Category Archives: Glycemic Index and Load

High-Carbohydrate Eating Promotes Heart Disease in Women

Women double their risk of developing coronary heart disease if they have high consumption of carbohydrates, according to research recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine

Men’s hearts, however, didn’t seem to be affected by carb consumption. I mention this crucial difference because I see a growing trend to believe that “replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates is a major cause of heart disease.”  If true, it seems to apply only to women.

We’ve known for a while that high-glycemic-index eating was linked to heart disease in women but not menGlycemic index is a measure of how much effect a carbohydrate-containing food has on blood glucose levels.  High-glycemic-index foods raise blood sugar higher and for longer duration in the bloodstream.

High-glycemic-index foods include potatoes, white bread, and pasta, for example.

The study at hand includes over 47,000 Italians who were interrogated via questionnaire as to their food intake, then onset of coronary heart disease—the cause of heart attacks—was measured over the next eight years. 

Among the 32,500 women, 158 new cases of coronary heart disease were found.

ResearchBlogging.orgResearchers doing this sort of study typically compare the people eating the least carbs with those eating the most.  The highest quartile of carb consumers and glycemic load had twice the rate of heart disease compared to the lowest quartile. 

The Cleave-Yudkin theory of the mid-20th century proposed that excessive amounts of refined carbohydrates cause heart disease and certain other chronic systemic diseases.  Gary Taubes has also written extensively about this.  Theresearch results at hand support that theory in women, but not in men. 

Practical Applications

Do these research results apply to non-Italian women and men?  Probably to some, but not all.  More research is needed.

Women with a family history coronary heart disease—or other CHD risk factors—might be well-advised to put a limit on total carbs, high-glycemic-index foods, and glycemic load.  I’d stay out of that “highest quartile.”  Don’t forget: heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.

See NutritionData’s Glycemic Index page for information you can apply today.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclaimer:  All matters regarding your health require supervision by a personal physician or other appropriate health professional familiar with your current health status.  Always consult your personal physician before making any dietary or exercise changes.

References: Sieri, S., Krogh, V., Berrino, F., Evangelista, A., Agnoli, C., Brighenti, F., Pellegrini, N., Palli, D., Masala, G., Sacerdote, C., Veglia, F., Tumino, R., Frasca, G., Grioni, S., Pala, V., Mattiello, A., Chiodini, P., & Panico, S. (2010). Dietary Glycemic Load and Index and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in a Large Italian Cohort: The EPICOR Study Archives of Internal Medicine, 170 (7), 640-647 DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2010.15

Barclay, Alan, et al.  Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk – a meta-analysis of observational studies [of mostly women].  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87 (2008): 627-637.

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Filed under Carbohydrate, coronary heart disease, Glycemic Index and Load

Paleo Diet for Heart Patients With Diabetes and Prediabetes

A Paleolithic diet lowered blood sugar levels better than a control diet in coronary heart disease patients with elevated blood sugars, according to Swedish researchers reporting in 2007.

About half of patients with coronary heart disease have abnormal glucose (blood sugar) metabolism.  Lindeberg and associates wondered if a Paleolithic diet (aka “Old Stone Age,” “caveman,” or ancestral human diet) would lead to improved blood sugar levels in heart patients, compared to healthy, Mediterranean-style, Western diet.

Methodology

Investigators at the University of Lund found enrolled 38 male heart patients—average age 61—patients and randomized them to either a paleo diet or a “consensus” (Mediterranean-like) diet to be followed for 12 weeks.  Average weight was 94 kg.  Nine participants dropped out before completing the study, so results are based on 29 participants.  All subjects had either prediabetes or type 2 diabetes (the majority) but none were taking medications to lower blood sugar.  Baseline hemoglobin A1c’s were around 4.8%.  Average fasting blood sugar was 125 mg/dl (6.9 mmol/l); average sugar two hours after 75 g of oral glucose was 160 mg/dl (8.9 mmol/l).

