. This is made up of 10 at each of the three main meals of the day and 5 as snacks at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. The GL of some common foods are listed below.
Fibre slows down the release of sugars in foods. It is a natural constituent of fruits, vegetables, lentils, beans and wholegrains and is calorie free. High fibre diets help ward off diseases such as bowel cancer and diabetes. Both soluble and insoluble fibre need to be ingested. Soluble fibre slows down the digestion of food and reduces appetite for up to 9 hours later. Insoluble fibre makes you feel full immediately. Both are found in wholegrains, such as oats and also in beans and lentils.
Protein triggers small and equal release of insulin and glucagon. Aim to eat 15g of protein at lunch and dinner.
Fat does not trigger either insulin or glucagon, so does not have any effect on blood sugar levels.
Beans and lentils are low GL carbohydrates that are also rich in protein and fibre, so are a staple in the Low GL diet.
Getting started on the Low GL diet
If you currently drink lots of coffee or tea and eat lots of sugary snacks, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as feeling sleepy, mentally foggy, anxious, moody, cravings and headaches. It is often easier to gradually reduce these sorts of foods rather than cut them all out in one go. Make sure that when you start the Low GL diet that you are not about to go into your busiest time at work, or you have a huge family function to attend. You need a week or two to settle into the diet if this is a big change in what you would normally eat and drink.
By referring to the tables below, you will get an idea of the sorts of foods that you will be eating, so it is best to plan when you are going to start the Low GL diet by emptying your cupboards of all the tempting ‘bad’ foods and going shopping for all the ‘right’ foods.
The tables below show you the GL of foods per a typical serving. Under each table are some ideas for meals. Any foods coloured in red are ones to either avoid or eat moderately.
GL value of Breakfast foods
|Rolled oats||1 large bowl||5|
|Muesli (eg Alpen)||30g||10|
|Shredded Wheat||1 biscuit||10|
|Strawberries/blackberries/raspberries/blueberries||1 large punnet||5|
|Rye bread (pumpernickel type)||2 slices||10|
|Wholemeal rye||2 thin slices||10|
|White high fibre/ wholewheat||1 thick slice||10|
|Pumpkin seed butter/peanut butter (no sugar)||16g||1|
|Blueberry spread (no sugar)||30g||4|
|Plain natural yogurt (no sugar)||1 ½ small pots||5|
|Soya milk (no sugar)||250g||7|
- Porridge made with water or oat milk, cinnamon and frozen/fresh berries
- Muesli made with oats, nuts & seeds, with oat milk and strawberries
- Rye bread with poached/boiled/scrambled egg
- Rye bread with pumpkin seed or almond nut butter
- Hot water with grated ginger and lemon or lime to getting you zinging in the morning and perk up your digestion!
- Smoothies made from berries, natural yogurt and seeds
GL Value of Lunch and Dinner foods
|Rye bread (pumpernickel-type)||2 slices||10|
|Wholemeal rye||2 thin slices||10|
|White high fibre/ wholewheat||1 thick slice||10|
|Pumpkin seed butter/peanut butter (no sugar)||16g||1|
|White baguette (plain)||1/20 baton||10|
|Pitta bread (white)||1 pitta||10|
|Rough oatcakes (Nairn’s)||5 oatcakes||10|
|Puffed rice cakes||2 rice cakes||10|
|Baked beans (canned)||½ tin||10|
|Boiled wholemeal pasta||1 large serving||10|
|Tomato soup||1 can||10|
|Lentil (canned)||2/3 can||10|
|Brown basmati rice||150g||13|
|Broccoli||2 ½ handfuls||5|
- Always include some good quality protein such as tuna, mackerel, sardines, salmon, tofu, chicken, avocado, beans, lentils, quinoa
- Soups (Covent Garden do a good range of fresh soups) such as a root veggies & coriander
- Rye or wholemeal pitta bread with any of the above
- Brown rice, beans or quinoa, grated carrot, rocket, sprouted seeds & mackerel salad with a salad dressing made of flax seed oil, apple cider vinegar or lemon, freshly ground pepper & crushed garlic
