Understanding Carbs
the Glycemic Index,
& Why It Matters

Use the glycemic index to
keep your carb intake healthy

What’s the Glycemic Index and How Does it Work?

Many people with prediabetes dismiss the glycemic index and think that to regain their health, they just have to cut back on added sugar in their daily food life. That’s not true!

The sugar you add to your food does matter AND you also need to know which foods naturally contain carbohydrates…the carbs that can rate as high on the glycemic index.

To help you understand the basics of the Glycemic Index, carbohydrates and what they mean to your blood sugar levels, I’ve broken down the main elements for you here. We’ll cover:

So let’s get started!

The Glycemic Index

What is the Glycemic Index?

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a tool to used by individuals and health care providers alike to assess how much a given food will increase blood sugar levels.

Pure sugar (with a glycemic index of 100) is the reference point for describing the glycemic index of foods. The smaller the glycemic index number, the less impact the food has on your glucose levels.

Since many foods naturally contain carbohydrates — and carbohydrates break down into simple sugars in the body — it’s important to understand how the sugars impact you and your health.

Why the Glycemic Index ratings matter

People with prediabetes work hard to have stable blood sugar. They want to avoid glucose spikes that throw their bodies out of whack. In a nutshell, high-glycemic carbs are super-spikers. For example, a juicy grapefruit would deliver a nice flow of sustained energy, while a glazed doughnut is a crazed sugar high and later, an often-cranky slump. (Think “toddlers with a birthday cake.”)

Many people have grown accustomed to chasing the blood-sugar high that junk carbs create, and perhaps this has happened to you, too. The lesson for all of us? Skip the spike, and choose nutritionally dense carbs with low glycemic index ratings.

A table full of cakes and pies for the holidays is full of food indulgences that are packed with carbs.

I get it. Carbs taste wonderful.

Understanding carbs however, doesn’t mean we can never eat them again. Here’s one important fact:

Over 90% of the carbs we eat appear in our bloodstream as blood glucose within minutes of eating! If you have high blood sugar, this is vital information!

Keep reading to learn more about carbs, the glycemic index and how you can enjoy more meals and feel great by eating smarter

How Do Carbs Work in the Body?

Let’s talk a little about that donut…

If Benjamin Franklin was correct when he said, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” then making better food choices can really tip the scales in your favor. This brief introduction to how carbohydrates work in the body can start you on the road to better health.

The Glycemic Index

As we said earlier, pure sugar (with a glycemic index of 100) is the reference point for describing the glycemic index of foods. The smaller the glycemic index number, the less impact the food has on your glucose levels.

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How fast is that carb?

The biology behind carbs tells us that foods containing sugar and starch are easier for the body to quickly change into glucose for energy (higher glycemic ratings).

However, fibers like those you’ll find in vegetables and whole grains digest more slowly and evenly (lower glycemic ratings).

junk food like potato chips and sugary crackers that has a high glycemic index.

What’s in it?

When we eat food that is only carbohydrate and has no fiber, healthy kinds of fat, or protein, it is not helpful in balancing our blood sugar. In general, foods that are closer to the form found in nature tend to have lower glycemic index numbers than refined or processed foods.

a healthy quiona salad in a bowl to help balance blood sugar levels with low glycemic index foods.

And the impact is

Foods with higher glycemic index ratings trigger a fast spike in insulin and blood sugar, while foods with lower glycemic index ratings have a smaller, slower effect.

The Ice Cream / Pasta Connection

Did you know…1 cup of ice cream and 2/3 cup of pasta have the same impact on blood glucose?

The Glycemic Index helps make these types of connections clear.

Most pasta-lovers eat more than a 2/3-cup portion for dinner, by the way!

Let’s Turn this Knowledge into Know-How

Make the Glycemic Index your co-pilot when you’re flying down the aisles

Most people glance at nutrition labels, but do they know how to get the most out of them? Try these simple steps next time you take a product off the shelf at the grocery store.

1. Use nutrition labels to count carbs

First, check out the nutritional value of your selected carbs.

Are they loaded with vitamins and minerals your body can use?

Or, are they empty calories that pack on the pounds and leave your body hungry for “real food”?

A chart on How to read nutrition labels.
A glycemic Index Chart.

2. Use the GI to decide if this carb is for you

Now, decide where your carbs fall on the Glycemic Index, which ranks them according to how they affect blood sugar levels.

More specifically, the number assigned to food indicates how fast our bodies will convert the carbs into glucose.

This is vital information for people with Prediabetes because two foods with the same amount of carbohydrates can have very different glycemic ratings.

3. Consider an exchange

Sometimes it’s helpful to think about your carb options. Perhaps you’re in the mood for a snack, and you want to limit your carb intake to 15 grams. I’d like to make this easy for you, so I created the Food Exchange Chart in my Crash Course on Carbs Booklet!

Every one of the items on the list will cause the same rise in blood sugar and the same potential* insulin response. An even swap! This type of exchange list can simplify the process of comparing carbs.

exchange list for carbs

Are Your Servings Serving You?

An older woman and man at the local market. They're calorie counting so their basket is full of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Are your carb choices serving you?

I get it. Carbohydrates are tasty and so tempting! But now that you’ve had a brief introduction to what the Glycemic Index means to you, how will you make the most of it?

