Eating a Low GI diet

When you’ve been diagnosed with a hormonal problem (like PCOS) it can be puzzling to hear that you should be changing how you eat. The links between what goes in your mouth and how your reproductive system operates aren’t immediately obvious. But a closer look at how the body regulates itself reveals that all of your hormonal systems are closely interlinked: particularly your blood sugar regulation, stress responses and reproductive cycles. The building blocks of the foods that we eat are proteins, fats and carbohydrates. A balanced meal should include foods from each of these groups plus lots of fresh veggies for fibre and other nutrients. Once inside us, these large building blocks get broken up into smaller pieces that our bodies can absorb and use. Carbohydrates get broken up into sugar molecules which go into our bloodstream, raise our blood sugar levels and give us energy. When there is a sharp rise in blood sugar, our pancreas releases a chemical hormone called ‘insulin’ which tells the body to take sugar out of the blood and put it into storage. The Glycemic Index (or GI) was developed as a way of measuring how much a particular food is likely to raise your blood sugar levels. It ranks foods containing carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 (where 100 represents your body’s response to ingesting pure glucose sugar).  A high GI food (with a GI of 70+) will be digested and absorbed very quickly making your blood sugar rise sharply. Low-GI foods (GI of 55 or less), are broken down and digested more slowly, producing gentler rises in blood sugar and sustained, lasting energy. Avoiding big blood sugar swings is much healthier for your body, particularly if you have PCOS. Your body sees erratic blood sugar levels as a stressor and will respond by telling your adrenal glands to release stress hormones which over time can upset the delicate balance of the hormones that regulate ovulation. Low GI diets have been shown to help people with diabetes (type 1 and type 2) and insulin resistance (which is common in women with PCOS). Keeping your blood sugar levels relatively stable can help to control your appetite and delay hunger so can assist in weight management. For most of us, it isn’t the amount of carbohydrate that we eat that is a problem, we just tend to eat the wrong kinds. Learning to recognise Low GI carbs will help you to make better decisions when it comes to choosing where you get your energy from in main meals and snacks. As a general rule, to be classified as ‘Low GI’, a food needs to have a score of 55 or less.  Medium GI foods range from 56 to 69 and High GI foods score 70 or higher. The following table gives some idea about the GI scores for common carbs.

 Low (choose these) Medium (have in moderation) High (try to avoid)

Breakfast cereals

All Bran (UK/AUS)

30

Bran Buds

58

Cornflakes

80

All Bran (US)

50

Shredded wheat

67

Branflakes

74

Porridge

58

Special K

69

Cheerios

74

Breads

Wholegrain

46

Croissant

67

White

71

Heavy mixed grain

45

Pita (white)

57

Bagel

72

Sourdough wheat

54

Wholemeal Rye

62

Staples

New Potatoes

54

Basmati Rice

58

Instant White Rice

87

Sweet Potatoes

48

Couscous

61

Mashed Potatoes

73

Brown Rice

50

Baked Potatoes

60

French Fries

75
(Source - www.the-gi-diet.org/lowgifoods/)

Learning to manage your blood sugar levels is a good starting point for tackling PCOS through diet. Focusing on eating foods that are classified as ‘low GI’ is a simple and effective way to do this. You can find more detail about GI scores for different foods at www.the-gi-diet.org/lowgifoods/