The Low Glycemic Load Diet: A Secret to Successful Weight Loss

Chestnut and Butterbean Soup is fast, easy, and deliciously filling

The secret to successful weight loss isn’t starving yourself, nor is it limiting your food choices or following a rigid pattern of eating. It is simply to keep your blood sugar balanced and your food choices healthy. This will not only help you lose weight, but will also give you more energy and plenty of welcome side effects, such as better skin, improved digestion, and enhanced mood. You can even reverse diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Stable blood sugar is crucial for successful weight loss and feeling good, because when your blood sugar is too high, you gain weight, and when it’s too low, you feel lethargic.

After 20 years of research into healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss, I’ve discovered that the best way to achieve stable blood sugar is to eat a low glycemic load diet.

Glycemic Load – or GL for short – is a unit of measurement, much like grams, litres, centimetres, and calories. GLs are used to measure the amount of sugar and starch in food, and their impact on the body. They show how much carbohydrate there is in each food (and therefore how much glucose it will create and release into the bloodstream as blood sugar) and how fast the carbohydrate will break down into glucose (and therefore how quickly your blood sugar levels will rise).

This information is important because blood sugar levels are linked to hunger and the way we eat. When you haven’t eaten for a while, your blood sugar level will dip, and you will become hungry. When you eat a food containing carbohydrate, glucose is released into your bloodstream and your blood sugar level will rise again. The key to achieving your perfect weight is to keep your blood sugar levels stable. To do this, you need to eat healthy foods that provide you with glucose in the right quantities.

Low-GL foods release their glucose more slowly, so you maintain stable energy levels for longer. When you eat a low-GL diet: You will stop producing more glucose than you can use, so you won’t gain fat; You won’t suffer from food cravings; Your body will be reprogrammed to burn fat rapidly; You will be able to lose weight and sustain your weight loss permanently.

Low Glycemic-Load Diet is Scientifically Proven to Work

There is a wealth of evidence to support the positive benefits of a low-GL diet. In one study done in 1994, nutritionists tested two groups of 15 people. They put one group on a low-GL diet and the other group on a calorie-controlled diet. Both diets contained identical numbers of calories. During the first 12 weeks, both groups lost weight, but those on the low-GL diet lost an average of 1.9 kg (4 lb 3oz) more weight per person.

During the second 12-week period, half the group members switched diets. Those on the low-GL diet lost an average of 2.9 kg (6 lb 6oz) more per person than those on the low-fat, low-calorie diet. Overall, those on the low-GL diet lost 40 percent more weight than those on a calorie-controlled diet.

Three Simple Rules

The beauty of eating a low-GL diet is that you just don’t feel hungry. This is because you eat regularly and can have decent portions. A low-GL diet is also easy to follow. You just need to follow three golden rules:

  1. Eat no more than 40 GLs a day
  2. Eat protein with carbohydrate
  3. Graze, don’t gorge

Your GL intake breaks down as 10 GLs each for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus 5 GLs for a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack – so you eat (or graze) regularly instead of gorging at one or two big meals. Here’s what a typical day’s food intake could look like:

Breakfast (GL score)
A bowl of porridge (30g) 2 GLs
1/4 cup milk (coconut, cow, or nut) 2 GLs
Half a grated apple 3 GLs
A small tub of yogurt 2 GLs
AM Snack – A bowl of strawberries 4 GLs
Lunch – A substantial tuna salad, plus 3 oatcakes 11 GLs
PM Snack – A pear and a handful of peanuts 4 GLs
Dinner – Tomato soup, salmon, brown rice, and green beans 12 GLs
Total GL score 40 GLs


To work out the GL score of different foods, refer to the Low GL Diet Bible, or The Holford Low-GL Diet Made Easy. You can also refer to the Holford Low GL Diet Cookbook. All books also provide lots of easy recipes and new food ideas, plus tips on exercise and supplements to enhance your program.

Meal balancing is also key. This means eating a combination of both carbohydrate and protein foods at every meal. It is an important concept at the heart of the low-GL diet. Protein foods (such as fish, eggs, meat, dairy, tofu, or pulses) have virtually no effect on blood sugar levels, and we only need small portions to feel full. This is the opposite of the effect of carbohydrate foods (such as sugars, cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables).

