Diabetes Medical

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load, What is the Buzz All About?

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

Obesity is becoming a global epidemic, not just in industrialized and developed countries but in developing nations too. According to the figures given by WHO, obesity has tripled worldwide since 1975. If you thought that people die of malnutrition, then reflect on the fact that

“Most of the world’s population lives in countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight”

“In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese”

“41 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2016”

These are some of the figures given by the WHO, showing clearly that overweight and obesity is not restricted to adults only, children are also falling prey to these conditions.

Where the root cause of obesity and weight gain is attributed to an imbalance between the calories consumed and calories spent, terms like nutrient dense diet, high glycemic dietary items, and glycemic load are also emerging on the scene owing to the intensive research in the field of health and nutrition.

According to the large-scale Nurses’ Health Study, women who consumed a diet high in glycemic load were found more at risk of developing type II diabetes and heart disease as compared to women of the same age on low glycemic load diet patterns.

So what is the deal about glycemic index and glycemic load and how it impacts your health, let us dive into the topic.

Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load, the basics

Both of these terms are related to the dietary items we consume on daily basis, particularly the carbohydrate portion. Let us understand their basic definitions.

The glycemic index “a measure of the blood glucose-raising potential of the carbohydrate content of a food compared to a reference food (generally pure glucose, or sugar).”

While the glycemic load is defined as “the measure of an amount of carbohydrates in a serving of food.” Foods with low GL have little impact on the blood glucose levels than a high GL food item.

The glycemic index is indicative of how rapid a particular carbohydrate is digested and released into the blood as glucose. A food with a high GI raises the blood sugar more rapidly than the medium to low GI foods.

How do the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load affect our blood sugar levels?

Majority of the retailed food items are high Glycemic Index because they do not represent a standard serving size. One will observe that food with a high Glycemic Index is usually the more processed and refined items, delivering the kind of sugar that is readily available for absorption. While foods with a high Glycemic Load does not contain the amount of carbohydrate that delivers a high dose of sugar, to begin with. This aspect has huge bearings on the total blood sugar levels in the body and the corresponding insulin response.  

Foods that deliver a readily absorbable carbohydrate content cause the blood sugar to rise in a spike rather than a slope clinically. The release of insulin follows the same pattern, rises to a spike and slope. Spike means the sugar and insulin undergo a high surge and then quickly return to baseline while in a slope pattern; the blood sugar and insulin gradually reach the maximum limit and return to baseline likewise.

While a low value of both the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load are better for an optimal blood sugar value, there are certain foods with a low Glycemic Load and yet a high Glycemic Index. It means that though the particular food does not contain a very high amount of carbohydrate in it yet the kind of carbohydrate present delivers a dose of glucose readily absorbed into the blood.  

To put it simply, we can say that Glycemic Index has more to do with the quality of carbohydrate while the Glycemic Load is more related to the quantity of the carbohydrate.

Take the example of watermelon; it has a high Glycemic Index of 72 but a low Glycemic Load of 7.2. The former is based on a five-cup serving (GI does not represent a standard serving size). What does it mean, it means that a cup serving of watermelon does not contain much carbohydrate because it contains a hefty amount of water and would not cause a surge in blood sugar levels.

Similarly, carrots have a Glycemic Load of six and a Glycemic Index of 72. So unless you are planning to eat a pound or so of carrots in one sitting, this beautiful vegetable is less likely to cause a rise in blood sugar levels. Carrot juice, on the other hand, is an opposite account.

The conclusion is; Glycemic Load is a better indicator to gauge your intake of carbohydrate to manage the blood sugar levels.

By learning more about food science, you can better manage your weight, balance blood sugar levels and avoid risks to the development of a diabetic state.

Not very long ago, it was believed that consumption of the complex carbohydrates is more likely to stabilize the blood sugar levels and simple carbohydrates deliver conversely; well initial half of the statement is true while the other half is partially correct.

Owing to the knowledge of glycemic values, it is now known that some of the simple carbohydrate sources are fair choices due to a low glycemic load. Some of the examples of food with low Glycemic Load are

  • White rice, 1 cup boiled = 35
  • Regular Spaghetti, made with white flour, 1 cup = 25
  • Bread, made with white-wheat flour, 1 large slice = 10
  • Potato, white, 1 medium baked = 25–30
  • Honey, 1 tablespoon = 10
  • Banana, 1 raw = 13
  • Orange, 1 raw = 5
  • Apple, 1 raw = 6
  • Table sugar (sucrose), 2 teaspoons=  6
  • Skim milk, 1 cup = 4
  • Lentils, boiled 1 cup = 7
  • Cashews, 1 ounce = 2
  • Peanuts, 1 ounce = 1

(According to research published by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, Oregon State University and the University of Sydney)

What is a high and low Glycemic Value?

The glycemic index is calculated by feeding healthy individuals 50-100 grams of a carbohydrate food after an overnight fast. It ranges from 0–100:

  • High GI = 70 to 100
  • Medium GI = 50 to 70
  • Low GI = below 50

The glycemic load is determined by multiplying the grams of a carbohydrate in a serving by the glycemic index number, then dividing the total by 100.

  • High GL = 20 +
  • Medium GL = 11 to 19
  • Low GL = 10 or less

Benefits of low Glycemic foods

Foods with low glycemic values are beneficial for diabetic patients as well as otherwise healthy individuals. They are equally effective for individuals who require shedding some pounds. Following are some upshots of low Glycemic dietary items

  • Help balance the blood sugar levels and avoids insulin spikes
  • Reduce hunger pangs and unwanted cravings by satisfying the appetite for longer duration
  • Via a balancing act on the blood sugar levels, they lower the risk of developing insulin resistance and type II diabetes
  • Aid in the management of weight loss and controlling diabetes
  • Incorporated with other macronutrients as proteins and fats, they replenish energy stores
  • Trim down the risks of chronic disease by keeping the inflammation under check

Low glycemic food choices and combinations

Some of the best sources of food with low glycemic values are

  • All non-starchy vegetables with green leafy ones, broccoli, onions, green beans
  • Majority of fruits as apples, berries, and citrus fruits
  • Seeds, beans, nuts, and legumes
  • Minimally processed whole grains, brown rice, whole wheat pasta

Anything opposite to processed, highly refined, and artificially sweetened can be used. Keeping your portions small with raw honey and dried fruits is a good idea. Certain starchy root vegetables as potatoes and winter squash are also fair choices in moderate amount. Fast food, fried and food with additives should be avoided at all costs.

Certain combinations of food with low glycemic items can deliver better results at replenishing energy stores and managing blood sugar. The principle to follow is

  • Incorporate more of fiber in the form of seeds, beans, nuts, leafy vegetables and sprouts
  • Select moderate servings of complex carbohydrates
  • Raw and fresh fruits and vegetables hold important keys to a low glycemic diet
  • Healthy fats deliver flavor and add to the overall benefit of coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados
  • High-quality protein sources like organic eggs, salmon, grass-fed beef and lamb, pasture-raised chicken and raw dairy product contribute superior calories
  • Acids appear to lower the overall Glycemic Index of food; try vinegar-based dressings, fermented yogurt, and lemon juice

Take home message

A balanced approach is the safest one, though you would find plenty of information on glycemic charts and measurements. Do not get overwhelmed, sticking with real foods and avoiding the artificial products would work in harmony with your body and keep it functioning at its best.