Food & Nutrition
Understanding the Glycemic Index
Eating a well-balanced diet is essential for good health. Finding out which foods are good (or bad) can be confusing with all the half-truths about carbohydrates that some fad diets offer. Carbs fuel the body much like gasoline powers vehicles. Instead of limiting all carbohydrates, focus on eating high-quality carbs.
The glycemic index helps you compare the quality of carbohydrates in different foods. Click through the slideshow to learn more about the glycemic index.
What Is the Glycemic Index?
Dr. David Jenkins created the glycemic index (GI) to learn which foods are best for people with diabetes. Instead of categorizing carbohydrates as simple or complex, the GI ranks foods using a scale ranging from 0 to 100.
Foods that quickly raise blood glucose levels receive a higher glycemic index number than foods that raise blood glucose levels more slowly.
Your body responds to blood glucose spikes by producing more insulin, a hormone that causes your body to stop burning fat and start burning carbohydrates. It also sends out hunger signals and tells your body to store more fat.
When you consume lower-GI foods, it helps you to avoid blood glucose spikes, as well as manage your weight and overall health.
How to Score Foods
According to the Mayo Clinic, foods that score 70 or more are considered high glycemic foods. White bread, baked potatoes, and doughnuts fall into this category. A glycemic score ranging from 56 to 69 earns a medium glycemic index. Examples of these foods include bananas, pineapple, and even certain kinds of ice cream.
Low glycemic foods have a score less than 55 on the glycemic index. Some examples are skim milk, kidney beans, and raw carrots.
Glycemic Index of Vegetables
If you’ve taken a trip to the grocery store lately, you may have noticed a glycemic score listed next to fruits and vegetables. With the exception of potatoes (a baked potato has a GI score of 85), most vegetables have low glycemic index numbers.
Low GI veggies include:
- carrots (35)
- green peas (51)
- yams (54)
- parsnips (52)
Glycemic Index of Fruits
Although fruits generally have higher glycemic scores than vegetables, many are low GI foods that energize your body because they are absorbed more slowly than foods with higher GI scores.
These low carbohydrate fruits can help control appetite, delay hunger cues, and help with weight management:
- apple (39)
- prune (29)
- grapefruit (25)
- pear (38)
- orange (40)
Balancing Low and High Glycemic Foods
Just because a fruit or vegetable receives a high GI number doesn’t mean you should avoid eating it. Unlike low-carb diets, the glycemic index does not prevent you from consuming high GI foods altogether.
For example, if you want a baked potato for dinner occasionally, just be sure to balance the meal with a low GI food, such as broccoli. Avoid overly large portions of pasta and rice.
Many foods that are required for a healthy diet also carry low GI scores, such as:
- whole grain breads
- beans and legumes
- fruits and vegetables
- low-fat dairy products
When you avoid processed foods and base your diet primarily on fresh foods, you may reap similar health benefits to the glycemic index diet. However, the index can help steer you toward healthy choices when you need extra dietary guidance.
The Benefits of a Low Glycemic Lifestyle
A diet of low glycemic foods can help people with diabetes better manage their condition. Whether or not you have diabetes, proponents of the diet maintain that a low glycemic lifestyle can help you manage your weight and control your blood sugar levels.
A low glycemic diet also has the potential to improve your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for developing heart disease, while helping you stay fuller longer and with more energy.