Carbohydrates fuel the body much like gasoline powers cars. Instead of limiting all carbohydrates, focus on eating ones that are high quality. Eating a balanced diet is essential for good health.

The glycemic index (GI) helps you compare how quickly your body digests various carbohydrate-containing foods.

Dr. David Jenkins created the GI to rank carbohydrates for people with diabetes. Instead of categorizing carbohydrates as simple or complex, the GI ranks foods on a scale from 0 to 100.

Foods that quickly raise blood glucose levels have a higher GI number than foods that raise blood glucose levels more slowly.

Your body responds to blood glucose spikes by producing more insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose to go from your blood into your cells. If you have insulin resistance, quick spikes in blood sugar over many years may cause your pancreas to tire out. This leads to a reduction in insulin production, which can increase your risk for diabetes.

When you consume foods with a lower GI, it helps you avoid blood glucose spikes, as well as manage your weight and overall health.

According to the Mayo Clinic, foods that score 70 or higher have a high GI. These foods include white bread, baked potatoes, and doughnuts.

Foods that have a GI from 56 to 69 are medium glycemic foods. They include bananas, pineapple, and even certain kinds of ice cream.

Low glycemic foods have a score less than 55 and include skim milk, kidney beans, and raw carrots.

If you’ve gone to the grocery store lately, you may have noticed a glycemic score listed next to the fruits and vegetables. A baked potato has a GI of 85. With the exception of potatoes, most vegetables have a low GI. The following vegetables have a low GI:

  • Carrots have a GI of 35.
  • Green peas have a GI of 51.
  • Yams have a GI of 54.
  • Parsnips have a GI of 52.

Although fruits generally have higher GI scores than vegetables, many have a low GI and energize you because they have fiber, which slows down digestion.

Low-carbohydrate fruits can help control appetite, delay hunger cues, and help you manage your weight. The following fruits have a low GI:

  • Apples have a GI of 39.
  • Prunes have a GI of 29.
  • Grapefruits have a GI of 25.
  • Pears have a GI of 38.
  • Oranges have a GI of 40.

If a fruit or vegetable has a high GI, it doesn’t mean you should avoid eating it. Unlike low-carbohydrate diets, the GI doesn’t suggest you refrain from eating foods that have a high GI altogether. When you eat a meal that has protein, fats, and low and high glycemic index foods, digestion of the food that has a high GI slows down.

For example, if you want a baked potato for dinner, be sure to balance the meal with a food that has a low GI, such as broccoli and some fish, and healthy fat, such as avocado. Avoid overly large portions of foods with a high GI.

Many foods that are part of a healthy diet also have low GI scores, such as:

  • whole grain breads
  • beans
  • legumes
  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • low-fat dairy products

When you base your diet primarily on fresh, non-processed foods that are high in fiber, you’ll naturally be choosing foods that have a low GI. The index can help steer you toward healthy choices when you need extra dietary guidance.

If you have diabetes, a low-glycemic diet can help you manage your condition. Whether or not you have diabetes, proponents of the low glycemic diet maintain it can help you manage your weight and control your blood sugar levels.

A low-glycemic diet can:

  • improve your cholesterol levels
  • reduce your risk of developing heart disease
  • help you stay full longer
  • increase your energy levels