Some foods are “green light” foods. They are low glycemic and won’t cause your blood sugar to spike. Your “autopilot” won’t send out the message to your pancreas to pump out insulin to let the sugar into the cells and your body won’t get the message from the insulin messenger to “store fat.” You want to base your meals and snacks around these green light foods. They have a glycemic index of 55 or less.
However, keep in mind green light doesn’t mean free food. You can’t eat all you want until you are stuffed. That’s true with some of the foods, but some, particularly those in the bread category, can become high glycemic if you eat too much of them.
Other foods are in the yellow category. Go slowly on these. Too many and you are in trouble! You can have some occasionally — maybe one or two a day — but overdoing on these can sabotage your plan. These have a GI number of 56 to 70.
You can guess what the red light foods are. They have a number above 70. These are foods that are easily digested and dump masses of sugar quickly into your bloodstream. They don’t just add calories, but tell your body to pack on the pounds — which isn’t exactly the message you want to give it!
A red light doesn’t mean never-ever. It’s just a good idea to stop and think about before you put it in your mouth. Is it really worth it? You won’t feel as well after you eat it. You will be sad to think of your body getting that wrong message. But, if it is really worth it, enjoy it. Savor every small bite. Don’t ruin the pleasure by feeling guilty. Just resolve to pass the next time and go take a walk. And don’t take seconds. Or thirds. Or — well, you get the picture.
Most of your meals and snacks should consist of green light foods, with yellow light foods in a balance and, once in a while, a red. You will be eating meats and vegetables with some fruit and whole grain breads with some interesting and surprising additions. That doesn’t sound too difficult or depriving, does it? It’s not. It’s something you can do for the rest of your life.
Here are some lists of common foods for you.
Green Light Meat, Poultry, Seafood, and other Zero Foods
Zero? Yes, because of the protein, most meats, poultry and seafood have no insulin response. Nuts are also on this list, because most of them have a glycemic number of 0. Cashews are the exception, with a low number of 22.
Zero does not mean free, though. These foods do have calories, which do count. You won’t lose weight — or be healthy — by gorging on these foods. You can, however, do both by making these green light foods a part of your daily diet.
Green Light Vegetables
Well, here is good news! This is a category of food that is free, or nearly so, especially when you eat them raw. The fiber makes them hard to digest, so it’s difficult to eat enough to give you a big insulin spike. They also fill you up and provide lots of nutrients. It would be easier to list the veggies that are NOT on the list, since most are green-for-go. Spend some time checking out the produce section of your grocery store and buy some different varieties of vegetables. Here are some suggestions of old standbys and some that might not appear regularly on your table.
carrots (raw — they move to yellow-for-caution when cooked.)
peppers — all varieties
peas (fresh or frozen)
sugar snap peas
summer squash (yellow crookneck and patty-pan)
sweet potato (surprise!)
The bean group falls in this category, too. Here are some to choose from.
If it isn’t on the list, it is still probably okay since the yellow and red light list is pretty short.
Green Light Breads
These breads will be dark and chunky, because they have lots of fiber. That means your stomach will have to work to digest them and the sugar will go into your bloodstream slowly and steadily instead of in a spike. Here’s my list of breads with a glycemic index less than 55:
100% stone ground whole wheat bread
Whole wheat tortillas
whole wheat pitas
sourdough bread (something about the acid content makes this one low GI)
Whole grain pumpernickel
Whole grain rye
Oat bran bread
A note of caution: Read the label! Some breads are labeled “whole wheat” but they are really only white bread with carmel color added to make it look browner. Just remember– the chunkier and chewier the better.
Are you wondering about a particular type of bread that isn’t on the list? Feel free to ask and I’ll look it up for you. I have a multitude of lists in my resource stack of books and will be happy to check it out for you.
Green Light Cereals
There is quite a bit of difference, for some reason, in where specific cereals fall in the different reference lists I have. Grape Nuts, for instance, has been listed in all three different categories in three different books. It doesn’t really matter too much, though. If you are eating mostly on the green lists and have one serving of a borderline cereal, you probably are not going to suffer from it — especially if you enjoy it and it helps keep you on the plan. Grape Nuts cereal isn’t likely to slow down your weight loss — unless you eat the whole box in one sitting, of course!
