Nutrition Column – Glycemic Index: Implications for Chronic Disease Prevention Among Topics at Smith Conference

Not all foods are created equal – especially when it comes to their glycemic index. A food’s glycemic index refers to how much and how quickly that particular food raises blood sugar levels after consumption. In the past, glycemic indexes for food have had limited use as dietary planning tools for people with diabetes. Now scientists are studying whether diets rich in low glycemic foods may help reduce the risk for certain chronic health conditions. And there is evidence to suggest that an overall eating plan with a lower glycemic index may help improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels and may help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and obesity.

However, there also is conflicting evidence regarding the role of glycemic index in chronic disease prevention. One major obstacle in understanding its role is sorting through the many factors that affect the glycemic index, both of a single food and that food when combined with other foods in a meal. For example, the glycemic index of rice differs greatly depending on the variety and the type of processing used. For fruits such as bananas, ripeness can have marked effects on glycemic index. The combination of different foods when consumed as well as a person’s age, activity level and rate of digestion also can affect glycemic index. Further, having a low glycemic index does not necessarily mean a food is nutritious.

The topic of glycemic index and its implications for chronic disease prevention will be the focus of the second day of this year’s annual Lillian Fountain Smith Conference held June 5 and 6 in Fort Collins. The first speaker, David Jenkins, professor and director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Modification Centre at the University of Toronto, will discuss whether increases in blood sugar after a meal influence the risk for certain chronic diseases. Next, Julie Miller Jones, professor at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., will address the practicality of using glycemic index as a dietary planning tool.

On the first day of the Smith Conference, Robert Eckel, professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Bruce Watkins, director of the Center for Enhancing Foods to Protect Health at Purdue University and Kenneth Allen of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University will present seminars during the morning session on the topic of "Genes and Futuristic Nutrition." A discussion on how to promote health consciousnesses in schools will follow in the afternoon. Two experts on the subject, Dayle Hayes, a registered dietitian from Montana, and Paul Rosengard, director of the SPARK Program at the University of California-San Diego, will discuss possible approaches for promoting healthful and nutritious environments in schools.

The two-day Smith Conference is sponsored by the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University. This year, it will be held at the Fort Collins Marriott Hotel and is open to the public. Registration is $95 for both days or $50 for one day.

For more information, contact Pam Blue at (970) 491-7435 or check out the conference Web site at