“Glycemic index” and “glycemic load” are terms many people associate with diabetes. But, these dietary tools also can be helpful for anyone who is concerned about their intake of sugar, like you! Today Andrea explains the difference between the two, and offers some suggestions on how to use both indexes when trying to lower your sugar intake.
~ The Barbara’s Team
Have you heard of the terms “glycemic index” or “glycemic load”? These indexes are when it comes to maintaining energy levels and losing weight.
The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly the body digests carbohydrates and releases sugar (glucose) into the blood stream. The quicker our body digests a food, the higher our blood sugar level rises. Foods are ranked on a scale of 0 to 100, with foods 0 to 55 considered low, 56 to 69 considered medium, and 70 and higher seen as high on the glycemic index. The higher the number, the greater the impact on our blood sugar levels, so the key is choosing foods that are on the lower end of the scale (in the 0 to 55 range). Meat, fish, dairy products, and fats are not included on the glycemic index because they contain virtually no carbohydrates.
Low-range GI foods contain less sugar than those in the medium and high categories. At the same time, the more fat and/or fiber a food has, the lower it tends to be on the GI. Whole wheat bread, for example, is lower than white bread because it has more fiber. Similarly:
- Applesauce is higher than a whole apple
- Mashed potatoes are higher than a whole baked potato
- White rice is higher than brown rice
- Eating foods that contain more fiber and/or fat generally means you feel more satisfied and thus less likely to overeat.
The key is keeping our blood sugar levels balanced. When our blood sugar levels fluctuate high and low, our body stores more fat (when it is high) and we end up craving more sugar (when it is low) –so it becomes a vicious cycle. Properly balancing our blood sugar levels helps us to lose weight, keep it off, and have more energy.
You can see samples of the glycemic index on the internet. For example, Harvard University provides a list of 100 foods and their GI values. In addition, many food manufacturers list glycemic index values on their product labels.
Here are a few more things you should know about the glycemic index:
- The longer you cook pasta, rice, beans and legumes, or grains, the higher the GI value.
- Very ripe fruit and vegetables have a higher GI than less ripe fruit and veggies.
- Preparing foods with acids, such as vinegar or lemon juice, lowers the glycemic index.
- You can help lower the overall glycemic index of a meal if you eat foods on the low end of the scale along with those on the higher end.
The glycemic index is a tool you can use to help you lower your sugar intake. However, just because a food has a low glycemic index value, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy. A ripe banana has a higher value than corn chips, but which food do you think has the higher nutritional value?
Glycemic load (GL) is another rating system for foods that are rich in carbohydrates. It measures the amount of carbs per serving of food. Foods and beverages with a glycemic load of less than 10 are low load and have a minor impact on your blood sugar. Foods ranked between 10 and 20 are considered moderate load (and moderate blood sugar impact), while those higher than 20 can cause your blood sugar to spike.
Because GL ranks foods based on serving size and glycemic index does not, GL is considered to be a more accurate indicator of the impact of a food on blood sugar levels. For example, the glycemic index for watermelon is 72 (which is based on 5 cups of the fruit), but its GL is 7.21, which is low. That’s because watermelon is mostly water and doesn’t have much in the way of carbs. Thus one serving of watermelon won’t send your blood sugar soaring.
Therefore, it’s best to know both the GI and GL of a food. Generally, foods and beverages with lower GI and GL values are high in nutrients and fiber and will help you maintain better balance in energy and mood throughout the day.
 Harvard University. Glycemic index. http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods
 Huffington Post. Glycemic load and glycemic index. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riva-greenberg/gl-and-gi_b_863126.html
Andrea Donsky, B. COMM, is an Author, Registered Holistic Nutritionist (R.H.N.), Editor-in-Chief, and Founder of NaturallySavvy.com. Her passion is to inspire people to make enlightened choices for healthy living. Andrea has combined her background and expertise as both a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and an entrepreneur to educate the public on living an organic and non-GMO lifestyle through the creation of her businesses, books, articles, videos, speeches, and media appearances.