How to Determine a Food’s Glycemic Value

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Diet, General Health
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

An important factor in making healthy food choices

Making appropriate food choices is a crucial component of a healthy diet. While there are many factors to consider, a food’s glycemic value is one of the most important. Why? Because research has shown that a low-glycemic diet reduces risk of serious diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load

How do you determine a food’s glycemic value? There are two ways to make that assessment.

One is to look at a food’s position in the Glycemic Index (GI), which ranks foods according to how quickly your body breaks them down into glucose. The lower the ranking, the better.

Another is to look at a food’s glycemic load (GL). Glycemic load is based on the same concept as the glycemic index, but it takes into account both the quality and quantity of a food. It’s determined by the GI of a food plus the amount of net carbohydrates in a standard serving. Again, the lower the ranking, the better. (See chart below.)

 

Glycemic Index

Glycemic Load

Low

55 or under

10 or under

Medium

56-69

11-19

High

70 or above

20 or above

Glycemic Load Is Best

Though both are helpful, I recommend that you rely primarily on glycemic load to make your choices, because some foods with a high glycemic index are actually quite acceptable when eaten in normal quantities, while others with a low glycemic index are potentially problematic.

For example, a large carrot and a cup of spaghetti have similar GIs. Yet the carrot contains only 5 g of available carbs (it’s mostly water), while the spaghetti contains 38 g—giving them GLs of 2 and 16, respectively.

Put it to Use

Here are a couple of lists with some examples of low-glycemic and high-glycemic foods.

Low-Glycemic

  • Vegetables (except root vegetables)
  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Fruits (except dried fruits)

High-Glycemic

  • Bread
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Pasta
  • Fruit juice
  • Most cold cereals
  • Snack foods made with flour or sugar

As you can see, simply replacing starchy foods with salads, green vegetables, beans, and legumes will quickly lighten your glycemic load.

Research has also shown that eating a modest amount of healthy fats and moderate portions of lean protein with each meal can help to “cancel out” high-glycemic foods, even in a single dish.

One of my favorite meals is a hearty salad with a nice piece of salmon on top. It’s an easy way to get a tasty serving of healthy fats, plenty of protein, and lots of low-GL carbs.

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