Food With Low Glycemic Load

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Low glycemic load foods are the key to achieving your weight loss goals, but how do you know what is and what isn’t? Learn how to find the foods that fit into your diet, lose weight and keep it off.

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Food With Low Glycemic Load

For optimal health, the Glycemic Index Foundation recommends keeping your daily glycemic load under 100. This will help get your A1C down if you have diabetes and make you less likely to avoid unpleasant side effects of low blood sugar called hypoglycemia, which can trigger irritability, confusion, headaches, fatigue, and even seizures, warns the American Diabetes Association (ADA). If your blood sugar is too high in diabetes, called hyperglycemia, symptoms may include frequent urination, increased thirst, vomiting, and shortness of breath, the ADA warns.

Keeping the glycemic load of your diet in mind can help you avoid diabetes-related complications as well. For example, a past study found that when 100 participants with poorly managed diabetes, who were on insulin or oral diabetes medications, followed a low-glycemic load diet for 10 weeks, they lost weight, lowered their cholesterol levels, and improved their A1C. Another small past randomized study found that low-glycemic-load foods, regardless of calorie restriction, was more helpful with weight loss than a diet rich in high-glycemic-load foods. However, insulin secretion was needed to see the benefit.

“It makes more sense to use the glycemic load because when you eat a food, you don’t just eat one food by itself — you eat a whole bunch of foods together,” says Meyerowitz. Looking at the total picture of foods you eat, rather than just the individual pieces, gives you a clearer and more accurate picture of the foods that make up your diet.

Glycemic Load and Diet: Glycemic Loads in Favorite Foods

Here is a glycemic load reference list with many common foods to let you know which are low, medium, and high, per UCSF.

Foods with a low glycemic load of 10 or less include:

  • ¼ cup peanuts (GL of 1)
  • 8 oz skim milk (GL of 4)
  • 2 cups watermelon (GL of 4.3)
  • 1 cup kidney beans (GL of 7)
  • 1 cup all bran cereal (GL of 9)

Foods with a medium glycemic load of 11 to 19 include:

  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal (GL of 11.7)
  • 1 tablespoon (tbsp) honey (GL of 11.9)
  • 1 large banana (GL of 12.4)
  • 1 medium donut (GL of 17)
  • 1 cup boiled brown rice (GL of 18)

Foods with a high glycemic load of 20 or more include:

  • 1 cup corn flakes (GL of 21)
  • 10 large jelly beans (GL of 22)
  • 1 Snickers candy bar (GL of 22.1)
  • 1 medium baked russet potato (GL of 23)
  • 2 tbsp raisins (GL of 27.3)

Why Using Glycemic Load Independently Isn’t Enough to Maintain Health

Knowing the glycemic load of food is a helpful meal planning tool, but you shouldn’t rely on this ranking system alone.

“There is research to support that diabetic patients benefit from knowing how to apply GI and GL as a dietary approach for diabetes management, but it’s important to mention that variability in nutritional content of different foods with the same GI value is a concern,” warns Sotiria Everett, EdD, RD, clinical assistant professor in the department of family, population, and preventive medicine’s nutrition division at Stony Brook Medicine in Stony Brook, New York.

Plus, various factors can change where a food ranks on the glycemic index. For example, some foods with carbs become easier to digest after a longer cooking time, which can subsequently raise their glycemic load, says the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research.

So while adding low glycemic load foods can help balance your glycemic response, focusing on overall dietary quality and promoting the healthful aspects of a diet may be a better approach to help reduce chronic disease, says Dr. Everett. “Glycemic index and glycemic load are both tools to assist with diet and nutrition, but not to be completely relied upon as the sole source and guide for all meal planning.”

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Carbohydrates and the glycaemic index

Summary

  • The glycaemic index (GI) rates carbohydrates according to how quickly they raise the glucose level of the blood. 
  • The glycaemic load (GL) rates carbohydrates according to the glycaemic index and the amount of carbohydrate in the food.
  • A low GI rating of a food does not mean you can eat a larger serve of that food – the total amount of carbohydrate and kilojoules eaten is still important. 

About the glycaemic index (GI)

Foods and drinks provide our body with energy in the form of carbohydrates, fatprotein and alcohol.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source.

The glycaemic index (GI) is a way that carbohydrates in foods and drinks are ranked according to how quickly they raise the glucose level of the blood (also known as ‘blood sugar level’). It has replaced classifying carbohydrates as either ‘simple’ or ‘complex’.

Foods with carbohydrates include bread, breakfast cereals, rice, pastalegumes, corn, potato, fruitmilkyoghurtsugar, biscuits, cakes and lollies.