Note that low GI cooked cereals are not “instant” but slow-cooking. That’s because they take the fiber out and pre-process the cereal to make it quick. Plan on a longer cooking time
Oatmeal (old fashioned and steel cut)
All Bran Buds
Special K (green on some lists, yellow on others. Just keep it to one serving.)
Kashi Go Lean
Grape Nuts — maybe.
That’s a short list — but you can add others by reading the labels. A good-for-you cereal will have at least 10 grams of fiber and be low in sugar. Try to keep it under 10 grams, but the lower the better.
I have a book that references many specific brands, so feel free to ask about your favorite. In general, most cereals are yellow to red, though.
And remember, green is not the same as free. This category is another that is easily moved from green to yellow or red if you have more than a single serving. Also, read the box for the serving size. A serving of Special K is one cup. A serving of Bran Buds is 1/3 cup.
Green Light Dairy
Look both ways as you approach this green light!
Most dairy products have a low GI — including yogurt, some puddings, and even ice cream. They contain both protein and fat, which slow down digestion so that you don’t have the big sugar dump and insulin flood. Beware, though, that they do contain more calories and can move pretty quickly from low to high glycemic by eating too much. One dip of ice cream, for example, is low glycemic. Two dips moves it into high.
Most dairy products, including:
Ice Cream (one scoop)
Instant pudding (1/8 of a package, prepared)
Green Light Fruits
Here is a quick list of fruits you can enjoy making a part of your new lifestyle.
Choose fresh, whole fruit if possible. Remember to check to make sure that the fruit is not packed in sugared syrup if you are choosing frozen or canned fruit.
Is your favorite fruit not on the list? Ask me and I’ll look it for you. Unlike vegetables, though, there are several fruits that are in the moderate to high categories.
Yellow Light/Red Light Cereals
Cereals seem to wander from one category to another more than any food in my various lists. One reason for that might be that formulas for the cereals often vary from country to country and the bulk of testing has been in Australia. Here are some breakfast cereals that tend to have a lower GI number, but are not on the green list.
Most of the rest are on the red light list, including:
Cream of Wheat
Many cereals are listed by name in my reference books, so I will be happy to check out your favorite for you. And by the way — don’t dump sugar on your cereal! Use another natural sweetener if you have to have it sweeter.
Yellow Light/Red Light Breads
Most of the breads do fall in these categories and should be eaten in small amounts and in moderation, especially if they are a trigger food for you. Some of the yellow light breads are:
barley flour bread
some fruit breads
white high-fiber bread
wheat flour bread
Lots of red lights here! A few are:
In general, just be aware that the whiter the bread, the more quickly it will be digested and turn into sugar in your blood stream. If you have questions about a particular type of bread, don’t hesitate to ask — but remember that the darker and chewier the bread, the lower the GI.
Yellow Light/Red Light Fruits
fruit cocktail (canned)
kiwi (borderline red light)
There are only a couple of red light/occasional fruits. They are:
watermelon — which actually has a low glycemic load — more about that in a later post.
dates (borderline — some lists have them as yellow)
Yellow Light/Red Light Vegetables
There aren’t many of these, but there are a few. Some of the vegetables to eat more sparingly are:
pale skin potatoes
You can still have them, as they are nutritious and filling and have only medium GI numbers. You just don’t want to make these the core vegetables in your daily diet.
Even fewer are on the red light list. Here are the ones to eat only occasionally:
French fries (very occasional!)
Most of us can live without parsnips, but potatoes have long been a staple in the western diet. Try eating boiled or grilled new potatoes when you must have them, but it’s time to start substituting other vegetables for these high glycemic ones. We’ll be talking about lower glycemic options in later posts.
Yellow Light/Red Light Dairy
Not much on this list! Most dairy products have a low GI number. That doesn’t mean, though, that they are free food, as they do have calories. Just about the only products that change to yellow/red are ice cream and pudding.
As you can see, there is plenty for you to eat on this plan. You can keep it simple and still lose weight and improve your health!