Sometimes, when we’re just eating on auto-pilot, our food preferences may not be helping us make the best food choices.

If you’re just starting to become aware of how you’re eating, making new decisions can take some mental effort. But do not fear! With some practice – it will become second nature!

Rice grains in a bowl.

Consider your food preferences

Which of the following starchy foods are your favorites?

  • Potatoes, both regular and sweet
  • Corn
  • Lima Beans
  • Legumes (dried beans and peas)
  • Grains (wheat, oats, barley, and rice)
  • Products made from grains (pasta, bread, rolls, bagels, crackers, cereals, and baked goods)
holiday food

Which of the following sugary foods are your favorites?

  • Fruit and Fruit Juice (also includes foods like jelly and fruit smoothies)
  • Sweet Bakery Items (cake, pie, donuts, cookies)
  • Sugary Drinks (soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, coffee concoctions)
  • Sweet Condiments (ketchup, barbecue sauce, relish, marinades)
  • Dairy Items (especially low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, ice cream)

Now ask yourself…

What thoughts comes to mind when you read these lists of Starchy and Sugary foods? Are your favorite foods high on the glycemic index? Will you choose these foods next time? Are there family members or friends you cook for who refuse to eat foods that are low-glycemic?

I know…this is a lot to take in. That’s why I made an easy-to-use booklet about carbohydrates, the Glycemic Index and strategies for building healthier habits for balanced blood sugar levels. It’s called, A Crash Course on Carbs.

“Sugar-Free” can be costly

Did you know…products labeled as “Sugar-Free” may not be low-sugar items.

How is that happening? Here’s an example I like to share: a single-serving container of sugar-free chocolate pudding (1/2 cup) has 8 grams of carbohydrates. Those carbs come from the milk used to make the pudding.

The manufacturer labels this pudding as 0-grams of sugar because they didn’t add any white granulated sugar–but they added fake sugar. They added one of those lab-made, chemically 0-calorie sweeteners that play havoc on our digestive systems!

The total carbs in this kind of pudding snack are 8 grams of lactose (milk sugar), the added sugar is 0 grams, so this is not a FREE or healthy snack, and it certainly won’t help you solve prediabetes.

Make Food Choices Easier with the Glycemic Index

Take a Crash Course on Carbs to Make Better Food Choices!

Get a List of Carbs with Glycemic Index + Glycemic Load Values

There’s so much to know that it can feel overwhelming. And with all the fad diets and hearsay about nutrition, it’s easy to be misinformed. That’s why I created the Crash Course on Carbs to help people with prediabetes understand the science behind food without needing a biology degree.

It’s important to use a trusted resource to understand food information like the grams of sugar in specific, common foods. Some of my coaching clients used to think they can eat all the pasta they like–as long as they’re not eating a lot of ice cream. They know better now.

I’ve prepared the Crash Course on Carbs booklet to help balance your blood sugar the holistic health way! The easy-to-read content and user-friendly charts will support you as a student in the Solution StarterTM for Prediabetes Program, as well as it’ll support every savvy consumer.

carbs glycemic index booklet, A Crash Course on Carbs.

In the Crash Course on Carbs Booklet you’ll learn:

  • The Secret to weight loss, an increased energy level, and balancing your blood sugar
  • What you need to understand about Blood Sugar, Insulin, and Carbohydrates
  • The Glycemic Index and why it’s an important Holistic Health Tool
  • What are Net Carbs
  • What is Glycemic Load
  • Why it’s better to count carbs than calories
  • The truth behind Blood Sugar Imbalance
  • Coach Georgianne’s 5 Step Strategy to being Carb-Smart

Have a better understanding now?

Carbohydrate is an essential part of your healthy eating, yet not all carbs are wholesome. I offer this resource about food choices to support your healthy blood sugar and thriving lifestyle today!

I hope this introduction to carbohydrates, the glycemic index and what they mean to you, has helped you feel more empowered to take control of your prediabetes or high blood sugar.

If you still have questions about how to get started, we here at Holland Health Coaching are always happy to help you.

Here’s to good health!

signature of type 2 diabetes risk coach
A graphic that reads, "Better Health Starts Here."

Questions?
Not sure how to start?

*There is a potential insulin response from eating 15 grams of carbs. Some people are insulin resistant and so their insulin release is different. You can learn all about this in Solution StarterTM Prediabetes Program.

[Much of the pioneering work on the GI comes to us from the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia. Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, Ph.D. and her work are found at the University of Sydney.]


Diabetes Educator and Holistic Health Coach Georgianne Holland.

Coach Georgianne Holland

Certified Holistic Health Coach, CHHC
Certified Diabetes Educator, CDE
Member of the American Association of Diabetes Educators
Member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners
Member of the American Holistic Health Association
Food As Medicine and Mind-Body Medicine Practitioner
Creator of the Solution StarterTM Program for Prediabetes and the Homemade Health E-Newsletter.

Holland Health Coaching is located in Colorado. We welcome everyone to join us in our wellness practice. Please enjoy the free resources and expert tools you’ll find on our website.

Coach Georgianne does not replace your doctor; she helps you work with your medical team for your greater good health.