Digesting and absorbing carbohydrates

The digestive system breaks down carbohydrates in foods and drinks into simple sugars, mainly glucose. For example, both rice and soft drink will be broken down to simple sugars in your digestive system. This simple sugar is then carried to your body’s cells through the bloodstream.

The pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin, which helps the glucose to move from your blood into the cells. Once inside a cell, the glucose is ‘burned’ along with oxygen to produce energy. Our brain, muscles and nervous system all rely on glucose as their main fuel to make energy.

The body converts excess glucose from food into glycogen. Glycogen acts as a storage form of glucose within the muscle tissue and the liver. Its role is to supplement blood glucose levels if they drop between meals (especially overnight) or during physical activity.

The glycaemic index (GI)

The glycaemic index (GI) is a way of ranking carbohydrate-containing foods based on how slowly or quickly they are digested and increase blood glucose levels over a period of time – usually 2 hours.

The GI uses glucose or white bread as a reference food – it has a GI score of 100. Carbohydrate-containing foods are then compared with this reference to assign their GI. This ensures all foods compared have the same amount of carbohydrate, gram for gram.

Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion have a higher glycaemic index. These high GI carbohydrates, such as a baked potato, release their glucose into the blood quickly.

Carbohydrates that break down slowly, such as oats, release glucose gradually into the bloodstream. They have low glycaemic indexes. The blood glucose response is slower and flatter. Low GI foods prolong digestion due to their slow breakdown and may help with feeling full.

GI scale examples

The terms ‘low GI’, ‘medium GI’ and ‘high GI’ are given to foods that fall within different ranges of the GI. 

These ranges, along with some example foods, include:

  • low GI (less than 55) – examples include soy products, beans, fruit, milk, pasta, grainy bread, porridge (oats) and lentils
  • medium GI (55 to 70) – examples include orange juice, honey, basmati rice and wholemeal bread
  • high GI (greater than 70) – examples include potatoes, white bread and short-grain rice.

Factors that affect the GI of a food

Factors such as the size, texture, viscosity (internal friction or ‘thickness’) and ripeness of a food affect its GI. For instance, although both ripe and unripe bananas have a low GI (less than 55), an unripe banana may have a GI of 30, while a ripe banana has a GI of 51. 

Fat, protein, soluble fibre, fructose (a carbohydrate found in fruit and honey) and lactose (the carbohydrate in milk) also generally lower a food’s glycaemic response. Fat and acid foods (like vinegar, lemon juice or acidic fruit) slow the rate at which the stomach empties and slow the rate of digestion, resulting in a lower GI.

Other factors present in food, such as phytates (used to store phosphorus in plants) in wholegrain breads and cereals, may also delay a food’s absorption and lower the GI.

Cooking and processing can also affect the GI – food that is broken down into fine or smaller particles will be more easily absorbed and so has a higher GI. Foods that have been cooked and allowed to cool (potatoes, for example) can have a lower GI when eaten cold than when hot (for example, potato salad compared with hot baked potato).

High GI foods are influenced by low GI foods

Generally, eating low GI foods and high GI foods at the same time has the effect of ‘averaging’ the GI. This is important, as most foods are eaten as part of a meal and this affects the GI value of foods. For example, eating cornflakes (a higher GI food) with milk (a lower GI food) will reduce the overall effect of the cornflakes and milk meal on blood glucose levels.

GI symbol and claims on packaged foods

You might have noticed that some packaged food products have a GI symbol or make claims about the food’s GI and its health effects (for example, ‘low GI to help you stay fuller for longer’). These are examples of nutrition content claims and general level health claims, allowed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand under Standard 1.2.7 Nutrition, health and related claims.

The Low GI Symbol and claims about the relationship of a low GI product and its effect on health is only available to packaged food products that meet strict nutritional and testing criteria. 

This labelling is not compulsory for food companies to follow, so not all products that are eligible will display the symbol or make a claim. This is often the case for smaller companies who may not have the money to go through the necessary processes to be given the label. These claims also won’t generally be used on food products that would be eligible but are not typically packaged (for example, fresh fruit and vegetables).

Glycaemic load (GL)

The amount of the carbohydrate-containing food you eat affects your blood glucose levels. For example, even though pasta has a low GI, a large serving can still cause the blood glucose levels to rise more rapidly than a smaller serving. This is what is called the glycaemic load (GL). 

The GL builds on GI, as it considers both the GI of the food and the amount of carbohydrate in a portion. GL is based on the idea that a high GI food consumed in small quantities would give the same effect on blood glucose levels as larger quantities of a low GI food.

GL can be calculated easily if you know what the food’s GI is and how much carbohydrate is present in the serving. 