The paleo diet was based on lean meat, fish, fruits, leafy and cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables (potatoes limited to two or fewer medium-sized per day), eggs, and nuts (no grains, rice, dairy products, salt, or refined fats and sugar). 

The Mediterranean-like diet focused on low-fat dairy, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, potatoes, fatty fish, oils and margarines rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid. 

Both groups were allowed up to one glass of wine daily.

No effort was made to restrict total caloric intake with a goal of weight loss.

Results

Absolute carbohydrate consumption was 43% lower in the paleo group (134 g versus 231 g), and 23% lower in terms of total calorie consumption (40% versus 52%).  Glycemic load was 47% lower in the paleo group (65 versus 122), mostly reflecting lack of cereal grains.

The paleo group ate significantly more nuts, fruit, and vegetables.  The Mediterranean group ate significantly more cereal grains,oil, margarine, and dairy products.

Glucose control improved by 26% in the paleo group compared to 7% in the consensus group.  The improvement was statisically significant only in the paleo group.  The researchers believe the improvement was independent of energy consumption, glycemic load, and dietary carb/protein/fat percentages.

High fruit consumption inthe paleo group (493 g versus 252 g daily) didn’t seem to impair glucose tolerance. 

Hemoglobin A1c’s did not change or differ significantly between the groups.

Neither group showed a change in insulin sensitivity (HOMA-IR method).

Comments

The authors’ bottom line:

In conclusion, we found marked improvement of glucose tolerance in ischemic heart disease patients with increased blood glucose or diabetes after advice to follow a Palaeolithic [sic] diet compared with a healthy Western diet.  The larger improvement of glucose tolerance in the Palaeolithic group was independent of energy intake and macronutrient composition, which suggests that avoiding Western foods is more important than counting calories, fat, carbohydrate or protein.  The study adds to the notion that healthy diets based on whole-grain cereals and low-fat dairy products are only the second best choice in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.

This was a small study; I consider it a promising pilot.  Results apply to men only, and perhaps only to Swedish men.  I have no reason to think they wouldn’t apply to women, too.  Who knows about other ethnic groups?

This study and the one I mention below are the only two studies I’ve seen that look at the paleo diet as applied to human diabetics.  If you know of others, please mention in the Comments section. 

The higher fruit consumption of the paleo group didn’t adversely affect glucose control, which is surprising.  Fruit is supposed to raise blood sugar.  At 493 grams a day, men in the paleo group ate almost seven times the average fruit intake of Swedish men (75 g/day).  Perhaps lack of adverse effect on glucose control here reflects that these diabetics and prediabetics were mild cases early in the course of the condition—diabetes tends to worsen over time.

ResearchBlogging.orgPresent day paleo and low-carb advocates share a degree of simpatico, mostly because of carbohydrate restriction—at least to some degree—by paleo dieters.  Both groups favor natural, relatively unprocessed foods.  Note that the average American eats 250-300 g of carbohydrates a day.  Total carb intake in the paleo group was 134 g (40% of calories) versus 231 g (55% of calories) in the Mediterranean-style diet.  Other versions of the paleo diet will yield different numbers, as will individual choices for various fruits and vegetables.  Forty percent of total energy consumption from carbs barely qualifies as low-carb. 

Study participants were mild, diet-controlled diabetics or prediabetics, not representative of the overall diabetic population, most of whom take drugs for it and have much higher hemoglobin A1c’s.

Lindeberg and associates in 2009 published results of a paleo diet versus standard diabetic diet trial in 13 diabetics.  Although a small trial (13 subjects, crossover design), it suggested advantages to the paleo diet in terms of heart disease risk factors and improved hemoglobin A1c.  Most participants were on glucose lowering drugs; none were on insulin.  Glucose levels were under fairly good control at the outset.  Compared to the standard diabetic diet, the Paleo diet yielded lower hemoglobin A1c’s (0.4% lower—absolute difference), lower trigylcerides, lower diastolic blood pressure, lower weight, lower body mass index, lower waist circumference, lower total energy (caloric) intake, and higher HDL cholesterol.  Glucose tolerance was the same for both diets.  Fasting blood sugars tended to decrease more on the Paleo diet, but did not reach statistical significance (p=0.08).

