The Glycemic Index (GI) is an extremely important tool to have in your toolbox when looking to control and maintain your blood sugar levels and the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
It helps you see what you are eating in simple numerical terms, and when combined with a second number, the Glycemic Load (GL), you can fine tune your meal choices to keep your blood sugar at healthy levels and reduce blood sugar spikes.
Let’s take a look at what these numbers really mean and how you can use them to take control of your diabetes.
What Is the Glycemic Index?
Dr. David Jenkins, together with Dr. Thomas Wolever and Dr. Alexandra Jenkins, conceived the Glycemic Index (GI) in 1979. The GI breakthrough was the outcome of research conducted at both Oxford University and at the University of Toronto to determine which foods would be best for people with diabetes.
The GI simply ranks food on a scale of 0 to 100, based on how fast carbohydrates break down into glucose and enter the bloodstream.
Foods that break down more slowly have a lower GI score, and foods that break down more quickly have a higher GI score. A score of 55 and below is considered a low GI, 56 to 69 is medium, and 70 and above is high. Pure glucose serves as a reference point of a GI of 100. This is a simple tool to help diabetics understand which foods will potentially spike their blood sugar.
Understanding the Traditional American Meal via GI
The majority of Americans are unintentionally eating large quantities of high-glycemic food without even knowing these foods are causing unsteady blood sugar levels. They start their days with foods that are supposedly healthy, such as cold cereal, orange juice, and toast, and then wonder why they’re starving by lunchtime. The problem with these those foods is that have a low GI score and are breaking down quickly in the body, plus not providing much nutritional value.
High-glycemic foods that your body digests quickly cause your blood sugar to rise sharply, only to come crashing down. If you’ve ever eaten a pastry for breakfast only to feel drained and hungry for more sugar in only a couple of hours, then you’re familiar with this feeling. These high-glycemic foods are not satisfying in the long-term, even though they may provide a temporary blood sugar spike. Throughout the day, you consume more food and gain the weight to prove it.
Take a look at our infographic below to get a quick idea of where some of your favorite foods fall on the GI scale:
On a personal note, I’ve been there, done that when it comes to eating unhealthy food in the morning. You can read hundreds if not thousands of studies about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so I won’t harp on how important that meal is. I will instead simply let you refer to Montignac, a great resource for GI Scores so you can find out how your current diet ranks. You can simply type in the food you want to check and this site will automatically tell you the GI score!
Also understand that the portion sizes you see represent suggested portion sizes not common American portion sizes. As you have probably heard, the portion sizes in the US are huge relative to other countries and what’s recommended, so always keep serving size in mind when looking over the GI.
The Glycemic Index Is Not the Be-All End-All
The GI tells you how fast foods spike your blood sugar, but the GI won’t tell you how much carbohydrates per serving you’re consuming. That’s where the Glycemic Load comes in to help. Glycemic Load measures the amount of carbohydrate in each serving of food.
In our 21 Day Jumpstart Challenge, we like to stay away from counting calories and carbs. It makes the process of getting and staying healthy tedious. However, getting a good understanding of the GI index and Glycemic Load is a great way to understand the foods that are more likely to cause spikes and the foods that may help your body heal and stay healthy.
(Note: Want to get started on the path towards well-managed diabetes and great health? We’d love to see you inside our 21 Day Jumpstart Challenge! It’s free to join and is an excellent way to build the healthy habits that will allow you to reach your health goals.)
Foods with a Glycemic Load under 10 are good choices. Make these foods your first choice for carbs. Foods that fall between 10 and 20 on the glycemic load scale have a moderate effect on your blood sugar. Foods with a glycemic load above 20 will cause blood sugar and insulin spikes. Try to eat those food very sparingly, if at all.
Putting it All Together
As far as both of these indexes are concerned, you don’t need to go shopping with a giant list containing GI and GL indexes. Instead, simply take at the GI scores of common foods that you consume (or are willing to begin eating) in order to gain an understanding of how these foods could potentially affect your blood glucose levels.
Next Steps: Get control of your diabetes… the simple way!
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Hi I’m Kyle Jensen the Wellness Coach at Smart Diabetes Solutions. Through poor eating habits and an inactive lifestyle I put myself in a bad state both physically and mentally. After years of retraining my mind and body I decided to take my newfound understanding of health and help others in their journey. I remember the struggle and how many times I almost gave up. Now I want to help others who are overweight or have Diabetes live a happier more healthy life.