SF: What the Glycemic Index means to you

As you know, you can’t have poor nutrition and expect to be healthy forever. And while we don’t normally write about specific diets, we know that changes to our overall diet can lead to healthy outcomes. We are talking about diet as a lifestyle, not the temporary mindset of losing 10 lbs. (4.53592 kg) and then going off the diet. This is about maintaining a healthy weight – for your lifetime, once and for all. That’s why you should learn more about the Glycemic Index and what that knowledge can do for you if you act on it.

And the more we learn about staying fit and listen to the advice of fitness trainers, family and friends, we now understand more about what we always thought – good nutrition is essential to healthy living. So let’s learn more about Carbohydrates, the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load. Read on…

Glycemic Index ImageIn last week’s article, Food Choice May Affect Your Ability to Keep Weight Off  we shared that a low-glycemic index diet appeared to have benefits similar to a very-low carbohydrate diet with fewer negative effects. The researchers suggest that eating low-glycemic foods like less-processed grains, vegetables and legumes may be the best choice for lasting weight loss and heart disease prevention. Understanding this index will help you the next time you are grocery shopping because you’ll know more about the nutritional value of the foods that you put in your cart. After all, you are spending your hard-earned money so you might as well get the best nutritional value for the cost.

Cara Ebbeling of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital…  found that what you eat can significantly affect your metabolism rate. A diet full of processed foods and simple carbohydrates, which have a high glycemic index, eventually will lead to a slower metabolism.

Understanding Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

Illustration Cereal Rice Pasta Nuts
Image: NIH News in Health

You’ve probably heard of glycemic index and glycemic load. Some studies suggest that sticking to foods with a low glycemic index may help prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Some claim it helps with weight loss. The truth is, we don’t know all the answers yet. Here’s what you need to know.

The glycemic index and load concern carbohydrates, or carbs – one of the main types of nutrients in our diets. Carbs with a simple chemical structure are called sugars. Sugars are found naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables and milk products. They’re also added to many foods and drinks. Complex carbs, like starches and fiber, are found in whole-grain breads and cereals, starchy vegetables and legumes.


glycemic index (GI) –  a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised and cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and, therefore usually, insulin levels.

Source: http://www.gisymbol.com/about/glycemic-index

the glycemic load (GL) of food is a number that estimates how much the food will raise a person’s blood glucose level after eating it. … Glycemic load is based on the glycemic index (GI), and is calculated by multiplying the grams of available carbohydrate in the food times the food’s GI and then dividing by 100.

Source: Glycemic load – Wikipedia

Your digestive system changes the carbs you eat into glucose, a type of sugar that your body uses for energy. Simple carbs are more quickly digested and absorbed than complex ones, so they can raise your blood glucose levels faster and higher.

People with diabetes need to manage their blood glucose levels. High blood glucose can damage tissues and organs. In time, it can lead to heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and other problems. If you have diabetes, controlling your blood glucose will prevent or delay these health complications. So it’s important to understand how foods and drinks affect your blood sugar.

“The evidence seems to support the concept that the more complex carbohydrates will lead to better blood sugar control than the more simple sugars,” says Dr. Myrlene Staten.

Researchers developed the glycemic index to measure the quality of carbs in foods. It shows how the carbs in different foods raise blood sugar. White rice, for example, has a higher glycemic index than brown rice, which has more complex carbs.

Just Carb Types?

But it’s not just the types of carbs that matter. The more carbs you eat, the more your blood sugar rises. “The glycemic index really doesn’t take into consideration how much you eat,” explains Dr. Somdat Mahabir, who studies cancer risk at NIH.

That’s why researchers came up with the concept of glycemic load. It captures both the types of carbs in a food and the amount of carbs in a serving. Essentially, it shows how a portion of food affects your blood sugar. Many things affect the glycemic load, including food processing, how ripe a fruit is, how food is prepared and how long it’s been stored.

Studies of people who use these concepts to guide their diets have found mixed results. “There’s evidence to show that glycemic index and glycemic load are not associated with body weight,” says Dr. Catherine Loria, an NIH expert on nutrition and heart health. “There’s really not enough evidence to show if glycemic index is related to heart disease.” A possible link to cancer is also being explored.

Glycemic index and glycemic load aren’t things you’ll see on a label, so they’re not easy to use. But labels do show helpful information: calories, total carbohydrates, sugars and fiber.

“It makes sense for everybody, not only diabetics, to eat the more complex carbohydrates because they will be more gradually absorbed, and blood sugar highs and lows will be smaller,” Staten says. Whole foods with complex carbs will give you more minerals and vitamins, too, and are usually good sources of fiber.

Wise Choices

Choose More Complex Carbs

  • Choose cereals high in fiber (5 or more grams per serving).
  • Switch to whole grains. Look for whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown or wild rice, barley, quinoa and bulgur.
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and drink less juice.
  • Don’t forget legumes. Try a variety of beans and lentils.
  • Snack on fruit and small portions of nuts and seeds.
  • Limit candy and other junk food.

What to know more?

Here are some links to additional information…

Learn more…

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Thank you for visiting with us today, we hope you found this article informative and helpful. Wishing you the best of health!

PS. don’t forget to visit our bookstore because we have a great selection of books on health and nutrition, and we know how great it is to find just the right book…!


Author: Joan E Wilder

We provide information and motivation focused on the importance of physical activity to our quality of life. It is our hope to help people invest in themselves by staying active throughout their lives. It's that important.

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