8 easy ways to start a low glycemic eating plan for your children

There is certainly no shortage of dieting, health, and nutrition advice out there today.  Making sense of it all can be challenging.  As a parent, when you decide you want to start adopting a healthier diet for your kids, where do you begin?

We’ve discovered in our weight management clinic that following a low glycemic eating plan is simple and effective. The glycemic index (GI) ranks foods based on how fast they are digested. High GI foods digest quickly and are less filling. Foods with a low GI will take longer to be digested. Therefore, eating lower GI foods will help you feel fuller longer, and ideally help you moderate total intake.

The glycemic index only ranks foods that contain carbohydrates, like grains, dairy, fruits, beans and vegetables. Each food is assigned a number on a scale from 1-100.   Foods that fall on the scale are categorized by low, medium, and high.

Choosing low GI foods and limiting high GI foods can help keep your blood sugar steady and help you feel fuller longer. Examples of foods with a low glycemic index are fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat diary products. On the other end of the spectrum, foods with a high glycemic index include many cereals, chips, crackers, candy, and fruit snacks.

When thinking about adopting low glycemic eating, there are a few things to keep in mind. While foods with low GI tend to be healthy choices, this is not always the case. In addition, the glycemic index does not offer guidance for foods that do not contain carbohydrates, such as meat and oils. We recommend an adapted version for families, which includes lean cuts of meat and heart healthy oils such as olive oil. Finally, the combination of foods eaten at a meal and how much is eaten play an important role. Food choices should be made in the context of an overall heart healthy meal plan.

As a general rule, changing certain habits in your daily meal planning can steer you toward lower glycemic eating, and thus, help manage hunger. Here are eight practical ways to start a low glycemic eating plan:

  1. Choose more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  2. Limit highly processed grains such as snack chips, cereal bars, and white flour breads and crackers
  3. Include a lean protein source at each meal or snack: low-fat dairy, beans, poultry, fish, lean meat or nuts
  4. Eliminate all sugar-sweetened drinks
  5. Limit 100% juice to one 4-6 ounce serving per day
  6. Limit foods with added sugars, such as desserts and sugary cereal
  7. Instead of dessert, offer fruit
  8. Use a vinaigrette for salad dressing

The glycemic index should be thought of as just one eating plan option; however, the guidelines above represent what we typically recommend to all families whether or not they choose to follow a low glycemic diet and is in line with the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  It essentially places an emphasis on healthy, whole foods and limits highly processed foods, added sugars and unhealthy fats. In conjunction with other healthy lifestyle changes, this plan has proven very effective for many of our families.

Regardless of weight, we believe all children should learn healthy lifestyle habits that will promote long-term health. If you have any concerns about your child’s weight and nutritional needs, we recommend discussing them with your child’s medical provider. For local families, we offer educational programs, such as nutrition, cooking, and exercise classes as part of our HealthWorks! program.

Shelly Frank, RD, LD

About the Author: Shelly Frank, RD, LD

Shelly Frank, RD, LD is a clinical dietitian with the Center for Better Health and Nutrition and the HealthWorks! programs within Cincinnati Children's Heart Institute. Shelly has been providing pediatric weight management services at Cincinnati Children’s for over 15 years.

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