Perhaps you’ve heard the term “glycemic index” before in a book, ad, food label or news story, but do you know much about it? If you’re like me, the answer is no, so I decided I’d do some research and figure out the answers to the most fundamental questions I had regarding this term and share my insights with you.

What is the glycemic index?

The glycemic index is a system that ranks foods on a scale from 1 to 100 based on that food’s effect on blood-sugar levels. The lower the score, the more time it takes for food to be translated into glucose in the bloodstream.

Why does the glycemic index matter?

Low glycemic index diets have been associated with a myriad of health benefits including decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, stroke, depression, chronic kidney disease, gall stones, neural tube defects, uterine fibroids, and various cancers. It also helps those who need to monitor and manage their blood sugar levels know what effect their foods will have on their bodies.

How is the glycemic index measured?

Here’s how the process goes: 50 grams of carbohydrates are measured out of a given food. Once the carbohydrates are consumed, the subject’s blood sugar levels are measured and recorded over the next two hours. This is measured against the effect pure glucose, which is 100 on the index, would have on the body. Some carbs are quickly broken down into sugar (high GI) and released in the bloodstream while others take more time (low GI).

Low GI Medium GI High GI
0–55 56–69 70 or greater

Does changing the physical state of a food alter its GI value?

Yes, it can. Many foods have strong cell walls that take time for the body to break through and break down. However, when some foods are cooked or ground, those cell walls are weakened or broken, making it easier for the body to transform it into glucose to fuel the body. Similarly, when you take away the structure of a fruit by juicing it, the juice has a higher GI than eating the fruit itself. Ripeness can also affect GI value; the riper the fruit, the higher the GI value.

Which foods have high or low GI values?

Vegetables generally have a very low GI value. Exceptions are ones you’d probably expect: beets, corn, sweet potatoes, and especially potatoes, which have a very high value. Fruits generally have a low to moderate GI level due to natural sugar content. Nuts, seeds, and legumes have low values. Seafood, meats and fats generally don’t have a GI value, as they don’t contain carbohydrates.

Grains can vary greatly. 100% whole wheat, rolled or steel-cut oatmeal, and pumpernickel bread are low GI. Quick oats, rye bread, and wild and brown rice have a moderate GI. White bread, many popular cereals, and white rice have a high GI.

Glycemic-Index11

What if I really want a high-GI food, but I don’t want to raise my blood-sugar levels too high?

You can diminish the effect of a high-GI food with a low-GI food. Eating them together will help balance out the effect on blood-glucose levels.

Are low-GI foods healthier than high-GI foods?

Many nutritious foods have high GI values, but many also have low GI values. The healthiness of a food is not gauged by the glycemic index; what is measured is how it will affect blood sugar levels. Always check calories, protein, sugar, etc. on nutrition labels to weigh the benefit of the foods you eat.

Want to know one of the lowest GI foods? Chia. Chia seeds have a score of 1 on the GI scale. Seriously! With the amount of fiber and protein you get with chia seeds, they’re very beneficial. Plus, they are practically flavorless, so they’re easy additions to most any food. Check out Activz Chia by clicking below!

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Holly Proctor

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