The paleo diet shows promise as a treatment or preventative for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.  Only time will tell if it’s better than a low-carb Mediterranean diet or other low-carb diets. 

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Lindeberg, S., Jönsson, T., Granfeldt, Y., Borgstrand, E., Soffman, J., Sjöström, K., & Ahrén, B. (2007). A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease Diabetologia, 50 (9), 1795-1807 DOI: 10.1007/s00125-007-0716-y

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Filed under Carbohydrate, coronary heart disease, Dairy Products, Fruits, Glycemic Index and Load, Grains, Mediterranean Diet, nuts

Are Refined Carbs Worse for Your Heart Than Saturated Fat?

To reduce coronary heart disease, we need to focus on reducing consumption of refined carbohydrates rather than fat and cholesterol, according to Dr. Frank Hu.

Dr. Hu is not a wild-eyed, bomb-throwing radical. He’s a Harvard professor of nutrition and epidemiology with both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees.  High-glycemic-index carbs in particular are the bad boys, he writes in an editorial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this year.

Additional details are at my April 26, 2010, post at the Self/NutritionData Heart Health Blog.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Filed under Carbohydrate, coronary heart disease, Fat in Diet, Glycemic Index and Load

Paleo Diet and Diabetes: Improved Cardiovascular Risk Factors

Compared to a standard diabetic diet, a Paleolithic diet improves cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetics, according to investigators at Lund University in Sweden.

Researchers compared the effects of a Paleo and a modern diabetic diet in 13 type 2 diabetic adults (10 men) with average hemoglobin A1c’s of 6.6% (under good control, then).  Most were on diabetic pills; none were on insulin.  So this was a small, exploratory, pilot study.  Each of the diabetics followed both diets for three months.

How Did the Diets Differ?

ResearchBlogging.orgCompared to the diabetic diet, the Paleo diet was mainly lower in cereals and dairy products, higher in fruits and vegetables, meat, and eggs.  The Paleo diet was lower in carbohydrates, glycemic load, and glycemic index.  Paleo vegetables were primarily leafy and cruciferous.  Root vegetables were allowed; up to 1 medium potato daily.  The Paleo diet also featured lean meats [why lean?], fish, eggs, and nuts, while forbidding refined fats, sugars, and beans.  Up to one glass of wine daily was allowed.

See the actual report for details of the diabetic diet, which seems to me to be similar to the diabetic diet recommended by most U.S. dietitians.

What Did the Researchers Find?

Compared to the diabetic diet, the Paleo diet yielded lower hemoglobin A1c’s (0.4% lower—absolute difference), lower trigylcerides, lower diastolic blood pressure, lower weight, lower body mass index, lower waist circumference, lower total energy (caloric) intake, and higher HDL cholesterol.  Glucose tolerance was the same for both diets.  Fasting blood sugars tended to decrease more on the Paleo diet, but did not reach statistical significance (p=0.08).

So What?

The greater improvement in multiple cardiovascular risk factors seen here suggests that the Paleo diet has potential to reduce the higher cardiovascular disease rates we see in diabetics.  Larger studies—more participants—are needed for confirmation.  Ultimately, we need data on hard clinical endpoints such as heart attacks, strokes, and death.

These diabetics had their blood sugars under fairly good control at baseline.  I wouldn’t be surprised if diabetics under poor control—hemoglobin A1c of 9%, for example—would see even greater improvements in risk factors as well as glucose levels while eating Paleo.

