Slow Digesting Foods That You Need to Add to Your Diet

by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
Published on June 9, 2020

How often do you feel sluggish right after eating a big bowl of white rice? Even if you have added some veggies on top of it? Or how often do you feel as if white bread is not able to satisfy your hunger? Has it become a habit of yours to reach out for a snack right after your meal because you still feel hungry even though you ate more than enough? 

Have you ever thought of changing up your diet by removing certain foods and replacing them with others to see how that influences your hunger? If that is the case, we have nine delicious foods that are bound to promote feelings of fullness for a long time without you having to worry about feeling hungry only an hour or two after your meal.

The difference between fast and slow digestible carbs

When we are trying to lose weight, more often than not, we forget to take into account the time that our body needs to digest the food that we eat. But it is not only the weight loss process that the speed of digestion has an impact on, but rather on our entire health and wellbeing.

Of course, the overall digestion time depends on many factors, including one’s physical health, metabolism, age, gender, etc. but it also depends on the food that one is eating. For some type of food, it takes our body a while to digest it properly, but for others, that whole process is done within a few minutes. 

It is all about what type of carbs you are eating since there is the so-called slow- and fast-digestible carbs. The main difference between the two groups is their Glycemic Index (GI), which measures how quickly different foods release glucose into the bloodstream. And so, we differentiate low- and high-GI foods (1, 2).

The high-GI foods, also known as fast-digestible carbs, require less time to get digested, thus leaving you to feel hungry very soon after you have finished eating them. On the other hand, slow-digestible carbs or low-GI foods require a longer time to be digested, thus promoting fullness for a long period of time.

You see, the high-GI foods cause a spike in the blood sugar levels, which results in a rapid boost of energy. While this may sound like a good idea, especially when you are dealing with a midday slump, it is not something that you would want when you are trying to lose weight. If your body becomes overflooded with glucose, it will store glucose in the form of fat if you do not use it soon after you are done eating it. As a result, you will see an increase in belly fat but also fat in other places. 

The low-GI foods act as a slower and more sustainable source of energy – one that your body can use to function properly throughout the day. Eating more of these foods will allow you to have more stable and steady glucose levels, instead of going on a literal rollercoaster of energy ups and downs (3). There are multiple positive effects that the steady glucose levels have on your overall health, such as improved weight management and reduced risk of many chronic diseases, among many others.

Benefits of eating more slow digestible carbs

To better understand why certain foods are marked as low- and others are marked as high-GI foods, let us represent you the GI scale. The GI scale ranges from 0 to 100, with pure glucose having a GI of 100 (4).

For a food to be marked as low-GI on this scale, it needs to score less than 55 on the index. High-GI foods score 70 or above. And some foods are in between, also called medium-GI foods that score between 56-69.

As we mentioned earlier, the main beneficial effects of low-GI foods are sustainable energy levels and maintaining steady glucose levels. But there are other beneficial effects that need to be considered as well, including:


  • Weight loss and better weight management


Eating more of the low-GI foods will help suppress the feelings of hunger and increase fat metabolism. That way, instead of storing fat, you will be burning through your storages and losing weight more efficiently (5).

A 2012 study investigated the effects of low-carb, low-fat, and low-glycemic diets to find out which diet plan helped people to burn the most calories, thus helping them achieve the best weight loss effects. Of the three, the low-carb diet was the clear winner, whereas the low-fat diet was marked as the loser (6).

But if you look a bit closer, it is the low-glycemic diet that was the actual winner. Unlike the low-fat diet, the low-glycemic diet helped burn more calories. In comparison to the low-carb diet, the low-glycemic one was more sustainable and reasonable for one to refer to it long-term.   


  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease


A diet rich in low-GI foods helps the blood vessels to become more elastic, which in return helps improve the blood flow. Science shows that a high-GI diet is 25% more likely to contribute to the development of heart disease, as compared to low-GI diets (7, 8).


  • Lower risk of diabetes


One clear beneficial effect of low-GI foods is the lower risk of diabetes. There have been many studies that have shown an increase in the risk of diabetes due to high-GI diets (9). Low-GI diets, on the other hand, have demonstrated an improvement in the symptoms within those diagnosed with diabetes, helping their blood glucose levels to decline (10).


  • Lower risk of cancer


Following a high-GI diet is more likely to increase the risk of certain cancers, including colorectal, endometrial, and breast cancer, which is not the case with low-GI diets (11).


  • Improved cholesterol levels


The low-GI diets can improve your cardiovascular health not only by improving the blood flow but also by reducing the high cholesterol levels. A few studies have shown an improvement in cholesterol levels with the help of low-GI diets. Low-GI diets have efficiently reduced the total cholesterol by 9.6% and the LDL (“bad” cholesterol) by 8.6%. Having high LDL cholesterol levels puts you at the risk of heart disease and stroke, among other chronic diseases (12).


  • Improved cognitive performance 


Because of the sustainable energy levels, low-GI diets can provide mental clarity, boosting your alertness and overall cognitive performance. 

