After 20 years of research into healthy eating, nutrition and weight loss, I’ve discovered the best way to achieve stable blood sugar is by eating a low glycemic load diet.
Glycemic Load – or GL Load for short – is a unit of measurement, rather like grams, litres, centimetres and calories are. GLs are used to measure the amount of sugar and starch in food and their impact on the body. They show how much carbohydrate there is in each food (and therefore how much glucose it will create and release into the bloodstream as blood sugar) and how fast the carbohydrate will break down into glucose (and therefore how quickly your blood sugar levels will rise).
This information is important because blood sugar levels are linked to hunger and the way we eat. When you haven’t eaten for a while, your blood sugar level will dip, and you will become hungry. When you eat a food containing carbohydrate, glucose is released into your bloodstream and your blood sugar level will rise again. The key to achieving your perfect weight is to keep your blood sugar levels stable. To do this you need to eat healthy foods that provide you with glucose in the right quantities.
Low GL Load foods release their glucose more slowly so you maintain stable energy levels for longer. When you eat a low GL Load diet:
- You will stop producing more glucose than you can use, so won’t gain fat.
- You won’t suffer from food cravings.
- Your body will be reprogrammed to burn fat rapidly.
- You will be able to lose weight and sustain your weight loss permanently.
Low GL Load is scientifically proven to work
There is a wealth of evidence to support the positive benefits of a low GL Load diet. In one study, in 1994, nutritionists tested two groups of 15 people. They put one group on a low GL Load diet and the other group on a calorie-controlled diet. Both diets contained identical numbers of calories. During the first 12 weeks both groups lost weight, but those on the low GL Load diet lost an average of 1.9kg (4lb 3oz) more weight per person. During the second 12-week period half the group members switched diets. Those on the low GL Load diet lost an average of 2.9kg (6lb 6oz) more per person than those on the low-fat, low-calorie diet. Overall, those on the low GL Load diet lost 40 per cent more weight than those on a calorie-controlled diet.
Three simple rules
The beauty of eating a low GL load diet is that people say they just don’t feel hungry. This is because you eat regularly and can have decent portions. A low GL load diet’s also easy to follow. You just need to follow three golden rules:
1. Eat no more than 40 GLs a day
2. Eat protein with carbohydrate
3. Graze don’t gorge
Your GL intake breaks down as 10 GLs each for breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus 5 GLs for a mid morning and mid afternoon snack – so you eat (or graze) regularly instead of gorging at one or two big meals. Here’s what a typical day’s GL Load diet intake could look like:
Breakfast / GL score
A bowl of porridge (30g) / 2 GLs
Some milk / 2 GLs
Half a grated apple / 3 GLs
A small tub of yoghurt / 2 GLs
AM Snack / GL score
A punnet of strawberries / 4 GLs
Lunch / GL score
A substantial tuna salad, plus 3 oatcakes / 11 GLs
PM Snack / GL score
A pear and a handful of peanuts / 4 GLs
Dinner / GL score
Tomato soup, then salmon, brown rice & green beans / 12 GLs
TOTAL GL score - 40 GLs
To work out the GL score of different foods, you just need to refer to the online GL Counter at or a copy of the Holford Low-GL Diet or The Holford Low-GL Diet Made Easy book. Both books also provide lots of easy recipes and new food ideas, plus tips on exercise and supplements to enhance your programme.
Meal balancing is also key. They means eating a combination of both carbohydrate and protein foods at every meal. It is an important concept, at the heart of the low GL load diet. Protein foods (such as fish, eggs, meat, dairy, tofu or pulses) have virtually no effect on blood sugar level, and we only need small portions to feel full up. This is opposite to the effect of carbohydrate foods (such as sugars, cereals, grains, fruits and vegetables). However, protein foods are often high in fat, especially ‘bad’ fats rather than the omega-3 and omega-6 essential ‘good’ fats. Eaten on their own and in large quantities they are bad news for our health. However, eating them with low-GL starchy carbohydrates and non-starchy vegetables results in high energy, low blood sugar and optimum health, so you will feel less hungry for longer, lose more weight, permanently and supply your body with the essential fats that it needs for good health.
The easiest and most visual way to make protein-carb combining a part of your daily life is to keep your food in the following proportions:
- A quarter of each main meal should be protein.
- A quarter of each meal should be carbohydrate: starchy vegetables or other starchy foods.
- Half of each meal should be non-starchy vegetables.
A similar principle applies to snacks, which should comprise of both protein (for example, 50g of nuts or seeds) and low GL load carbohydrate (such as a punnet of berries).
Protein foods include: Tofu and tempeh, soya mince, chicken (no skin), turkey (no skin), Quorn, salmon and trout, tuna (canned in brine), sardines (canned in brine), cod, clams, prawns, mackerel, oysters, yogurt (natural, low-fat), cottage cheese, hummus, skimmed milk, soya milk, eggs (boiled), quinoa, baked beans, kidney beans, black-eyed beans, lentils.
Starchy vegetables include: Pumpkin/squash, cooked carrot, swede, parsnip, cooked beetroot, boiled potato, sweet potato, sweetcorn, corn on the cob, baked potato, broad beans.
