The Glycemic Index (GI) is the rate at which carbohydrate levels in foods increase blood glucose levels in the human body after a meal.

The GI of foods is a numbered rating and is categorized under three classifications. Low GI foods are in the range 0 to 55, medium GI foods hover between 56 and 69 and high GI foods are rated 70 and above.

What does the GI number mean?

The GI number given to each food is a comparison of that food with respect to pure glucose.

Therefore, a food with a GI rating of 60 means consuming it would cause the human body's blood sugar to be 60 percent of what it would have been had the person consumed pure glucose.

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Low GI vs High GI

Foods that are on the lower end of the Glycemic Index spectrum release glucose at a much slower rate in comparison to foods on the higher end, which release glucose at a quicker rate.

Foods that have low GI help in weight loss while high GI foods are consumed by people who want to recover energy after a strenuous workout to neutralize hypo- (or insufficient) glycemia (Harvard Health Publishing, Feb 2015).

Long-distance runners and athletes ideally consume foods with high GI around the time when they are exercising for their required energy boost. People affected with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are recommended to have a diet comprising low GI foods because theycannot naturally produce adequate amounts of insulin required to offset a sugar spike while also being resistant to insulin.

Hence, the slower rate of release of glucose makes low GI foods an absolute essential for people with sugar problems.

The below list of foods has been categorized into low, medium and high.

Low (GI)

Medium (GI)

High (GI)

Apple (39)

White Pita Bread (68)

Boiled Potato (78)

Whole grain bread (51)

Banana (62)

Rice Milk (86)

Quinoa (53)

Couscous (65)

Rice crackers/crisps (87)

Brown Rice (50)

Grapes (59)

Glucose (103)

Prunes (29)

Coca Cola (63)

Mash Potato (87)

Cashews (27)

Ice Cream (57)

Raw watermelon (76)

Peanuts (7)

Raw Pineapple (59)

White Bagel (72)

Harvard Health Publishing has a list of 60 foods with their glycemic indexes. 

Glycemic Load vs Glycemic Index

It is important to use GI as a benchmark while making dietary choices for one’s personal requirement. However, does it tell you the whole story? Not really.

While the GI tells you how quickly glucose enters the human bloodstream, glycemic load reveals how much glucose is consumed per serving. The above table shows how high on the GI scale a raw watermelon, for example, is.

However, the glycemic load of one serving of watermelon is only 5 owing to its low carbohydrate level. Nutritionists advise people with diabetes to consider both the glycemic index and the glycemic load to make an informed choice and not expose themselves to the risk of sudden blood sugar spikes (Harvard Health Publishing). 

The bottom line to approaching a balanced diet using GI as contributing factor is to limit the consumption of high GI foods.

If one does need to incorporate high GI foods into their diet, it is useful to combine them with low GI foods to help balance the sugar levels while getting the required nutrients from all the food sources. 

Low GI snack options 

Incorporating nuts in low GI recipes is very useful for people with diabetes as most of the nuts range in the 0 to 20 on the GI scale (Medical News Today, Jul 2017).

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Almonds have a GI score of 0 while cashews tip a bit over the 20 mark with a score of 22. Peanuts, Walnuts and Macadamia nuts are a few choices to consider for a snack in between meals.

Nuts, in all their forms, have all the essential nutrients required for good overall physical health, especially protein. Of course, people with diabetes should avoid salted nuts as they may possibly increase the risk of complications (National Center for Biotechnology Information, Mar 2017).

It is estimated that some 34.2 million American adults have diabetes, and 20 percent of the population is unaware they have it (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Below is a list of a few recipes, that include ingredients that are lower on the GI scale, to consider incorporating into one’s diet for effective management of sugar levels:

Peanut butter oatmeal smoothie: Blend ¼ cup oats, 2 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 banana chopped, ½ cup soy milk in a blender until they are smooth. Add ice cubes to this smoothie to turn down the temperature.

Trail Mix: Trail mixes have been a popular snack since time immemorial and why not? They are healthy, keep you satiated, fun to eat and most importantly easy to prepare.

For the nuts component in the trail mix, make almond the hero of the composition as its GI is rated at 0! Add in some peanuts (unsalted), walnuts and cashews and the nuts box is ticked.

To add some crunch to the mix, incorporate sesame sticks or pretzels. Add a burst of flavour with a small amount of dark chocolate chips or/and raisins to complete the mix.

Almond Milk detox smoothie: A vegan detox smoothie that has all the health goodness and is tasty to sip.

Blend 2 cups of almond milk, 1 frozen banana chopped, 1-ounce fresh mint, one cup protein power of choice, 2 tablespoon organic spirulina in a high-speed blender until smooth. Can be served with ice cubes.

Quinoa: This superfood slots into the ‘low’ category of the GI with a rating of 53. An excellent substitute for rice, Quinoa is gluten-free and also a complete protein.

To make quinoa add water to it and boil it for 15 minutes until becomes fluffy. Add small amounts of nuts or fresh fruits, and to really boost the flavor a dash of cinnamon can do wonders.

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