9 slowly digestible carbs that will help you lose weight

The biggest difference between slow and fast digestible carbs is their fiber content. Low-GI foods tend to be higher in fiber, which is a vital nutrient that we often forget about and a nutrient that most high-GI foods are lacking or contain very little fiber within them. Here are some of the most delicious and healthiest options of low-GI foods that you may need to know about.


  • Quinoa


Per a serving of 150 grams, quinoa has a low GI of 53 (13). It represents the perfect low-GI food, being an excellent source of protein, potassium, iron, and vitamin B, among other nutrients. It is a great food for any occasion as it can be easily paired up with several foods, including fruits, to create a tasty breakfast. Add it to salads or soups, or serve it along with your lean protein and some veggies at lunch. Grains like quinoa usually take two hours to get digested in our gut.


  • Brown rice


Although brown rice is mainly categorized as a medium-GI food when boiled, that is, with its GI index being 68, it is still a great alternative to the refined white rice, which is a high-GI food (14). Brown rice is still rich in fiber and other nutrients, which is why you should not exclude it from your diet. Pair it up with many veggies to make up for it being technically a medium-GI food. 


  • Nuts and nut butter


Nuts and nut butter are a particularly healthy snack for anyone who is struggling with diabetes. Being a great source of protein and fiber, while containing very little carbs, nuts are an excellent low-GI food. A review published in the British Journal of Nutrition found out that women with diabetes type 2 who snacked on peanuts and/or peanut butter each day had a better glucose control and reduced appetite as compared to those who did not include these low-GI foods daily (15). It can take up to three long hours before nuts get completely digested in the gut.


  • Oats 


If you are looking for a tasty low-GI breakfast option, then rolled porridge oats are just for you. With their GI score of 55, oats are an excellent fiber source for anyone, especially for diabetics. Oats are rich in fiber, especially the beta-glucan fiber, which is a type of fiber that is not found in many foods. According to a 2014 meta-analysis, the beta-glucan in oats can help improve cholesterol and promote feelings of fullness for a long time (16).


  • Fresh fruits


Most fresh fruits, with an exception for tropic fruits, tend to have a lower GI. Here are some examples of low-GI fruits and their GI index – grapefruit with GI score of 25, apples, oranges, and strawberries with a GI score of 40, pears with a GI score of 42, grapes with GI score of 43, etc. Some of the high-GI fruits that you may want to stay away from are watermelon, mango, papaya, pineapple, etc.


  • Leafy green veggies


Like fresh fruits, most veggies also have a rather low GI. This list would include carrots with a GI score of 35, sweet potato with a GI score of 44 for 150 grams of sweet potato, sweet corn with a GI score of 55, and others. Leafy green veggies such as lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, etc. tend to have an especially low GI score. Add 3-5 servings of fresh veggies to your daily diet. Make sure to fill at least half of your plate with tasty veggies that you can either eat fresh, boiled, or baked. Veggies can take between an hour or two to get digested in the gut, depending on their type, cooking method, etc.


  • Dairy products


Many dairy products as well, such as milk and yogurt, for example, have a rather low GI score. The GI score of milk is somewhere between 37 and 39, depending on whether you choose skimmed or full-fat milk. Flavored yogurt has a GI score between 39 and 43 (17). Both of these foods can be easily incorporated into the daily diet, combined with other low-GI foods to create delicious meals. And for anyone who wants to stay away from dairy products, soy milk is great low-GI food with a GI score of 30-18.


  • Bread


Make no mistake – not every bread is considered to have a low GI. White bread, for example, has a rather high GI score, which is why you would want to switch to some better low-GI alternatives. This list would include mixed grain, whole wheat, rye, and sourdough rye bread. 


  • Legumes and beans


Legumes and beans are yet another excellent of how a nutritious food rich in slowly digestible carbs should look like. But again, not all legumes and beans are considered to have a low GI score. Those with a GI score under 55 include black-eyed peas, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, soybeans, etc. (18). In addition, all of these are also rich in plant-based protein, making them the perfect protein sources for vegans and vegetarians. 

High-GI foods that you would like to avoid

If you are trying to lose weight or manage your diabetes better, or simply want to stay on the safe side and eat more of the low-GI foods, then we recommend staying away from these high-GI foods.

  • White bread;
  • Starchy veggies;
  • White rice;
  • High-GI fruits;
  • White pasta and instant noodles;
  • Cakes and sweets;
  • Savory snacks, etc.

Note that foods such as meat, eggs, fish, butter, olive oil, nuts, herbs, and spices, do not contain many carbs and can be enjoyed by anyone on a low-GI diet in moderation. 


Foods such as white bread, white rice, sweets, and instant noodles do not belong to your diet, not if you want to feel full for a long time, that is. But rearranging your diet so that it contains more of the low-GI foods will not only help with your feelings of hunger, but it will also help improve many aspects of your life. You are bound to feel more alert, energized, and have better heart health, while reducing your risk of multiple chronic diseases as well. 


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