However, protein foods are often high in fat, especially ‘bad’ fats rather than the omega-3 and omega-6 essential ‘good’ fats. Eaten on their own and in large quantities, protein foods are bad news for our health. But eating them with low-GL starchy carbohydrates and non-starchy vegetables results in high energy, low blood sugar, and optimum health, so you will feel less hungry for longer, lose more weight permanently, and supply your body with the essential fats that it needs for good health.

The easiest and most visual way to make protein-carb combining a part of your daily life is to keep your food in the following proportions:

• A quarter of each main meal should be protein.

• A quarter of each meal should be carbohydrate: starchy vegetables or other starchy foods.

• Half of each meal should be non-starchy vegetables.

A similar principle applies to snacks, which should comprise both protein (for example, 50 g of nuts or seeds) and low-GL carbohydrate (such as a pint of berries).

Recommended Protein foods include: Organic tempeh, chicken (no skin), turkey (no skin), Quorn, salmon and trout, tuna (canned in brine), sardines (canned in brine), cod, clams, prawns, mackerel, oysters, yogurt (natural, low-fat), cottage cheese, hummus, skimmed milk, eggs (boiled), quinoa, baked beans, kidney beans, black-eyed beans, lentils.

Starchy vegetables include: Organic Pumpkin/squash, cooked carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, cooked beet root, boiled potato, sweet potato, sweet corn, corn on the cob, baked potato, broad beans.

Starchy grains and pasta include: Organic quinoa, cornmeal, pearl barley, bulgar, brown rice (ideally basmati), white rice, couscous, wholemeal pasta

Non-starchy vegetables include: Alfalfa, asparagus, aubergine, bean sprouts, raw beet root, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, raw carrot, cauliflower, celery, courgette, cucumber, endive, fennel, garlic, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peas, peppers, radish, rocket, runner beans, spinach, spring onions, tomatoes, watercress.

Does It Work?

“I retired from work in June 2009. I was very overweight and was taking medication for high blood pressure. I overslept a lot and had very little energy, often feeling depressed. I came across and decided to buy The GL Bible and the Ten Secrets of Healthy People. I was very impressed with the information they contained, as it was well supported by reference to scientific and medical research. I started to follow the GL diet and was pleasantly surprised to see an increase in my weekly weight loss. The most surprising aspect of this diet was that I seldom felt hungry. My healthier lifestyle provided some unexpected benefits: my mood has improved greatly, and I wake early every morning, clear-headed and without the aid of an alarm clock. My blood pressure has returned to a normal level and I have been off the medications for the last four weeks. I have lost over 100 lbs in 7 months.” -Eamon Weadwick

“When I tried to put on my wedding dress, I was horrified that I couldn’t get it on! I couldn’t believe that 28 lbs had crept on so easily. I started the Holford Low-GL Diet and was amazed that I was able to shed the weight so easily without feeling hungry. I lost 19 lbs over six weeks, lost 8 inches off my waist, and dropped two dress sizes. Everyone was completely astonished when they saw me six weeks later.” -Julie Watson

* For more information on xylitol, check out the blog post by holistic nutritionist Julie Daniluk at

Chewy and satisfying, this muesli is lower in carbohydrates than the classic type, as it features more nuts and seeds than grains and no dried fruit (which is very high in sugar). It is also wheat- and sugar-free, unlike most of the bought varieties, but you can use a little xylitol (a natural sugar derived from plants)* to sweeten it if you like. (Serves 2).

(GLs per serving = 4)

Allergy suitability: wheat-, dairy-, yeast-free


  • 100 g (4 oz) whole oat flakes
  • 50 g (2 oz) ground almonds
  • 2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 2 Tbsp walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
  • 2 tsp xylitol (optional)

1) Stir all the ingredients together until well mixed.

2) Serve with a tablespoon of berries per person, and a small pot of live natural yogurt or soy yogurt, or skim milk, soy milk, or nut milk (total GLs = 10).

