Glycemic Index of Foods: What Is and Why You Should Care

Your choice of food affects the many components that comprise your body. That is why it is vital to pick the right type and amount of food you consume every day.

Besides knowing the number of carbs, protein, calories, and fats, you also have to consider the food’s glycemic index. Tables and charts about the glycemic index of specific foods are available online.

Thanks to the many institutions who have studied and tested various foods to provide such information.

This article shall discuss the definition of glycemic index, its importance, and the factors affecting its value. A list of the glycemic index values of various foods is also provided for you as a reference.

What is Glycemic Index?

First, let’s define what glycemic index is. The glycemic index or GI is the measurement assigned to a food indicating how quickly it can raise your blood sugar levels.

It is a scale from 1 to 100 that ranks the carbohydrates count in that food. Carbohydrates found in bread, rice, cereals, fruits, and vegetables are broken down into simple sugars during digestion.

The formulation of the GI designated pure sugar as the reference food. Therefore, pure sugar has a GI of 100. Other foods are then ranked from this reference and are classified as having a low, moderate, or high GI.

Foods having a 55 or less glycemic index are considered low GI foods. Medium GI ranges from 56-69, while high GI includes all that is numbered above 70.

For best health benefits, the Glycemic Index Foundation [https://www.gisymbol.com/about-glycemic-index/] recommends an average dietary GI score of 45.

Since it is the average, you don’t need to keep consuming foods with glycemic indices below 45. This only means that there should be a balanced intake of both higher and lower GI foods to achieve such an average.

Importance of Knowing the Glycemic Index of Foods

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1. Blood Sugar Monitoring

The higher the glycemic index of the food, the more quickly it raises your blood glucose levels. Thus, it may cause irregular blood sugar spikes. This indicates how essential it is to learn about the glycemic index of the food you eat, especially for diabetic people.

Those who have diabetes cannot effectively process sugar. This makes it hard for them to maintain a healthy level of blood sugar.

High sugar levels in the bloodstream affect the ability of your pancreatic cells to make insulin. The pancreas, in this case, will tend to overcompensate.

Eventually, it could lead to permanent damage to the organ. It could also impose harmful effects and harden your blood vessels leading to a condition called atherosclerosis.

A low average GI reduces the risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular issues. Foods that contain a low GI level release glucose slowly, giving the body a steady control of the blood sugar levels.

However, the idea of the glycemic index does not take into account the amount of food taken. That is why the glycemic load was developed. It measures how the glycemic index and the number of carbs collectively affect blood sugar levels. Therefore, monitoring of the GI should come hand in hand with carb intake control.

2. Weight Loss Diet

Besides maintaining a healthy blood glucose level, knowing the food’s GI can also help in your weight loss diet. But when compared to other diet plans and rules, it is not the best option.

However, it can be incorporated to get better results. Evidence suggests that eating a low-GI diet can help promote fat loss.

As previously said, consuming foods with high glycemic indices can impose sugar spikes. Irregular sugar spikes are usually followed by rapid declines in blood sugar.

When this happens, you’ll likely feel hungry very quickly, even after eating. Then, you tend to overeat, which contradicts the rules of being on a weight loss diet. However, studies about the low-GI diets as an effective way to lose weight still need more evidence.

3. Energy Recovery

Eating high-GI foods is not always bad. It can actually help you recover energy after exercise. Glucose is the primary energy source of the body. Many athletes use the science behind the glycemic index to prepare for their routines and recover from energy loss.

Also, taking foods high in GI prevents the onset of hypoglycemia. It is a condition characterized by blood sugar levels lower than normal. To avoid this, you have to control your blood sugar level by considering the glycemic index of the food you eat.

4. Mental Performance

Foods with low glycemic indices generate a steady supply of glucose to the brain. Glucose is the fundamental source of energy for the human brain and is essential for its cognitive performance. Therefore, it is crucial to have a healthy dose of it running throughout the day.

Factors Affecting the Glycemic Index of Foods

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The glycemic index of specific foods can be lowered or increased in different ways. Here are some of the factors that influence the GI value of your food:

1. Cooking Method

The way of preparation and cooking of your meal can affect its glycemic index. In general, the longer the food is cooked, the higher the GI will be. This means that the sugars in it will be digested and absorbed faster by the body.

