An Index of Indices
The Poison Garden at Blarney Castle
From the development of the Glycemic Index, at the University of Toronto, in the early eighties, dieters have been trying to harness the power of indices for weight loss. The researchers at the University of Sydney went on to develop the Glycemic Load Index. The glycemic index tells us the glucose response of foods that contains a fixed amount of carbohydrate. The glycemic load index looks at more realistic serving sizes for each food so that we’re taking the sugar, fiber and water content into account. In other words, the carrot might appear high on the glycemic index, but it’s much lower on the glycemic load index. A pound of carrots is not the same as a pound of sugar.
All good so far, the glycemic load index looks like the winner. But now lets switch to one of my favorite veggies, the potato. The potato numbers vary widely, based on the type of potato and where it’s grown, but, on average, it fares a little worse than the carrot on the glycemic index. It fares much worse on the glycemic load index. That sounds like a problem, doesn’t it? It sounds like it’s not a vegetable, it more like a make-me-fat pill!
The team at the University of Sydney, again, came up with the Insulin Index. Now if we agree with the carbohydrate-insulin theory of weight gain, anything that raises our insulin levels, too high and for too long, makes us fat. There is generally some good correlation between the glucose response (our blood sugar levels) of carbohydrates and their potential for insulin triggering. But on the insulin index, the potato is the worst. It tops the charts for real food (only jelly beans and candy bars were higher), causing a disproportionately high insulin response. Eating potatoes opens the insulin flood gates.
You low-carbers knew you were right all along, didn’t you!
Not so fast though. I am a fan of keto and low carb but, as you may know, I love my potatoes too. There’s one more index to consider, the Satiety Index. Also from the University of Sydney. And guess what? The potato is the king of satiety. The potato makes us feel fuller, for longer, than all the other stuff. It’s even better when compared to the high protein content of meat.
Despite the potato winning at least one of the indices wars, I was generally wary about eating very much. Especially while trying to lose weight. Until one day, I decided to test drive its effect on the scale. I am not diabetic, nor am I on any medications, so please don’t try this if you are not in good health. No question, potatoes blip the blood sugar. I can’t measure it but it’s probably driving up my insulin levels too. What’s going on in there? Are there other little peptides, enzymes and biological goodies that are working in concert with those potatoes that might be doing me some good? In theory, with all that sugar and insulin floating around in my blood, I can’t possibly be burning my own fat, can I? I’m not sure what’s going on in there but I can tell you that it feels great to eat potatoes every now and again. And the scale usually rewards me the following morning.
Now that’s satiety!
PS .. I try to mitigate the effects of eating potatoes in isolation. I cook and cool them first. Then fry them in oil (olive or coconut) or fat (butter or lard). I also mix them with other veggies. Garlic and onion are almost mandatory, just for the flavour. And I’ll usually dress everything with some shredded full fat cheese. I’ll mix them in with shredded cabbage, cauliflower, mushrooms or Brussels sprouts. It’s just more volume for that pig out feast. Which I now enjoy without the recriminations. If you can tolerate it, and your doctor okays it, this might be a great way to add some variety and flexibility to an otherwise restrictive regimen.