The Glycemic Index: Helping People With Diabetes Make Healthier Food Choices

If you have diabetes, there are many ways to make healthy lifestyle changes. You can get a little more active. Take medicine (if applicable) as your doctor tells you to. Make smarter food choices. Knowing the glycemic (gli-See-mik) index of certain foods also may help.

How the glycemic index works

The index is a tool that rates foods that contain carbohydrates (or carbs). Once eaten, carbs break down into different sugars. One of these sugars is glucose. The index measures how quickly and how much glucose levels rise in the blood. In fact, the word "glycemic" means glucose in the blood.

Foods with a high glycemic index break down quickly in the body. This sends glucose into the blood. The higher the index, the faster glucose is released. The lower the index, the slower glucose is released. Foods with a low index may help improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

HIGHER glycemic index = FASTER glucose release

LOWER glycemic index = SLOWER glucose release

What the index numbers mean

All carb-containing foods have a low, medium, or high glycemic index. A low index is 55 or less. A medium index is between 56 and 69. A high index is 70 or more. The index only rates the type—not amount—of carbs in a food. Portion size is still important for managing glucose. A food may have a low index. But eating too much of that food may raise your blood sugar.

Many factors can affect a food’s glycemic index. A few of these include:

Factors Effects
Fats and fiber Tend to lower the glycemic index by slowing digestion.
Ripeness of fruits and vegetables The more ripe, the higher the index.
Processing The less processed, the lower the index. For example, juice is higher than fresh fruit. Mashed potatoes are higher than baked ones.
Cooking methods The longer some foods are cooked, the higher the index. For example, firmer pasta has a lower index than soft-cooked pasta.

Using the glycemic index

There is no meal plan that works for everyone with diabetes. However, many people use the index as part of a healthier lifestyle. The goal is to balance your meals. Try combining foods that have a higher index with foods that have lower ones. See the chart below for the glycemic indexes of some foods. In general, these numbers were determined in people with increased blood glucose levels, some of whom had diabetes.

Glycemic Index Values of Foods*

A low glycemic index is 55 or less.

A medium glycemic index is between 56 and 69.

A high glycemic index is 70 or higher.

Item Description Glycemic Index
Peanuts 13
Boiled red lentils 18
Pearled barley 22
Kidney beans 23
Black beans 30
Dried apricots 32
Chickpeas 33
Spaghetti, boiled 15 minutes 36
Tomato soup 38
Boiled dried pinto beans 39
Apple 40
Whole milk 40
Whole-grain rye bread 41
Strawberry-flavored yogurt 45
Brown rice, boiled (Oryza Sativa) 50
Oat bran, raw (Quaker Oats Co., Canada) 50
Ripe banana 51
Orange juice 57
Ripe mango 60
Sweet corn 60
Cheese pizza 60
Quick oats 65
White rice, boiled 69
White bread 70
Corn flakes (Kellogg’s, USA) 92

*In general, this list should be used by people with increased blood glucose levels (who may or may not have diabetes). The glycemic index may vary by sub-category of food, by manufacturer, and by country of origin. Ask your health care professional, dietitian, or nutritionist which foods may be right for you.

Things to keep in mind

Be aware that the glycemic index only applies to individual foods, not whole meals. The combination of foods in a meal may affect blood sugar differently. Plus, it only rates foods that contain carbs. Meats, fish, poultry, and fats do not contain carbs, so they do not have an index. Finally, the index does not rank foods based on how healthy they are for you. A chocolate bar may have a low index, but it’s still high in saturated fat. And it offers little or no real nutritional value. Use of the glycemic index needs to be balanced with basic nutrition principles of variety for healthful foods and moderation of foods with few nutrients. To learn more about the index, talk to your health care professional or dietitian.

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