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Low Glycemic Diets and Weight Loss: The Glucagon Factor

“Will I lose weight on a low glycemic diet?” This is an obvious question for those considering such a program, but the answer is not so simple.

Perhaps a more appropriate question is, “will sticking to low glycemic foods alone solve my weight issues?” Here, the answer for most people unfortunately is “no” – it takes something more.

The Glucagon Factor

Choosing low glycemic foods will help reduce your insulin spikes and resulting blood glucose levels. However, weight loss and carbohydrate metabolism are highly complex issues and the end result of interactions between many factors – of which insulin level is but one.

Another key hormone (also secreted by the pancreas) that regulates blood sugar and carbohydrate metabolism is glucagon. This hormone acts in a manner that is essentially opposite of insulin. Glucagon promotes the burning (rather than storage) of fats, increases blood glucose availability to working muscles, and quickly can help convert stored lipids in the liver into glucose.

Thus, glucagon acts to RAISE rather than lower blood glucose levels in a natural, healthy manner. This is obviously a necessary function in the regulation of blood glucose levels, which must remain in a rather narrow range for optimal cell function. The nervous system is particularly sensitive to abnormally low blood glucose levels, and brain function can be impaired under such conditions.

The bottom line for low glycemic dieters is that increased glucagon levels in the blood can effectively counteract the negative effects of too much insulin – often caused (in insulin-resistant persons) by eating high glycemic foods.

Because glucagon essentially “switches” our metabolism into a “fat-burning” rather than “fat-storage” mode, doing what we can to naturally increase glucagon levels can promote weight loss. What are the two easiest ways to naturally stimulate glucagon release?

1. First, eat more protein than carbohydrate at all meals and snacks; eating protein stimulates glucagon release, while carbohydrates stimulate insulin release. Never eat carbohydrates alone.

2. Second, exercise regularly; putting your muscles to work stimulates glucagon release. Strive for at least 30-40 minutes of exercise every day, but don’t worry if you miss a day now and then. Exercise does NOT have to be particularly strenuous to be highly effective in this sense. Simply walking at a comfortable pace for half an hour each day is all it takes for most individuals to realize measureable benefits.

These simple principles should be considered essential elements of any low glycemic diet program. Together, a low glycemic diet combined with a proper exercise program will be an effective way to achieve healthy, sustainable weight loss.

William Alevizon PhD is a retired Professor of Biological Sciences who writes science articles for the general public. Among his areas of interest is the use of low glycemic foods in weight loss and health management. For more information on low glycemic diets, visit us at: