Why glycemic index should matter to you

Knowing the glycemic index of food is important for diabetics.

When you have diabetes or pre-diabetes you often hear the word “glycemic.” Perhaps you are familiar with the terms, “hyperglycemic’ or ‘hypoglycemic’. Hyperglycemia means blood sugar is high. Hypoglycemia is when blood sugar is low. “Glycemic index” or (GI) is another important term to know because the glycemic index of food affects blood sugar. GI ranks carbohydrate foods and how carbohydrate foods affect blood sugar. 

To understand how Gl relates to food, it may help to picture it as a measuring stick used to rank how foods affect blood sugar. Just as foods high in carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels, so do foods with a high GI. Meats and fats do not have a GI because these foods do not contain carbohydrates. 

A food with a high GI raises blood glucose more than a food with a medium or low Gl. The smaller the glycemic number, the less impact the food has on your blood sugar. The GI of food is affected by whether the food is eaten alone or with a meal. You can also combine foods with high and low glycemic levels to balance out the meal. Fat and fiber tend to lower the GI of food. Also, keep in mind your portion size as this can affect the GI of your meal.

Here are some examples from the American Diabetes Association:

  • High GI food examples (70 or more) - White bread or bagel, corn flakes, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal, short-grain white rice, rice pasta, macaroni and cheese from mix, russet potato, pumpkin, pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers melons and pineapple.
  • Medium GI food examples (56-69) - Whole wheat, rye and pita bread, quick oats, brown, wild or basmati rice, couscous.
  • Low GI food examples (55 or less) - 100 percent stone-ground whole-wheat or pumpernickel bread, oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), oat bran, muesli, pasta, converted rice, barley, bulger, sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes and lentils, most fruits, non-starchy vegetables and carrots.

It is important for people with diabetes to remember that individualized food plans may be needed. Ask your healthcare provider for a list of common foods and their glycemic index. Your diabetes educator or healthcare provider may recommend you learn more about glycemic load which can help you get an individualized glycemic index focused on your specific needs. 

To learn more about chronic disease and diabetes and to see a list of  related workshops in your area, visit Michigan State University Extension.

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