I see a fair amount of overlap between this version of the Paleo diet and Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution diet and the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Jönsson, T., Granfeldt, Y., Ahrén, B., Branell, U., Pålsson, G., Hansson, A., Söderström, M., & Lindeberg, S. (2009). Beneficial effects of a Paleolithic diet on cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: a randomized cross-over pilot study Cardiovascular Diabetology, 8 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1475-2840-8-35

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Filed under coronary heart disease, Glycemic Index and Load, Mediterranean Diet

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages: Bane of Mankind?

Over the last 30 years in the U.S., consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) has increased from3.9% of total calories to 9.2% (in 2001).  In that same time span, the percentage of overweight American adults increased from 47% to 66%.  The obesity percentage rose from15 to 33% of adults. 

[Did the beverages cause the weight gain, or are they just associated?] 

Those are just a few of the many facts shared by the authors of “Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease risk,” published recently in Circulation.  Sugar-sweetened beverages, by the way, include soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and vitamin water drinks. 

ResearchBlogging.orgSounds like an interesting article, doesn’t it?  It’s written by some of the brightest lights in nutritional science, including George Bray and Frank Hu.  Unfortunately, the article is a little too boring and technical for most of my readers.  Here are a few tidbits I enjoyed:

  • Fructose (found in similar amounts in sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup) may particularly predispose us to deposit fat in and around our internal abdominal organs (“visceral fat,” which some believe to be more unhealthy than fat  in our buttocks or thighs).
  • Fructose may also lead to fat deposits in cells other than fat cells, potentially interfering with cell function.
  • Fructose may adversely affect lipid metabolism (higher triglyceride levels and lower HDL levels, which could promote heart disease).
  • Fructose raises blood pressure and reduces insulin sensitivity.
  • In the liver, fructose is preferentially converted to lipid, causing high triglyceride levels (associated with heart disease and insulin resistance).  [The authors did not mention the common condition of “fatty liver” (aka hepatic steatosis) in this context.]

Some of the authors conclusions:

  • SSBs are the largest contributor to added-sugar intake in the U.S.
  • SSBs contribute to weight gain.
  • SSBs may cause type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease—separate from their effect on obesity—via high glycemic load and increased fructose metabolism, in turn leading to insulin resistance, inflammation, pancreas beta cell impairment, high blood pressure, visceral fat build-up, and adverse effects on blood lipids.

I especially like their final sentence:

For these reasons and because they have little nutritional value, intake of SSBs should be limited, and SSBs should be replaced by healthy alternatives such as water.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Malik, V., Popkin, B., Bray, G., Despres, J., & Hu, F. (2010). Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Circulation, 121 (11), 1356-1364 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.109.876185

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Filed under Carbohydrate, Causes of Diabetes, coronary heart disease, Glycemic Index and Load, Overweight and Obesity

Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet Improves Glucose Control and Heart Risk Factors in Overweight Diabetics

In overweight type 2 diabetics, a low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet improved HDL cholesterol levels and glucose control better than either the standard Mediterranean diet or American Diabetes Association diet, according to Israeli researchers reporting earlier this year.

Background

Prior studies suggest that diets rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (olive oil, for example) elevate HDL cholesterol and reduce LDL cholestrol and triglycerides in type 2 diabetics.

Low-carb diets improve blood sugar levels and reduce excess body weight in type 2 diabetics, leading to the ADA’s allowance in 2008 of a low-carbohydrate diet as an alternative to standard diabetic diets.

Many—probably most—type 2 diabetics have insulin resistance:  the body’s cells that can remove sugar from the bloodstream are not very sensitive to the effect of insulin driving sugar into those cells.  They “resist” insulin’s effect.  Consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids  improves insulin sensitivity.  In other words, insulin is better able to push blood sugar into cells, removing it from the bloodstream.

Previous studies have shown that both low-carb diets and the Mediterranean diet reduce after-meal elevations in blood sugar, which likely lowers levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol.

How Was the Study Done?

