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Understanding Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

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How the Glycemic Index Works

 

Carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream, have a low glycemic index. A lower glycemic index suggests slower rates of digestion and absorption of the sugars and starches in the foods and may also indicate greater extraction from the liver and periphery of the products of carbohydrate digestion. Examples of some low GI foods include:

The Glycemic Load: A Better Measure

The GI tells you how quickly a particular carbohydrate in food makes your blood sugar rise, but it doesn't take into account how many carbohydrates are found in a serving. The glycemic load, however, takes the number of carbs per serving into consideration along with the food's glycemic index. To find a food's glycemic load, you basically multiply its GI value by number of carbohydrates per serving. Therefore, the glycemic load allows us to compare the likely effect on blood sugar of realistic serving sizes of different foods.

What Influences the Glycemic Load/Index?

Many factors help determine your body's glycemic response to a particular food, including:

  • Physical form, such as a whole apple vs. applesauce. Mashing foods tends to give them a higher glycemic index/load.
  • Processing. The more processed or refined a food, generally, the higher its glycemic index/load will be.
  • Ripeness. The riper the fruit, the higher its glycemic index.
  • Acidity. The higher a food's acidity, the lower its glycemic index/load.
  • Fiber. Particularly viscous fiber, a type of soluble fiber found in oats, barley, and other foods. Generally, the higher the fiber, the lower the glycemic index/load.
  • Whether protein and fat were eaten with the food. The presence of high amounts of protein and fat will decrease the glycemic index/load.

The following foods, even in large amounts, when eaten alone are not likely to cause a significant rise in blood sugar because they contain little carbohydrate: meat, poultry, fish, avocados, salad vegetables, eggs, fish, and cheese.

Glycemic Load and Index Values for Common Foods

Here are glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) values for some common foods. I have included their fiber content as well. Keep in mind that GI/GL is just one tool. Other aspects of food, like vitamin, mineral, fiber, and phytochemical content, are also very important.

This table uses white bread as the reference for glycemic index. White bread has a glycemic index of 100 when used as the reference food.

Glycemic Load and Index Values for Common Foods

Here are glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) values for some common foods. I have included their fiber content as well. Keep in mind that GI/GL is just one tool. Other aspects of food, like vitamin, mineral, fiber, and phytochemical content, are also very important.

This table uses white bread as the reference for glycemic index. White bread has a glycemic index of 100 when used as the reference food.