- Cooked puy lentils, red peppers, spring onions, asparagus with salad dressing
- Salmon, sun-blush tomatoes, salad leaves and pinenuts
- Greek salad or tuna nicoise salad
- Beans pureed with onions, spices such as cumin, coriander and turmeric, garlic, soaked sunflower seeds, fresh coriander eaten with carrot sticks and celery
- Bitter salad veggies & beetroot & globe artichoke hearts
- Tofu, broccoli, sesame seeds stir fried in a little olive oil with rice noodles
- Fish and steamed veggies
- Hummus or half an avocado with oatcakes or rye bread
- Pitta bread stuffed with Greek salad and topped with natural yogurt and black pepper
- Any of the lunch ideas from above
- Eat fish at least 3 times a week, eg. haddock, salmon, tuna, mackerel, basa, sea bass, sardines, shellfish occasionally
- Steam fried vegetables with tofu and basmati rice
- Grilled chicken or salmon with rice and vegetables
- Wholewheat pasta with pumpkin seed pesto
- Tuna steak with bean salsa and rocket salad
- Stuffed peppers with salad
- Thai fish curry with rice and salad
- Roasted vegetables with quinoa and broccoli
- Turkey meatballs with wholewheat spaghetti and grilled courgette
- Sausages (high meat content, good quality) with sweet potato mash and onion gravy and steamed green beans
- King prawn pilaff
- Stewed plums, apricots or cooking apples with a crumble made of oat flakes and ground almonds
- Yogurt and fresh fruit
- Fructus bar (made by Lyme Regis foods)
- A couple of squares of good quality dark chocolate
GL value of Snacks
|Olives in brine||2 cups||5|
|Popcorn, salted, no sugar||20g||8|
|Potato crisps, plain, salted||50g||11|
|Fructus apple cereal bar||1 bar||5|
|Muesli bar containing dried fruit||Less than 1 bar||10|
- Hummus & oatcakes or raw veggies
- Apple or pear or berries
- Oat cakes with pumpkin seed or almond butter
- Rye bread with hummus, pumpkin or nut butter, cottage cheese
- Yogurt with berries
- Miso soup (one sachet)
- Handful of olives
GL value of Drinks
|Tomato juice||1 pint||10|
|Apple juice pure unsweetened||1/3 pint||10|
|Orange juice||1/3 pint||10|
|Smoothie raspberry||250ml carton||10|
- Water – drink about 2 litres a day. This can be a combination of water and herbal teas and one or two cups of green tea a day
GL value of Sweeteners
|Blue agave cactus nectar||100mls||10|
- Xylitol is the sugar that is found in plums and 7tsps of it have the same effect on your blood sugar as 1tsp of regular sugar. Therefore only use xylitol to sweeten foods
Do your best to choose the options that fit in with the Low GL diet plan. Many restaurants are good enough to be flexible with dietary requirements when asked. As far as fast food is concerned, go for soups, fish salads, super food salads, olives, stirfries, fajitas, omelette, sushi, tandoori, dhal, veggie curries, hummus and oatcakes. Prêt a manger and Leon serve good quality boxed lunches.
Foods to avoid:
- red meat
- fizzy drinks
- processed foods
- white flour foods (pastries, bread, cakes, biscuits, white pasta)
- sugary foods
- coffee and tea
- deep-fried foods
- all cheeses except low fat fromage frais or quark, feta, cottage cheese
- artificial sweeteners such as Canderel
Maintaining an ideal weight for life
Once you have achieved your target weight, you can slightly vary the proportions of the foods that you eat and consume more GL’s daily. You can reduce the amount of protein that you are eating and replace it with carbohydrate foods, thereby increasing your lunch and dinner allowances to 15 GL’s, whilst still keeping breakfast at 10, two snacks and drinks at 5 each. This will give you a total of 55 GL’s a day. Everyone is different, so you will need to find the right ratio of foods that suits you. But hopefully you will have seen such positive results that this will spur you on to eat healthily for the rest of your life.
Further reading or more detailed meal planning see Patrick Holford’s books:
The Holford Low-GL Diet, ISBN: 0-7499-2543-4
The Holford Low-GL Diet made easy (recipe book), ISBN: 0-7499-2714-3