Understanding Glycemic Index And Glycemic Load of Food

We all know that eating healthy is important, but it can be hard to stick with this habit if you’re not sure what to eat.

Eating a diet high in sugar will make your body crave more sugar and never satiate you. This leads to an unhealthy cycle where you are constantly craving food that is bad for you.

Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL) are two ways to measure how quickly carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels after being eaten.

A GI of 55 or less is low, 56-69 is medium, and 70 or more is high. A GL of 10 or less is low, 11-19 is medium, and 20 or above is high.

Therefore a food with a low glycemic index means that it takes the body longer to break down. The carbohydrates in these foods release glucose into the bloodstream faster than foods with a high glycemic index, therefore keeping you fuller for longer.

On the other hand, foods with a ‘high’ glycemic index will cause a rapid spike in glucose levels and then a sudden drop. This will result in you feeling hungry sooner.

That is why it’s good to consume most of your carbohydrates from sources with low GI values instead of high GI ones.

In this article, we will explore these measurements further by looking at some common examples.

What Is The Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index ranks foods on a scale from 0 to 100 according to how they affect blood glucose levels.

A low-glycemic food doesn’t spike your blood sugar level, and it gives you lasting energy for hours that you can count on without eating again soon.

Foods with a high glycemic index (high GI) are made up mostly of rapidly digested carbohydrates.

They provide little nutritional value and should be avoided as they will cause increased hunger and food cravings, often followed by binge eating.

Glucose, a simple sugar found in fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, or starches such as potatoes, has a GI level of 100.

This means glucose raises blood sugar levels to the greatest extent, whereas other foods raise it much less.

When you eat high-GI foods, your body changes its metabolism so that the body can handle the rapid intake of food and sugars.

If you eat low-GI foods consistently, your body will need to adjust by lowering its metabolism.

How Is The Glycemic Index Calculated?

Researchers measure the change in blood glucose levels after a person has eaten 50 grams of carbohydrates from a particular food and then compares it with the same amount of carbohydrates from pure glucose (which is known as a reference food).

They do this by measuring the increase in blood glucose levels over two hours and calculating the food’s glycemic index.

Using The Glycemic Index

A major benefit of using the GIs is that it provides you with a tool to help you choose healthier options.

It allows you to make better food choices based on your needs for managing weight or diabetes.

For instance, if you are looking to lose weight and have high blood sugar or diabetes risk, the GI will help you choose foods that will help keep your blood glucose levels under control.

If you want to lose weight, it is important that your meals and snacks are not causing a sudden high spike in blood sugar.

This will keep you from feeling hungry within an hour of eating and prevent you from overeating.

Related: Lose Weight By Cutting Out Carbohydrates

What Is Glycemic Load?

Glycemic load is an easier way of calculating what a certain serving size will do to your blood sugar levels.

It factors in both the GI level of a food and the amount of carbohydrates that are in a serving size.

For instance, if you eat mostly low-GI foods and have twice as much sugar per serving than is needed for energy, then your blood glucose levels are going to increase twice as much as someone who eats only one serving of that food.

It is a helpful way to find out how certain foods will affect your blood sugar levels before you eat them.

Many studies suggest that it is not only the GI but the amount of carbohydrate in a food or meal that leads to an increase in blood glucose levels.

In fact, when foods with a high GI are included in a meal, the overall effect on blood sugar levels is lowered.

When you add carbohydrates to your body, they turn into glucose and create an insulin response. So the more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your blood sugar level will be.

Low GI And GL Foods

Low-GI foods are better choices if you need to manage your weight or have a health risk such as diabetes.

Some examples of low-glycemic index foods are beans, lentils and chickpeas, fruits (especially berries), lettuce, spinach, and broccoli.

If you eat these foods more often in place of high GI foods, you will help support your weight management and diabetes health.

Low Glycemic Load (GL) Foods

There is another way to use the GI and GL to show how much carbohydrate is in a serving of an average food amount.

The GL considers the number of servings of carbohydrates in a particular food, which can give you an estimate of the carbohydrate content.

The number of servings, as well as the number of foods that you are eating, will vary depending on your portion size, so you should consult the Glycemic Load table and try to compare similar types of food for a more accurate picture.

When a serving of a low-GI food has an elevated glycemic load (GL), this means that the carbohydrates in it have a higher Glycemic Index than normal.

Examples Of Low GL Foods

Low-GL foods include all the foods listed above and include some more moderate ones such as milk, yogurt, and grains.

It is important to be aware of this because many people choose these types of food thinking they are doing healthy options only to find out they are not.

Glycemic Load can be a handy tool for people with diabetes to use when they are choosing foods. It helps them focus more on the carbohydrate content and kcal in foods rather than their GI value alone.

Examples of Low GI Food Groups

1 – Beans and lentils (including baked beans)

2 – Breads, cereals, and grains with low or medium GI values

3 – Milk, yogurt, and ice-cream

4 – Fruits (without the skin)

5 – Pasta

6 – Vegetables

7- Nuts and seeds

8 – Meat or fish

9 – Desserts/sweets

10 – Fizzy drinks and juices

11 – Condiments, sauces, spreads, salad dressings

How To Spot Hidden Sugar In Your Food

Once you know a food’s glycemic index number (or its glycemic load) and whether it has been spiked with added sugar, the Glycemic Load table becomes one of your most useful tools.  

It enables you to spot hidden sugar in foods that, at first glance, don’t seem like they contain very much.  

For example, did you know that many breakfast cereals contain more sugar than a chocolate bar?  Or that some yogurts actually have as much sugar per gram as jam does?

Some of the “healthiest” snacks and foods can contain shocking amounts of added sugar.  

Once you learn to spot it, you might be surprised how much sugar is added to seemingly healthy products like yogurt and cereal.

Learning about your own specific risk for diabetes can help you make more informed food choices so that you can take steps toward preventing the disease or at least reducing your chances of getting it.

If merely having all this information isn’t enough motivation, I’m sure the health benefits of making wise food choices will be.  If you are already diabetic, knowing this information might help you better manage your disease and even help improve your quality of life.

Do yourself a favor and start reading labels!  Don’t let sugar sneak up on you.

Related: Is There A Direct Link Between Cancer And Sugar?

Summary

The glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) of foods are guidelines about how food affects your blood sugar levels.

Low GI foods are better choices if you need to manage your weight or have a health risk such as diabetes.

Low GL foods include all the foods listed above but also include some more moderate ones such as milk, yogurt, and grains. It is important to be aware of this because many people choose these types of food thinking they are doing healthy options only to find out they are not.

GL can be a handy tool for people with diabetes to use when they are choosing foods. It helps them focus more on the carbohydrate content and kcal in foods rather than their GI value alone.

Many foods that you would not expect to be high in sugar can have traces of hidden sugars included, such as orange juice, bread, and low-fat yogurt.

Even some savory snacks can contain the sweetener sucralose under different names, so it is good to read the label ingredients list to see if you can find any.

Some examples of hidden sugar names on labels are: fructose, sucrose, evaporated cane juice, or crystalline fructose.

It is important to keep monitoring your blood glucose levels and the glycemic index of foods to know how certain foods affect your body.

The GI and GL, in particular, will help you make better choices, eat more healthily and manage your weight or diabetes well.

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