3) Variations: Vary the nuts and seeds (pecans or hazelnuts would work well instead of the walnuts)

Chestnuts have the lowest fat content of all nuts and a pleasantly sweet flavour. The blended butterbeans thicken the soup and provide a creamy consistency without needing to add dairy products or flour. This is fast, easy, and deliciously filling. (Serves 2.)

(GLs per serving – 12)

Allergy suitability: Gluten-, wheat-, dairy-, yeast-free


  • 200 g (7 oz) cooked and peeled chestnuts (available vacuum-packed in boxes, cans, or jars)
  • 1 410g can of butterbeans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 3 tsp reduced salt vegetable bouillon powder dissolved in 600 ml (1 pint) water
  • Freshly ground black pepper

1) Place all of the ingredients (except for a handful of the chestnuts and the pepper) in a saucepan, place a lid on it, and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes.

2) Purée the soup in a blender or food processor until smooth and season with the black pepper.

3) Sprinkle the reserved chestnuts on top. This is very filling on its own, or you could serve it with a slice of toasted rye bread or a couple of oat cakes.

This is better made in advance to allow the flavours to develop and mingle – it is actually best the day after cooking, so if you are very organized it is ideal for an easy supper that simply needs heating through. This version uses more vegetables than standard recipes to optimize the nutrient content. Serves 4 (keep some in the fridge for easy meals or freeze leftovers).

(GLs per serving – 7)

Allergy suitability: gluten-, wheat-, dairy-, yeast-free

Maintenance phase (per person): serve with 45 g brown basmati rice (dry weight) and a green salad (total GLs = 15)


  • 450 g (1 lb) lean organic beef mince (Vegetarians substitute soy mince)
  • 2 tsp coconut oil or olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 pepper, diced
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1-2 tsp crushed chili flakes (according to taste)
  • 250 g (9 oz) mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 400 g can chopped organic tomatoes
  • 3 Tbsp tomato purée
  • 4 tsp reduced salt vegetable bouillon powder
  • 1 410 g can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • Freshly ground black pepper

1) Cook the mince in a large frying pan until it starts to turn grey/brown, scooping off any fat that appears with a teaspoon.

2) Heat the oil in a separate pan and fry the onion, garlic, and pepper for a couple of minutes.

3) Add the cumin, chili powder, and chili flakes, and cook for about 10 minutes.

4) Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes, until soft.

5) Add the mince together with the chopped tomatoes, tomato purée, vegetable bouillon, and beans. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the flavours are combined. Season with black pepper.

6) Serving suggestion (per person): serve with two squares of sesame cornbread and a green salad. (total GLs = 9)

7) Variations: pinto or borlotti beans instead of kidney beans.

This is a simply brilliant recipe – it takes just 30 minutes to make and bake, and is perfect for when you crave bread. Enjoy it warm and crumbly, straight from the oven. Makes 6 squares (serve 2 per person).

GLs per serving: 2 (for a 2 square serving)

Allergy suitability: gluten-, wheat-, dairy-, yeast-free


  • 75 g (3 oz) organic polenta flour or cornmeal
  • 75 g (3 oz) sesame seeds, finely ground
  • 1 Tbsp poppy seeds
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 dessertspoon of coconut oil
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 150 ml (1/4 pt) skim milk, coconut milk, or nut milk
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds, for sprinkling on top

1) Preheat the oven to 200C/400F. Line a baking tray (the mixture half fills one measuring 23 cm x 32 cm – don’t worry if it doesn’t fill the entire tin, as it holds its shape well).

2) In a bowl, mix the polenta or cornmeal with the ground sesame seeds, poppy seeds, salt, and baking powder.

3) Heat the coconut oil gently until melted, then mix with the beaten egg and milk.

4) Stir the wet and dry ingredients together and pour into the prepared baking tray, smoothing out into a level, even shape.

5) Sprinkle sesame seeds on top and pop in the oven for 15 minutes, until the centre is firm and springy to the touch. Slice into six pieces and serve warm from the oven, or allow to cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container (this is better eaten the day of or the day after cooking).

