Glycemic index is a scale of 100, on which foods are ranked on basis of their ability to increase our blood sugar levels post consumption. This scale only ranks foods containing carbohydrates and excludes foods majorly composed of protein and fats as they don’t directly affect the blood sugar level. The ranked foods are divided into 3 categories:
Low: ≤ 55
Medium: 56 - 69
High: ≥ 70
Foods rich in fiber, protein and fats are ranked lower while those containing high amounts of simple carbs are ranked higher as these are digested faster. This simply means foods rich in simple carbs have higher capacity to increase your blood sugar level and will be ranked above 55.
Although people suffering from blood glucose related diseases such as diabetes and PCOS are recommended low GI foods, controlling and lowering high blood sugar levels can be beneficial for weight loss and leading a healthy lifestyle. Some studies have also found that having a low GI diet can reduce CVD risk.
You can combine the following carb sources with meat, fish, dairy, seeds and nuts for a balanced low GI diet.
Grains: minimally processed whole grains like oats, quinoa, couscous, barley, buckwheat.
Fruits: fibrous fruits like apples, apricots, peaches, strawberries, oranges, cherries, coconut, cranberries, blueberries, pears, plums and grapefruit.
Legumes: most types of legumes have low GI such as lentils, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, navy beans.
Vegetables: non starchy vegetables such as carrot, green peas, onions, lettuce, spinach, kale, collard greens, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, eggplant, peppers, zucchini.
Glycemic load, yes it’s a bit different
Although glycemic index gives you the level of sugar present in food, it doesn’t give you a real life picture of food digestion and how high your blood sugar will reach post digestion. Glycemic Load of a food gives you an accurate measure of the effect of food on your blood sugar level. At this point you must be thinking “Coach, I thought you want to make things simple but now you’re just confusing me” fret not my friend, I just wanted you to know the difference, if you stick to glycemic load table you’ll do just fine. Use this table for reference:
The takeaway box:
Although these tools are not absolutely accurate on how things pan out practically but they are definitely useful for understanding what food groups to have less of especially if you are a diabetic or PCOS patient. High GI foods are not completely banned, you can still have them in limits. Some examples of high GI foods are white bread, white rice, processed breakfast cereals, pasta and noodles made of refined flour, potatoes, baked items, soft drinks, packaged fruit juices, packaged snacks.
References and further reading:
Harvard Health. 2017. The Lowdown On Glycemic Index And Glycemic Load - Harvard Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-lowdown-on-glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load> [Accessed 3 July 2020].
Higdon, J., 2003. Glycemic Index And Glycemic Load. [online] Linus Pauling Institute. Available at: <https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/glycemic-index-glycemic-load> [Accessed 1 August 2020].