Calculating glycaemic load (GL)

The GL calculation is: GI x the amount of carbohydrates (in grams) in a serving of food) ÷ 100.

Using a pasta example:

  • GI of a standard white wheat pasta, boiled to al dente texture = 43.
  • The carbohydrate content of a standard 180g serve = 44g.
  • GL = 43 x 44/100 = 19g.

However, if a half portion of pasta was eaten, the GL would also halve:

  • GI of a standard white wheat pasta, boiled to al dente texture = 43.
  • The carbohydrate content of a half portion 90g serve = 22g.
  • GL = 43 x 22/100 = 9.5g.

Here is another example, where both foods contain the same amount of carbohydrate but their GIs are different:

  • A small baked potato (GI = 80, carbohydrate = 15g).
  • GL = 80 x 15/100 = 12g.
  • An apple (GI = 40, carbohydrate = 15g).
  • GL = 40 x 15/100 = 6g.

Both the small baked potato and the apple have the same amount of carbohydrate (15g). However, because their GIs differ (the apple is low while the baked potato is high), their GLs also differ, which means the baked potato will cause the blood glucose level of the person eating it to rise more quickly than the apple. 

The University of Sydney’s GI search shows the GI, GL and carbohydrate content per serving of a wide variety of foods.

GI and exercise

Eating low GI foods 2 hours before endurance events, such as long-distance running, may improve exercise capacity. It’s thought that the meal will have left your stomach before you start the event but remains in your small intestine releasing energy for a few hours afterwards.

Moderate to high GI foods may be most beneficial during the first 24 hours of recovery after an event to rapidly replenish muscle fuel stores (glycogen).

Using the GI as a guide to healthy eating

The GI can be considered when choosing foods and drinks consistent with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, but there are limitations. For example, the GI of some everyday foods such as fruits, vegetables and cereals can be higher than foods to be eaten occasionally (discretionary) like biscuits and cakes. This does not mean we should replace fruit, vegetables and cereals with discretionary choices, because the first are rich in important nutrients and antioxidants and the discretionary foods are not. 

GI can be a useful concept in making good food substitution choices, such as having oats instead of cornflakes, or eating grainy bread instead of white bread. Usually, choosing the wholegrain or higher fibre option will also mean you are choosing the lower GI option.

It’s not always possible or necessary to choose all low GI foods. There is room in a healthy diet for moderate to high GI foods, and many of these foods can provide important sources of nutrients. Remember, by combining a low GI food with a high GI food, you will get an intermediate GI for that meal.

Choosing between high and low GI foods

The best carbohydrate food to eat varies depending on the person and situation. For example, people with type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance have become resistant to the action of insulin or cannot produce insulin rapidly enough to match the release of glucose into the blood after eating carbohydrate-containing foods. This means their blood glucose levels may rise above the level considered optimal.

Now consider 2 common breakfast foods – cornflakes and porridge made from wholegrain oats. The rate at which porridge and cornflakes are broken down to glucose is different. Porridge is digested to simple sugars much more slowly than cornflakes, so the body has a chance to respond with production of insulin, and the rise in blood glucose levels is less. 

For this reason, porridge is a better choice of breakfast cereal than cornflakes for people with type 2 diabetes. It will also provide more sustained energy for people without diabetes.

On the other hand, high GI foods can be beneficial at replenishing glycogen in the muscles after strenuous exercise. High GI can also quickly restore blood glucose levels to normal when someone with diabetes is experiencing a ‘hypo’, which is when their blood glucose levels fall below the normal range of 4 to 8mmol/L. For example, eating 5 jellybeans will help to raise blood glucose levels quickly. A person with diabetes is only at risk of a ‘hypo’ if taking certain medications or injecting insulin

If you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, it’s important to get advice from your doctor or specialist before making any changes to your diet.

Everything You Need to Know About Eating a Low-Glycemic Diet

Move over, keto — it’s time for the LGID to take its place in the spotlight. The LGID (that’s the low-glycemic index diet) involves eating foods that take longer to break down into sugar in your bloodstream.

It’s ideal for people with conditions like diabetes but can also be beneficial for anyone looking to lose weight or cut back on blood sugar spikes.

The rules are simple: Eat foods that have a glycemic index of less than 55. If that sounds arbitrary, don’t worry — we’ll fill you in on all the deets of this style of eating.

What’s this glycemic index (GI) you speak of?

The glycemic index measures how quickly your blood sugar rises after eating a food. Foods are ranked from 0 to 100 based on how they affect your blood sugar.

Foods that are digested quickly and spike blood sugar levels have the highest GIs. In contrast, foods that take a while to digest and slowly release insulin into your bloodstream have lower GIs. A low GI is less than 55, and a high GI is 70 or higher.

