What is the Glycemic Index and How Does it Work?
Understanding Carbs, Glycemic Index, and Glycemic Load
Starches, sugars, and fibers…oh my! What is food with a high glycemic index and glycemic load, and why does it matter?
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 is 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.
Over 90% of the carbs we eat appear in our bloodstream as blood glucose, many of them within minutes of eating! That is why this new “A Crash Course on Carbs” Booklet is so helpful! It has been designed by Diabetes Educator and Coach Georgianne Holland to help you understand carbs, count carbs, and make friends with carbs! Carbs are not the villain…they can be understood and eaten to create health!
Pure sugar (with a glycemic index of 100) is used as 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.
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), but fibers like vegetables and whole grains digest more slowly and evenly (lower glycemic ratings). When we eat a food that is only carbohydrate, and has no fiber, 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. What’s the impact? 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.
Which of the following foods are your favorites? Did you know that all of them contain starch?
- Potatoes, both regular and sweet
- Fresh Peas
- 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)
Let’s also think about the foods that contain another type of carbohydrate–Sugar. How many days a week do you consume foods from this list?
- 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, barbeque sauce, relish, marinades)
- Dairy Items (especially low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, ice cream)
What kind of thoughts come to mind when you read these lists of Starchy and Sugary foods? Does it feel like all your favorite foods are high glycemic index? Are there family members or friends you cook for who refuse to eat the kinds of foods that rank as low-glycemic? Let me help you think all of this through.
Why the Glycemic Index Ratings Matter
Keep in mind that people with Prediabetes are working to maintain stable blood sugar, so 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 generates a crazed sugar high and subsequent, often-cranky slump. (Think “toddlers with 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 opt for nutritionally dense carbs with low glycemic index ratings. Here’s what you need to understand about that:
What is Food with High Glycemic Index
Do you wonder how to count carbs on nutrition labels? Here are two ways you can analyze your carbs to sort out the good from the bad. 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 are destined to pack on the pounds and leave your body starving for “real food”?
Second, determine 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 a 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.
[Much of the pioneering work on GI comes to us from the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia. Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, PhD. and her work can be found at the the University of Sydney.]
Sometimes it can be helpful to think in terms of 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–especially for you! Every one of the items on the list will cause the same rise in blood sugar and the same insulin response. An even swap! This type of exchange list can simplify the process of comparing carbs. Scroll down to learn how you can receive a FREE copy of the Carbs Booklet!
Make it Easy on Yourself! Use a List of Carbs with Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values
It is important to understand the grams of sugar present in specific, common foods. It’s also helpful to know which foods are considered Low vs. High on the Glycemic Index Chart. It is important to know the amount of carbs you are eating, and sometimes, my coaching clients think they can eat all they pasta and bread they like–as long as they are not eating a lot of sugary donuts. Did you realize that 1 cup of ice cream and 2/3 cup of pasta will have the same impact on your blood glucose? Most pasta-lovers eat more than a 2/3-cup portion for dinner, by the way!
Another important fact to understand is that 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) contains 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.
How to Choose Food for Blood Sugar Balance and Holistic Health
I have prepared a FREE BOOKLET for you that will help you balance your blood sugar the holistic health way! The chart at right is an example of the kind of information you can receive in this free download. It will support you as a student in the Solution Starter for Prediabetes Program, as well as it will support every one trying to be a savvy consumer.
Over my coaching career I have gathered information about the carbs in food, and I want to share that valuable data with you today!
In this Free Booklet you will 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 is an important Holistic Health Tool
- What is meant by Net Carbs
- What is meant by Glycemic Load
- Why it is better to count carbs than calories
- The truth behind Blood Sugar Imbalance
- Coach Georgianne’s 5 Step Strategy to be Carb-Smart
Carbohydrate is an essential part of your healthy eating, yet not all carbs are wholesome. Learn how your food choices can support a healthy blood sugar and thriving lifestyle today!
Your partner in wellness, Coach Georgianne
Coach Georgianne Holland
Certified Holistic Health Coach and Prediabetes Educator,
Food As Medicine and Mind-Body Medicine Practitioner