10 Things People With Diabetes Should Know About The Glycemic Index

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6. Some examples…

Clear as mud so far? Some examples may help!

Low GI Foods:

  • Rolled or steal-cut oats
  • Most fruits and non-starchy vegetables
  • Beans
  • Bran cereal


Medium GI Foods:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Brown or wild rice
  • Pasta
  • Bananas


High GI Foods:

  • White bread
  • Cereals like corn flakes and puffed rice
  • Pretzels
  • Melons
  • Sugary drinks

Obviously the above is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a helpful start!

7. High GI Foods are not evil

A food with a high GI is not necessarily bad for you. Oatmeal has a higher GI than chocolate, after all. Watermelon is also a high GI food, but it’s a low-calorie, high-water food packed with vitamins. Plus it’s a summertime staple!

8. Nutritious foods can have low, medium, or high GI ratings

This one doesn’t need a lot of explanation. Healthy foods can have quickly-absorbed carbohydrates that can cause a blood sugar bump and not every low GI food (like full-fat milk) is a wise nutritional choice.

And for people with diabetes, a low GI food may be a very wise choice when combating low blood sugar. Basically, understanding how the glycemic index works can help you make smart decisions based on the kind of energy you are looking for, but it needs to be paired with portion control and that old standby: common sense.

Photo: AdobeStock/adrian_ilie825

Photo: AdobeStock: Photo/adrian_ilie825

9. Glycemic Index does not represent the total carbohydrate value of a food

Just because bran cereal has a low GI value does not mean that it’s a good idea to eat bowl after bowl (no kidding). And a piece of high GI watermelon is not going to cause a big glucose spike simply because there aren’t a lot of carbohydrates in one piece of watermelon.

A more effective way to think about glycemic index may be to consider a food’s glycemic load. Glycemic load is determined by multiplying a food’s GI rating by the number of carbohydrates in one serving, and then dividing by 100. Glycemic load takes into account how much of a food is being eaten.

For example, watermelon has a GI rating of 72 (high GI), whereas a peach has a GI rating of 52, (low GI). But one serving of the peach has a glycemic load of 5, and the same amount of watermelon has a glycemic load of 4. Why? There are more carbohydrates per gram in a peach than in watermelon. Long story short? The number of carbs still matter most when it comes to your blood sugar.

10. It is, after all, a useful tool!

Now that we’ve discussed all the caveats and limitations, let’s not deny that many healthy foods are indeed low GI foods, and sugary, highly-processed foods are often high GI foods. It’s just not the whole story.

A diet focusing on low GI foods can help improve blood sugar regulation, help control cholesterol, help with weight control, and decrease risk for heart attack and stroke. Focusing on low GI foods can help you feel satisfied for longer and guard against energy crashes that leave us grabbing for whatever food is handy.

The glycemic index, when paired with portion control and common sense, can help people with diabetes choose foods that best suit their glucose needs, and paying attention to GI values can steer folks away from processed foods, which is always a healthy choice!

Stay healthy, friends!

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Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.
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