Food GI GL *Fiber (g)
BEVERAGES
Milk, whole 38 4 0
Milk, skim 46 6 0
Chocolate milk (2%) 49 12 1.2
Coca-Cola 90 22 0
JUICES
Apple, unsweet 57 17 0.3
Carrot juice, fresh 61 14 1
Cranberry juice cocktail 97 33 0.3
Grapefruit, unsweet 69 12 0.3
Orange, unsweet 71 18 0.5
Pineapple, unsweet 66 22 0.5
Tomato, canned (no added sugar) 54 6 1.1
BREADS
Bagel, white (Lenders) 103 35 1.8
Baguette, plain 136 21 1.8
Oat-bran bread 63 11 1.4
Rye bread 71 8 1.8
White bread 100 14 0.7
100% whole-grain bread 73 10 4.5
BREAKFAST CEREALS
All-Bran (Kellogg's) 54 13 9.7
Bran Chex 83 15 4.9
Cheerios 106 21 2.6
Corn Chex 118 29 0.5
Cornflakes 130 33 0.8
Corn Pops 114 29 0.4
Cream of Wheat 105 30 3
Crispix 124 30 0.7
Froot Loops 99 25 0.6
Golden Grahams 102 25 0.9
Grape-Nuts 107 22 2.6
Oat bran, raw 78 4 1.5
Raisin Bran 87 17 4
Rice Chex 127 32 0.3
Rice Krispies 117 30 0.3
Shredded Wheat 107 21 3
Special K 98 19 0.9
Total 109 24 2.6
GRAINS
Barley, pearl 36 15 5.7
Buckwheat 78 22 6
Bulgur (cracked wheat), boiled 68 17 7
Corn, sweet, cooked 85 20 4
Couscous, boiled 5 min. 93 23 2.1
Oats, (as porridge) 83 18 4
RICE
Long grain, white unconverted, boiled 15 min. 71 29 0.6
Uncle Ben's parboiled, 20 minutes 107 39 0.6
Basmati, white 83 30 0.3
Brown rice, steamed 72 22 3
DAIRY PRODUCTS, ETC.
Vanilla ice cream, light (1/2% fat) 67 7 0
Chocolate ice cream, premium (15% fat) 53 6 0.5
Milk, whole 38 4 0
Milk, skim 46 6 0
Vanilla pudding (instant, made w/ whole milk) 57 8 0
Fruit yogurt (low-fat) w/ sugar 47 14 0
Fruit yogurt (nonfat) w/ acesulfame K and Splenda 33 6 1
Soy milk, reduced-fat 63 11 1
FRUIT
Apple 57 8 4
Banana 73 18 3
Cherries 32 4 2.8
Dates, dried 147 58 4.5
Grapefruit, raw 36 4 5
Grapes 66 11 1.2
Kiwifruit 68 7 4.1
Orange 69 7 3
Peach 40 62.4
Pear 54 6 3
Pineapple 84 10 1.5
Plum 34 41.8
Prunes, pitted 41 14 4.3
Raisins 91 28 3
Cantaloupe 93 6 1
Strawberries 57 1 2.8
Watermelon 103 6 0.6
LEGUMES/BEANS
Black-eyed peas 59 18 9.6
Garbanzo beans 39 11 6.6
Kidney beans (canned) 74 12 14
Black beans, soaked overnight, cooked 45 min. 28 7 13.1
Lentils, red 36 7 12
Pinto beans (dried), boiled 55 14 13
Soybeans, green, boiled 25 1 6.3
PREPARED/CONVENIENCE FOODS
Chicken nuggets 66 10 0.4
Fish sticks 54 10 0
French fries, from frozen 107 30 4.5
Pizza, cheese, from frozen 86 22 2
Pizza, vegetarian (thin crust) 70 17 3
PASTA/NOODLES
Fettuccine, egg noodles 57 25 2
Macaroni, boiled 5 min. 64 30 1
Spaghetti, boiled 5 min. 45 21 3.1
Spaghetti, boiled 11 min. (durum wheat semolina) 84 39 3.1
SNACK FOODS
Corn chips 60 15 1.8
Fruit bars, strawberry 129 32 0.5
Popcorn, plain, cooked in microwave 102 11 3
Pretzels, oven-baked 119 22 1
SWEETS
Chocolate (milk) 49 10 1.7
Chocolate (white) 63 18 0
Roll-Ups (fruit leather w/added vitamin C) 142 33 0
Jelly beans 112 30 0
M&M's, peanut 47 8 1
Snickers bar 97 32 1.5
Twix cookie bar 63 24 0.7
NUTS
Cashews 31 4 1.7
Peanuts 19 1 4
SUGARS
Honey 78 14 0
Sucrose (sugar) 97 10 0
VEGETABLES
Broccoli, steamed 0 0 2.5
Kale, cooked 0 0 2
Spinach, raw 0 0 2.2
Zucchini, steamed 0 0 1
Lettuce, Romaine 0 0 1
Green peas 68 4 4.4
Sweet corn, boiled 85 15 2
Carrots, boiled and peeled 70 3 3
Potato, baked (russet) 121 36 4
Sweet potato, baked with skin 69 22 6

So, What's the Bottom Line on Glycemic Load?

I always look for the bottom line. And in the case of glycemic load, it tends to lead you to less-processed types of carbohydrate-rich foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans/legumes.

The truth is, there is plenty of evidence that a mostly plant-based diet can reduce your risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. And these foods tend to have lower glycemic index numbers.

But we have yet to determine whether a low-glycemic-index diet is really what helps prevent disease, or whether this effect comes mostly from eating a healthful variety of foods.

Last modified on Sunday, 22 January 2012 17:00
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