The goal was to compare effects of three diets in overweight type 2 diabetics in Israel over the course of one year.  Study participants totalled 259.  Average age was 56, average weight 86 kg (189 lb), average hemoglobin A1c 8.3%, and average fasting plasma glucose (sugar) was 10.3 mmol/L (185 mg/dl).  [Many diabetics in the U.S. fit this profile.]  People taking insulin were excluded from the study, as were those with proliferative diabetic retinopathy—no reasons given. 

Participants were randomly assigned to one of three diets, so there were about 85 in each group.  [Over the course of one year, people dropped out of the study for various reasons, leaving each group with about 60 subjects.] 

Here are the diets:

  • 2003 ADA (American Diabetes Association) diet:  50-55% of total caloric intake from carbohydrate (mixed glycemic index carbs), 30%  from fat, 20% from protein
  • Traditional Mediterranean (TM):  50-55% low-glycemic-index carbs, 30% fat—high in monounsaturated fat, 15-20% protein
  • Low-carb Mediterranean (LCM) :  35% low-glycemic-index carbs, 45% fat—high in monounsaturated fat, 15-20% protein

Patients were followed-up by the same dietitian every two weeks for one year.  All were advised to do aerobic exercise for 30-45 minutes at least three days a week.

Olive oil is traditionally the predominant form of fat in the Mediterranean diet and is a particularly rich source of monounsaturated fat.  At no point in this report was olive oil mentioned, nor any other source of monounsaturated fat.  Until I hear otherwise, I will assume that olive oil was the major source of monounsaturated fat in the TM and LCM diets. 

 All diets were designed to provide 20 calories per kilogram of body weight. 

In all three diets, saturated fat provided 7% of total calories.  Monounsaturated fatty acids provided 23% of total calories in the LCM, and  10% in the other two diets.  Polyunsaturated fatty acids provided 15% of calories in the LCM, and 12% in the other two diets.  The ADA diet provided 15 grams of fiber, the TM had 30 g, and the LCM had 45 g.

Adherence to the assigned diet was assessed with a “food frequency questionnaire” administered at six months.

What Did the Researchers Find?

Average reported energy intake was similar in all three groups: 2,222 calories per day.

Monounsaturated fat intake differences were statistically significant: 14.6, 12.8, and 12.6% for the LCM, TM, and ADA diets, respectively.  Polyunsaturated fat intake differences were statistically significant: 12.9, 11.5, and 11.2% for the LCM, TM, and ADA diets, respectively.

Percentage of energy from carbs was highest for the ADA diet (45.4%), intermediate for the TM diet (45.2%), and lowest for the LCM diet (41.9%).

At the end of 12 months, all three groups lost about the same amount of weight (8-9 kg or 18-20 lb), body mass index, and waist circumference.

Hemoglobin A1c fell in all three groups, but was significantly greater for the LCM group than for the ADA diet (6.3% absolute value vs 6.7%).

Triglycerides fell in all three groups, but was significantly greater for the LCM diet compared to the ADA diet.

The LCM group achieved a significant increase (12%) in HDL cholesterol compared to the ADA diet, but not different from the TM group.

LDL cholesterol fell in all three groups, and the LCM group’s drop (25%) was clearly superior to that of the ADA diet (14%) but about the same as the TM diet (21%).

Conclusions of the Investigators

We found that an intensive community-based dietary intervention reduced cardiovascular risk factors in overweight patients with [type 2 diabetes] for all three diets.  The LCM group had improved cardiovascular risk factors compared to either the ADA or the TM groups.

Only the LCM improved HDL levels and was superior to both the ADA and TM in improving glycaemic control.

It would appear that the low carbohydrate Mediterranean diet should be recommended for overweight diabetic patients.

My Comments

There’s no way the average diabetic could replicate this low-carb Mediterranean diet without working closely with a dietitian or nutritionist.