Starchy grains and pasta include: Quinoa, cornmeal, pearl barley, bulgar, brown rice (ideally basmati), white rice, couscous, wholemeal pasta, white pasta
Non-starchy vegetables include: Alfalfa, asparagus, aubergine, beansprouts, raw beetroot, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, raw carrot, cauliflower, celery, courgette, cucumber, endive, fennel, garlic, kale, lettuce, mangetouts, mushrooms, onions, peas, peppers, radish, rocket, runner beans, spinach, spring onions, tenderstem, tomatoes, watercress.
Does it work?
“I've lost 16 pounds in six weeks. My blood sugar is well under control (I'm diabetic) and I've been able to halve my medication. It’s been so easy and I no longer have any unhealthy cravings.” Linda
“Your diet has enabled me to lose 17.5lbs in only 8 weeks with little change to my diet and eating habits, and no change to my exercise routine. An added benefit was that I did not feel hungry and I did not crave any foods. Now I have more energy, lower cholesterol and stable blood sugar.” Tony
“I don’t think of the Holford Low-GL Diet as a diet - for me it is just absolutely the best way to eat, and I will continue to eat like this for the rest of my life.” Margot
Supplements to support weight loss
Slimming pills rarely work, and those that do often act like stimulants, speeding up your metabolism and giving you short-term weight loss – and potential long-term problems. But there are three nutritional supplements that I’ve found to be extremely effective and therefore recommend to support weight loss. They are hydroxycitric acid (HCA for short), 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and the mineral chromium.
HCA curbs your appetite HCA is extracted from the dried rind of the tamarind fruit (Garcinia cambogia), which you may know from Indian and other Eastern cuisine. HCA is not a vitamin, but it will help you lose weight. Originally developed by the pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-LaRoche, it has been proved to slow down the production of fat and reduce appetite. It has been extensively tested and found to have no toxicity or safety concerns.
HCA works by inhibiting the enzyme – ATP-citrate lyase – that converts sugar (or glucose) into fat. Evidence of its fatburning properties has been accumulating since 1965.  For example, participants in one eight-week, double-blind trial reported an average weight loss of 11.1lb per person, compared with 4.2lb on a dummy pill.
A recent trial conducted by the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands also confirms that HCA acts as a powerful appetite suppressant, reducing weight with no harmful effects.
I recommend taking HCA, especially during the first three months of any weight loss diet. You need 750mg a day. Most supplements provide 250mg per capsule, so take one capsule three times a day, ideally anywhere from immediately before, to 30 minutes before, a main meal. It is widely available as a supplement.
5-HTP helps you ‘think thin’ The two most powerful controllers of your appetite are your blood sugar level and your brain’s level of serotonin, the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter. Serotonin is often deficient, especially in those on weight-loss diets. A low level can lead to depression – and increased appetite (which is why many depressed people over eat).
If you are low in serotonin, one of the quickest way to restore normal levels, and normal mood, is to supplement your diet with 5-hydroxytryptophan, or 5-HTP for short. It’s found in meat, fish and beans, although in rather small amounts. The African Griffonia bean, however, contains significant amounts, and extracts of this are sold as 5-HTP supplements.
5-HTP is much more effective at normalising the brain’s serotonin levels if taken with some carbohydrate, such as a piece of fruit. This will also help prevent the minor abdominal discomfort that a small minority of people get when they take 5-HTP. My advice, therefore, is to supplement both your morning and afternoon snacks with 50mg of 5-HTP. But do not take 5-HTP if you are on serotonin-reuptake inhibitor drugs (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Lustral or Efexor, as it could generate too much serotonin.
Chromium – the secret of blood sugar control One mineral that helps you maintain blood sugar control is chromium. The older you are, the less likely you are to be getting enough of this essential mineral that helps stabilise blood sugar levels and, hence, weight. The average daily intake is below 50mcg, while an optimal intake – certainly for those with a weight and blood sugar problem – is around 200mcg.
Chromium is found in wholefoods and is therefore higher in wholewheat flour, bread or pasta than refined products. (Flour has 98 per cent of its chromium removed in the refining process – another reason to stay away from overprocessed products.) Beans, nuts and seeds are other good sources, and asparagus and mushrooms are especially rich in it.
The best form of supplementary chromium is chromium polynicotinate, which means it’s bound with vitamin B3 (also called nicotinic acid). Most good multivitamins will contain 30mcg of chromium, but you can help maintain blood sugar control and reduce sugar cravings more quickly by taking 200mcg twice a day for the first three months of a weight loss regime (ideally with a mid morning and mid afternoon snack).
Glucomannan fibre Another way to lower the GL of a meal is to increase the super-soluble fibre, glucomannan, taken either as 3 capsules with a large glass of water, one to three times a day, or as a teaspoon in a glass of water. The effect is instantaneous. It makes you feel fuller, makes you more regular, but does it lead to weight loss?
The weight of the evidence to date says yes. So much so, that the notoriously pedantic and hard to please European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) have given glucomannan an allowed
weight loss claim. To date there are four studies, each showing that glucomannan really
does assist weight loss and works in a way that is totally healthy, with no
side-effects other than lowering cholesterol. To my mind it’s a no brainer for people
with weight to lose as part of a sensible low GL, reduced calorie diet.
Glucomannan is available in the UK as Carboslow, available from HOLFORDirect.com the home of GL firendly foods, supplements, tests and books.