The GI of a food is largely dependent on the type of carbohydrate it contains — the higher the fiber content, the more slowly the food digests.

Lower-GI foods usually have more protein, fiber, and sometimes fat.

“Eating lower-GI foods can definitely be beneficial for many people — particularly because many of the foods that are lower glycemic index also tend to be higher in protein and/or fiber, as well as higher in nutrients. For example, an egg is one food that has a low glycemic index and provides 6 grams of satiating high-quality protein, as well as choline and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition.

Here’s another important tidbit: It’s a common misconception that all foods with sugar have a high GI.

For example, bananas, which many people think of as a high-sugar fruit, are low-GI, with a score of 51. Not surprisingly, processed carbs — like white bread, chips, pretzels, desserts, and soda — rank highest in GI.

It’s also essential to remember that GI doesn’t necessarily determine a food’s overall healthfulness. For example, white potatoes and watermelon are high-GI foods, but we know they have nutritional value in a balanced diet.

The key to following a low-GI diet is to choose mainly low-GI foods but consciously fill in the gaps with nutrient-rich, whole foods that create a balanced meal plan. The easiest way to do this? Make an appointment with your doctor, nutritionist, or dietitian.

The benefits of eating a low-glycemic index diet (LGID)

The low-GI diet was originally created to help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar. And research has shown that it can help control post-meal blood glucose spikes.

For people with prediabetes or a family history of diabetes, eating a low-GI diet can help keep the disease at bay. A 2014 review concluded that people eating a high-GI diet have a 33 percent higher risk of developing diabetes than those who eat low-GI.

There’s even research to suggest that sticking to low-GI foods can help you shed pounds. A six-month controlled trial showed greater reductions in BMI in participants who followed an LGID.

Another benefit of taking it low? Reduced risk of heart disease. High LDL or “bad” cholesterol is a symptom of heart disease, and a 2013 review found that low-GI diets significantly reduced total LDL cholesterol, especially when the participants increased their fiber intake.

LGID-approved foods

If you want to try a low-GI diet, add these low-GI foods to your shopping list:

Fruit and veg

  • apples
  • dates
  • grapefruit
  • mango
  • oranges
  • peaches
  • pears
  • carrots
  • corn
  • green peas
  • leafy greens
  • parsnips
  • sweet potatoes
  • tomatoes

Proteins*

  • beef
  • chicken
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • turkey

Beans and legumes

  • black beans
  • black-eyed peas
  • chickpeas/hummus
  • kidney beans
  • soybeans

Grains

  • barley
  • brown rice
  • bulgur
  • oats/oatmeal
  • quinoa

Dairy and faux dairy

  • greek yogurt (check those labels, though)
  • milk
  • soy milk

Other*

  • avocado
  • herbs and spices
  • nuts
  • oils

*To be fair, these foods are low enough in carbohydrates that they don’t actually rank on the GI. Nevertheless, they are part of a balanced diet, so we’re including them.

High-GI foods to avoid

These foods rank at 70 or higher, so stay away:

  • bagels
  • instant oatmeal
  • mashed potatoes
  • most cereals
  • most cookies (we know, we’re crying, too…)
  • pretzels
  • rice crackers
  • rice milk
  • soda
  • waffles
  • watermelon
  • white bread
  • white potatoes
  • white rice

Foods to eat in moderation

Some foods fall in the gray area and can be eaten once in a while on a low-GI diet:

  • couscous
  • grapes
  • honey
  • pineapple
  • popcorn
  • pumpkin (but no PSLs — unless they’re this version)
  • Raisin Bran cereal
  • raisins
  • rye bread

Is an LGID right for you?

“People with diabetes or prediabetes may benefit from a low-GI diet,” says Gorin. Those with a history of heart disease may also want to give this diet a try.

“But keeping track of the glycemic index of foods can take a big commitment, so a low-GI diet may not be ideal for people who prefer to follow a more cut-and-dry meal plan,” she says.

The bottom line

  • Just like any other diet, a low-GI diet isn’t a cure-all. It’s a commitment to choosing certain foods that may help prevent conditions like diabetes or heart disease. The amount of food eaten is also important — just because a food has a low GI doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all.
  • Following a low-GI diet takes dedication, but it’s definitely doable with a bit of planning and guidance. Cooking methods and the combination of other foods at a meal can change the GI of a food. Adding a little healthy fat, like olive oil or avocado, can lower the GI, while cooking or blending a food may increase the GI.
  • If you think this diet could be right for you, ask your doctor and meet with a registered dietitian to get started.

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