Any superiority of this low-carb Mediterranean diet may have as much to do with the increased monounsaturated fat intake as with the reduced carb consumption.  Monounsaturated fatty acid consumption is thought to improve insulin sensitivity. 

NutritionData’s Nutrient Search Tool can give you a list of foods high in monounsaturated fat.

The Mediterranean diet and low-carb diets independently have been shown to lower after-meal glucose levels, which probably lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

I’m disappointed the dietitians were not able to achieve a lower level of carbohydrate consumption in the low-carb Mediterranean diet group.  I suspect if they had, improvements in glucose control and lipids would have been even better.  But proof awaits another day.

We saw last year an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine that showed a dramatic reduction in the need for glucose-lowering drugs in type 2 diabetics following a different low-carb Mediterranean diet over four years, compared to a low-fat American Heart Association diet.  These two studies convince me a low-carb Mediterranean diet has real life-preserving and life-enhancing potential. 

Diabetics looking for a low-carb Mediterranean diet today have several options:

If you’re aware of any other low-carb, explicitly Mediterranean-style diets, please share in the Comments section.

Steve Parker, M.D. 

References: 

Elhayany, A., Lustman, A., Abel, R., Attal-Singer, J., and Vinker, S.  A low carbohydrate Mediterranean diet improves cardiovascular risk factors and diabetes control among overweight patients with type 2 dabetes mellitus:  a 1-year prospective randomized intervention studyDiabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 12 (2010): 204-209.

Esposito, Katherine, et al.  Effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on the need for antihyperglycemic drug therapy in patients with newly diagnosed type 2 diabetesAnnals of Internal Medicine, 151 (2009): 306-314.

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Filed under Carbohydrate, coronary heart disease, Fat in Diet, Glycemic Index and Load, Mediterranean Diet, olive oil

Eat the Right Carbs to Alleviate Diabetes and Heart Disease

Harvard’s Dr. Frank Hu in 2007 called for a paradigm shift in dietary prevention of heart disease, de-emphasizing the original diet-heart hypothesis and noting instead that “. . . reducing dietary GL [glycemic load] should be made a top public health priority.”  Jim Mann at the University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand) authored a 2007 review of carbohydrates and effects on heart disease and diabetes.  Here are highlights from the article summary in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition:

The nature of carbohydrate is of considerable importance when recommending diets intended to reduce the risk of type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease and in the treatment of patients who already have established diseases. Intact fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are the most appropriate sources of carbohydrate. Most are rich in [fiber] and other potentially cardioprotective components.  Many of these foods, especially those that are high in dietary fibre, will reduce total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and help to improve glycaemic control in those with diabetes.

Frequent consumption of low glycaemic index foods has been reported to confer similar benefits, but it is not clear whether such benefits are independent of the dietary fibre content of these foods or the fact that low glycaemic index foods tend to have intact plant cell walls.

A wide range of carbohydrate intake is acceptable, provided the nature of carbohydrate is appropriate. Failure to emphasize the need for carbohydrate to be derived principally from whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables and legumes may result in increased lipoprotein-mediated risk of cardiovascular disease, especially in overweight and obese individuals who are insulin resistant.

Why does this matter to me and readers of this blog?  Dietary carbohydrates are a major determinant of blood sugar levels, tending to elevate them.  Chronically high blood sugar levels are associated with increased complication rates from diabetes.  People with diabetes are prone to develop heart disease, namely coronary artery disease, which causes heart attacks, weakness of the heart muscle, and premature death. 

Steve Parker, M.D.

References: 

Mann, J.  Dietary carbohydrate: relationship to cardiovascular disease and disorders of carbohydrate metabolismEuropean Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 61 (2007): Supplement 1: S100-11.

Hu, Frank.  Diet and cardiovascular disease prevention: The need for a paradigm shift.  Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 50 (2007): 22-24.

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Filed under Carbohydrate, coronary heart disease, Fiber, Fruits, Glycemic Index and Load, Grains, legumes, Vegetables