6) Variations: experiment with different herbs and spices like chili, Italian mixed herbs or chives.

This is an impressive dinner party dish that tastes fantastic, yet takes minutes to prepare. It’s served with tenderstem broccoli – young broccoli stems packed with nutrients like vitamin C and antioxidants. Serves 2.

GLs per serving 10

Allergy suitability: gluten-, wheat-, dairy-free


  • 2 portions of flageolet beans in white sauce (see recipe below)
  • 2 handfuls tenderstem broccoli
  • 2 hot smoked trout fillets (approximately 75 g /3 oz each)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 sprigs flat leaf parsley

1) Make the flageolet beans in white sauce according to the recipe.

2) Meanwhile, steam the tenderstem for around 3 to 5 minutes, until tender to the bite. Don’t overcook, as you don’t want to lose all of the nutrients.

3) Place the tenderstem and trout on each plate and top with the beans in sauce. Season with plenty of black pepper and a sprig of parsley.

4) Variations: replace the trout with hot smoked salmon or cooked smoked haddock. Use normal broccoli or purple sprouting broccoli if you can’t get tenderstem.

A wheat- and dairy-free white sauce that is still packed with flavour and wonderfully creamy. The pale green flageolet beans have a delicious, mild flavour that is much less earthy than other beans and pulses, and provides more protein and fibre. Serves 2.

Allergy suitability: gluten-, wheat-, dairy-, yeast-free


  • 210 ml (7 fl oz) skim milk, soy milk, or rice milk
  • 1 Tbsp corn flour
  • 1 Tbsp tahini
  • 2 tsp Marigold reduced salt vegetable bouillon powder
  • 1 410 g can flageolet beans, rinsed and drained

1) Stir half of the milk into the corn flour and mix until smooth.

2) Place in a pan with the tahini and bouillon powder and stir constantly over a gentle heat for around 3 to 5 minutes, gradually adding the rest of the milk to make a smooth, thick sauce.

3) Make the sauce according to the recipe instructions, then stir the beans into the sauce in a pan and heat gently.

No, this isn’t too good to be true – a delicious wheat-free cheesecake that uses rough oat cakes, nuts, and seeds for a much lower GL biscuit base. This delicious pudding also contains plenty of fibre, plus minerals and essential fats from the nuts and seeds. Serves 8.

GLs per serving: 4

Allergy suitability: wheat-free


  • For the base:
  • 25 g (1 oz) coconut oil or butter
  • 15 g (just over 1/2 oz) xylitol
  • 50 g (2 oz) ground almonds
  • 25 g (1 oz) finely-chopped hazelnuts
  • 25g (1 oz) finely-chopped sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds
  • 25 g (1 oz) Nairn’s rough, organic oat cakes, ground
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • For the filling:
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 5 Tbsp xylitol
  • 275 g (10 oz) low fat cream cheese
  • 125 g (just under 5 oz) natural yogurt
  • Finely grated zest of eight lemons (preferably unwaxed)
  • Juice of two lemons
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 Tbsp corn flour

1) Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2 and line a medium-sized, loose-bottomed cake tin (approximately 23 cm/8 1/2 in diameter).

2) Very gently melt the oil or butter in a pan (don’t let it bubble), stir in the xylitol to melt, again taking care not to boil.

3) Remove from heat and stir in the rest of the base ingredients.

4) Press firmly into the bottom of the cake tin with the underside of a tablespoon to cover the base evenly. Bake for 10 minutes, then set to one side (do not attempt to dislodge the base at this point, as it will crumble).

5) Increase the oven temperature to 170C/325F/gas mark 3.

6) Blend all of the filling ingredients together until smooth.

7) Carefully pour onto the prepared base and place in a roasting tin to catch any drips from the bottom of the tin. When the oven is up to temperature, bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the filling is set. Allow to cool before you cut the cheesecake.

8) Variations: vary the nuts and seeds in the base if wished.

Patrick Holford, based in London, England, is a leading pioneer in new approaches to health and nutrition, and is widely respected as one of the world’s leading spokesmen on nutrition and mental health issues. He is also the author of more than 30 health books. For more information go to:

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