Glycemic this and glycemic that. Does any of it really matter?
You’ll notice they both begin with “glycemic.” This is a tip they have to do with sugars and carbs. Not only how much sugar is in foods, but more importantly, how it affects your blood sugar levels.
In general, diets high on the glycemic index (GI) and high in glycemic load (GL), tend to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
FUN FACT: Starches like those in potatoes and grains are digested into sugar. This is because starch is just a bunch of sugars linked together. Digestive enzymes break the sugar bonds so the sugars become “free”. Then those sugars affect your body the same way that eating sugary foods do.
Before addressing weight loss with glycemic index and glycemic load, let’s take a look at some basics.
Glycemic Index Basics
The most common of the two terms is “glycemic index” (GI) and used to be the “gold standard” when considering blood sugar.
As the name suggests, it “indexes” (or compares) the effect different foods have on your blood sugar level. Then each food is given a score from 0 (no effect on blood sugar) to 100 (huge effect on blood sugar). Foods that cause a fast increase in blood sugar have a high GI because the sugar in them is quickly processed by your digestive system and absorbed into your bloodstream. These high GI foods cause a “spike” in your blood sugar.
In case you didn’t guess, pure glucose is given a GI rating of 100. On the other end of the spectrum, with a GI of about 10, you’ll find foods like broccoli, peppers, zucchini, etc.
A Quick Look at GI Ranges:
Low: Anything under 55
Remember, this is a measure of how fast carbohydrate-containing foods are digested and raise your blood sugar. It does Not measure the sugar content of the food.
There are aspects of carbohydrates that determine how a food affects your blood sugar level. Things like fiber and protein can slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. This can even make a high-sugar food low on the GI scale. Also, eating your foods with something acidic can slow the conversion of starch to sugar.
So, if you don’t want to increase your blood sugar levels quickly, choose lower GI foods because they are better at keeping your blood sugar levels stable. (Unless there’s an urgency, you don’t want to spike your blood sugar. You want to keep it as stable as possible.)
FUN FACT: Did you know white bread has a glycemic index of 100 and baked russet potatoes have a glycemic index of 111?!
Glycemic Load Basics
The glycemic load is different than the glycemic index
Glycemic load (GL) doesn’t take into account how quickly your blood sugar “spikes”, but it does look at how high that spike is. Glycemic load is basically how much a food increases your blood sugar.
GL depends on two things. First, how much sugar is actually in the food makes a difference. The second thing is how much of the food is typically eaten. There’s actually a formula to calculate the GL of a food, which is a little more entailed than looking at a chart for a food’s GI…
You multiply a food’s GI by the number of carbohydrate grams in a serving and then divide by 100.
e.g. 2/3 c of white rice has about 36 g of carbs & a GI of 72.
72 x 36 = 2592 / 100 = ~ 26 glycemic load
A Quick Look at GL Ranges:
Low GL: 0-10
Moderate GL: 10-20
High GL: 20+.
Example of GL and GI
So, let’s compare an average (120 g) serving of bananas and oranges:
|Food||GI||Serving size (g)||GL per serving|
(Excerpt from Harvard Health Publications, Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods)
As you can see, the banana and orange have almost the same glycemic index.; this means they both raise your blood sugar in about the same amount of time.
But, the average banana raises the blood sugar twice as high (11) as the orange does (5). So, it contains more overall sugar than the same amount (120 g) of orange.
Of course, this is all relative. A GL of 11 is not high at all. Please keep eating whole fruits. 🙂
When you increase the serving size of a food, the GL increases too. So, the more you eat of a food, the higher the GL.
Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Influence on Health
Certain people should be aware of the effect foods have on their blood sugar. These include people who have diabetes, pre-diabetes or conditions like insulin resistance. If this is you, you should be aware of the glycemic index and glycemic load of foods you eat regularly.
The GI and GL are only two factors to consider when it comes to blood sugar though. Some high GI foods are pretty good for you, but to reduce the impact on your blood sugar consider eating them with a high-fiber or high-protein food or with something acidic like a mentioned earlier.
Something else to consider about GI and GL is you reduce your risk of diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease when you choose non-processed foods (which tend to be lower in Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load).
Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load’s Impact on Weight Loss.
If you consider foods with a lower glycemic index and glycemic load, it could help you lose weight too! There are no “magic” foods, but choosing more foods lower with lower GI & GL vs eating foods at the higher end can help keep your blood sugar stable.
Also, when you choose foods with high fiber vs processed foods you’re working at keeping your blood sugar level. Example: An apple has a GI of about 39 & so does about 50g of ice cream, but because the apple has fiber, it will have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels.
When you keep your blood sugar stable, you’re less likely to have cravings. Plus, you’re not as likely to experience moments of desperation. Keeping your blood sugar stable makes it so much easier to make healthier choices!. Have you ever experienced an energy “crash”? It sends you reaching for those quick “pick-me-up” processed foods, which keep you on a blood sugar roller coaster.
In addition, foods with lower GI & GL (especially veg & whole grain) will typically keep you fuller longer (fiber & stable blood sugar play a big role). So, you can see how GI & GL could help you lose weight.
If you have blood sugar imbalances or diabetes, you should be aware of the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load of your foods.
If you are at risk of diabetes or heart disease, you might try swapping out some higher GI/GL foods and replacing with lower GI/GL foods.
Following a Gl/GL diet isn’t a magic pill for weight loss, but keeping level blood sugar can make it easier to lose weight because it helps keep your blood sugar stable.
Now for a low GI recipe 😉
Add chopped avocado for even more fiber and healthy fat.
Add chopped avocado for even more fiber and healthy fat.