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Glycemic Index

How quickly do foods raise your blood sugar?

The glycemic index measures how fast a food is likely to raise your blood sugar. This can be helpful. For example, if your blood sugar is low and continuing to drop during exercise, you would prefer to eat a carb that will raise your blood sugar quickly. On the other hand, if you would like to keep your blood sugar from dropping during a few hours of mild activity, you may prefer to eat a carb that has a lower glycemic index and longer action time. If your blood sugar tends to spike after breakfast, you may want to select a cereal that has a lower glycemic index.

The numbers below give that food's glycemic index based on glucose, which is one of the fastest carbohydrates available. Glucose is given an arbitrary value of 100 and other carbs are given a number relative to glucose. Faster carbs (higher numbers) are great for raising low blood sugars and for covering brief periods of intense exercise. Slower carbs (lower numbers) are helpful for preventing overnight drops in the blood sugar and for long periods of exercise.
 
Why is the Glycemic Index Important?

Your body performs best when your blood sugar is kept relatively constant. If your blood sugar drops too low, you become lethargic and/or experience increased hunger. And if it goes too high, your brain signals your pancreas to secrete more insulin. Insulin brings your blood sugar back down, but primarily by converting the excess sugar to stored fat. Also, the greater the rate of increase in your blood sugar, the more chance that your body will release an excess amount of insulin, and drive your blood sugar back down too low.

Therefore, when you eat foods that cause a large and rapid glycemic response, you may feel an initial elevation in energy and mood as your blood sugar rises, but this is followed by a cycle of increased fat storage, lethargy, and more hunger!

Although increased fat storage may sound bad enough, individuals with diabetes (diabetes mellitus, types 1 and 2) have an even worse problem. Their bodies inability to secrete or process insulin causes their blood sugar to rise too high, leading to a host of additional medical problems.

The theory behind the Glycemic Index is simply to minimize insulin-related problems by identifying and avoiding foods that have the greatest effect on your blood sugar.

Should All High-GI Foods be Avoided?
 
For non-diabetics, there are times when a rapid increase in blood sugar (and the corresponding increase in insulin) may be desirable. For example, after strenuous physical activity, insulin also helps move glucose into muscle cells, where it aids tissue repair. Because of this, some coaches and physical trainers recommend high-GI foods (such as sports drinks) immediately after exercise to speed recovery.

Your body performs best when your blood sugar is kept relatively constant. If your blood sugar drops too low, you become lethargic and/or experience increased hunger. And if it goes too high, your brain signals your pancreas to secrete more insulin. Insulin brings your blood sugar back down, but primarily by converting the excess sugar to stored fat. Also, the greater the rate of increase in your blood sugar, the more chance that your body will release an excess amount of insulin, and drive your blood sugar back down too low.

Therefore, when you eat foods that cause a large and rapid glycemic response, you may feel an initial elevation in energy and mood as your blood sugar rises, but this is followed by a cycle of increased fat storage, lethargy, and more hunger!

Although increased fat storage may sound bad enough, individuals with diabetes (diabetes mellitus, types 1 and 2) have an even worse problem. Their bodies inability to secrete or process insulin causes their blood sugar to rise too high, leading to a host of additional medical problems.

The theory behind the Glycemic Index is simply to minimize insulin-related problems by identifying and avoiding foods that have the greatest effect on your blood sugar.

Also, it's not Glycemic Index alone that leads to the increase in blood sugar. Equally important is the amount of the food that you consume. The concept of Glycemic Index combined with total intake is referred to as "Glycemic Load",
 
How Glycemic Load Improves the Glycemic Index
 
Although most candy has a relatively high Glycemic Index, eating a single piece of candy will result in a relatively small glycemic response. Why? Well, simply because your body's glycemic response is dependent on both the type AND the amount of carbohydrate consumed. This concept, known as Glycemic Load, was first popularized in 1997 by Dr. Walter Willett and associates at the Harvard School of Public Health. Glycemic Load is calculated this way:
GL = GI/100 x Net Carbs
(Net Carbs are equal to the Total Carbohydrates minus Dietary Fiber)
Therefore, you can control your glycemic response by consuming low-GI foods and/or by restricting your intake of carbohydrates.
 

Glycemic Indexes and Glycemic Loads for Common Foods

GI and GL for Common Foods
Food GI Serving Size Net Carbs GL
Peanuts 14  4 oz (113g) 15 2
Bean sprouts 25  1 cup (104g) 4 1
Grapefruit 25  1/2 large (166g) 11 3
Pizza 30  2 slices (260g) 42 13
Lowfat yogurt 33  1 cup (245g) 47 16
Apples 38  1 medium (138g) 16 6
Spaghetti 42  1 cup (140g) 38 16
Carrots 47  1 large (72g) 5 2
Oranges 48  1 medium (131g) 12 6
Bananas 52  1 large (136g) 27 14
Potato chips 54  4 oz (114g) 55 30
Snickers Bar 55  1 bar (113g) 64 35
Brown rice 55  1 cup (195g) 42 23
Honey 55  1 tbsp (21g) 17 9
Oatmeal 58  1 cup (234g) 21 12
Ice cream 61  1 cup (72g) 16 10
Macaroni and cheese 64  1 serving (166g) 47 30
Raisins 64  1 small box (43g) 32 20
White rice 64  1 cup (186g) 52 33
Sugar (sucrose) 68  1 tbsp (12g) 12 8
White bread 70  1 slice (30g) 14 10
Watermelon 72  1 cup (154g) 11 8
Popcorn 72  2 cups (16g) 10 7
Baked potato 85  1 medium (173g) 33 28
Glucose 100  (50g) 50 50

The table below shows values of the Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL) for a few common foods. GI's of 55 or below are considered low, and 70 or above are considered high. GL's of 10 or below are considered low, and 20 or above are considered high.

 


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