2. Ripeness

Naturally, the riper the fruit, the sweeter it gets. Unripe fruits contain complex carbs that will break down into sugars when it ripens. Therefore, ripe fruits have a higher GI.

3. Food Processing

Processed foods usually contain added sugar. This contributes to the overall sugar content of the food. For instance, commercially available fruit juices have a higher GI than their whole fruit counterparts.

The glycemic index of a packaged food cannot be calculated by only looking at the ingredients. Laboratory tests should be made to determine it. However, some products have a low GI symbol plastered on the package. You may refer to it to know that the product has a low glycemic index.

4. Type of Sugar

Not all sugars are created equal. Some sugar types or forms have lower glycemic indices than the others. Fruit sugar (fructose) has a GI of about 19. Table sugar (sucrose) is at 65.

Maltose, also called malt sugar, has a very high GI of 105. Thus, the glycemic index of a particular food partly depends on the type of sugar it is made with.

5. Food Combination

Combining ingredients for a meal may also help change its glycemic index. For this reason, it is difficult to calculate the exact value of the glycemic index of a food with mixed ingredients.

However, generally, you may add protein and fats to your meal to help reduce glycemic response. Fiber also reduces the total GI of a meal.

Glycemic Index Food List

Glycemic Index Food List

Here is a list of selected common foods with their corresponding glycemic indices according to Diabetes Care [https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/31/12/2281.full#T1] .

The ranges of GI are enclosed in the parentheses. You can view the complete chart from their journal. Remember that the values take pure sugar with a glycemic index equal to 100 as reference.

Low GI Foods

  • Specialty grain bread (53 ± 2)
  • Barley (28 ± 2)
  • White spaghetti (49 ± 2)
  • Corn tortilla (46 ± 4)
  • Raw apple (36 ± 2)
  • Raw orange (43 ± 3)
  • Raw banana (51 ± 3)
  • Raw dates (42 ± 4)
  • Canned peaches (43 ± 5)
  • Strawberry jam (49 ± 3)
  • Apple juice (41 ± 2)
  • Orange juice (50 ± 2)
  • Boiled carrots (39 ± 4)
  • Vegetable soup (48 ± 5)
  • Full-fat milk (39 ± 3)
  • Skim milk (37 ± 4)
  • Soy milk (34 ± 4)
  • Ice cream (51 ± 3)
  • Chocolate (40 ± 3)
  • Fruit yogurt (41 ± 2)
  • Lentils (32 ± 5)
  • Chickpeas (28 ± 9)
  • Soya beans (16 ± 1)

High GI Foods

  • White wheat bread (75 ± 2)
  • Whole wheat bread (74 ± 2)
  • Boiled white rice (73 ± 4)
  • Boiled brown rice (68 ± 4)
  • Cornflakes (81 ± 6)
  • Instant oatmeal (79 ± 3)
  • Rice porridge (78 ± 9)
  • Raw watermelon (76 ± 4)
  • Boiled potato (78 ± 4)
  • Rice milk (86 ± 7)
  • Rice crackers (87 ± 2)

Additionally, foods that have few to no carbs generally do not have a GI value. Many of them are loaded with protein instead. These types of foods can be added to a low-GI diet, and these include:

  • Fish and Shellfish: including tuna, salmon, and sardines
  • Meat Products: beef, pork, and lamb
  • Poultry Products: chicken and eggs
  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, and others
  • Fats and Oils: avocado, butter, olive oil
  • Spices: garlic, salt, pepper, and other herbs

The Take-Away

In summary, the glycemic index is just one of the many food components that you should take into account for a balanced diet. Foods with low glycemic indices generally help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and provide sufficient energy to the body.

They also aid in reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease. However, this does not mean that you have to always avoid high GI foods. Switch between high and low GI foods carefully to sustain a regulated blood glucose level. Be sure to focus on whole foods rather than on processed ones. Accompany your balanced diet with adequate sleep and exercise.

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