What Is A Glycemic Index?

To be honest, for years I didn’t know the answer to that question either. Not until I studied to become a nutritionist. So, let’s discuss this thing called a glycemic index.

Our digestive system breaks down carbohydrates that are found in our foods and drinks into simple sugars. These simple sugars are then transferred to each cell of the body through the bloodstream. From there, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps the glucose to travel from the blood into the cells. Once it reaches a cell, the glucose is “burned” together with oxygen to create energy.

The brain muscles and nervous system all rely on glucose. Excess glucose is converted into glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the muscle tissue and liver. Glycogen supplements blood sugar levels if they drop between meals or during physical activity.

The glycemic index is a scale used to categorize foods and drinks according to how fast they increase the glucose level of the blood, usually over a 2 hour span. It has essentially replaced the grouping of carbohydrates as either simple or complex.

White bread that has a glycemic index of 100, is the standard by which other carbohydrate-containing foods are ranked. The glycemic index makes a comparison between foods that have the same amount of carbohydrates, gram for gram. The higher the glycemic index (over 70), the quicker the carbohydrates break down during digestion The lower the glycemic index (less than 55), the slower the carbohydrates break down during digestion.

Due to the amount of time low glycemic index foods take to digest, they tend to keep you feeling fuller for longer periods of time. Medium glycemic index foods range from 55-70.

The Glycemic Index Foods

Low (less than 55) (slower breakdown during digestion)

  • whole grain, multigrain, rye, and sour dough bread
  • Rolled or steel cut oatmeal. All bran
  • Pasta, barley, soba noodles, quinoa, pearl couscous, buck wheat
  • Basmati and long-grain rice
  • Lima beans, peas, legumes, chickpeas, baked beans, kidney beans, and lentils
  • Apples, strawberries, apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and kiwi
  • Carrots broccoli, cauliflower, celery, tomatoes, courgette, orange sweet potatoes, corn, African yams
  • Milk, cheese, yogurt, custard, soy milk, almond milk.

Medium (56-70)

  • whole wheat, rye, and pita bread
  • Quick oats, museli, oat bran
  • Brown rice, wild, or basmati rice, couscous
  • Raisins, pineapples, mangoes, apricots
  • Beet root
  • Spaghetti, durum wheat

High (over 70) (quick breakdown during digestion)

  • White bread, waffles, bagels
  • Corn flakes, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal, Weetabix
  • Short grain, white rice, rice pasta, macaroni and cheese from mix
  • Russet potatoes, pumpkin
  • Pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers
  • Melons
  • Broad beans, jelly beans


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