Diving Into Glycemic Foods: What You Need To Know
Last Updated: 22nd September 2023 · Written by Donna Mastriani
We may have all heard of the glycemic index (GI), but a little about glycemic foods. The glycemic index is a tool necessary for blood sugar management. Many factors determine the glycemic index of a food, including ripeness, method of preparation (cooking), level of processing the food has undergone, and nutrient composition.
Awareness of the glycemic index helps you be more conscious of the foods you consume and what will enhance or decrease weight loss, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol.
What is the meaning of glycemic?
The glycemic index (GI) is a value used to measure how much certain foods increase your blood sugar level. Foods can be classified on a scale of 0-100 to show low, medium, and high-glycemic foods. The lower the glycemic index of a specific food, the less it affects blood sugar levels. The three glycemic index ratings include the following:
- Low: 55 or less
- Medium: 56-69
- High: 70 and above
The GI rating system shows how quickly food you’ve eaten is converted into blood sugar (glucose) when the food is consumed on its own. Foods high in sugar and refined carbs are easily digested and converted to glucose, making them high-GI foods.
Alternatively, foods high in fibre, protein, and fat have a low GI. Foods without carbs, like meat, poultry, herbs, nuts, seeds, spices, fish, and oils, aren’t assigned a GI. Besides GI, you also need to keep in mind the glycemic load. Glycemic load factors in the amount of carbs in one serving of food.
By factoring in the carbs in every food serving, glycemic load helps determine how a portion of food can affect your blood sugar levels.
Factors affecting the glycemic index of food
The glycemic index of foods explains factors that can influence how fast a specific food raises your blood sugar. Some of the factors that affect a food’s glycemic index include:
- Food’s cooking method: How you prepare food can change its GI. The longer you cook your food, the faster your body breaks it down and absorbs glucose. So, longer-cooked food has a higher GI.
- The amount of processing a carbohydrate has undergone: Processing, including grinding and rolling, disrupt the molecules amylose and amylopectin. Amylose tends to be difficult to digest, while amylopectin is easily digested. The more a food is refined or undergoes processing, the higher its GI.
- The fibre level of food: Adding proteins and fats to a meal slows digestion, reducing your glycemic response to a meal.
- Food’s chemical and physical structure: When your food is rich in amylose, it will have a lower GI. However, foods high in amylopectin content have higher GI.
- Types of sugars in food: Not all sugars have a GI. The glycemic index of any food depends on the type of sugar it contains. For example, fructose can sometimes be as little as 23 and 105 for maltose.
- Food ripeness: Unripe fruits contain complex carbs which convert into sugars. The riper fruit, the higher its GI. For example, an overripe mango’s GI is 56, while that of a raw mango is 51.
Simply put, refined and processed carbohydrates metabolize and are converted into glucose quickly by your body. However, foods with more fibre, protein, and fats metabolize slowly, thus releasing sugar glucose into the blood gradually, hence a low GI. Overcooked foods are already broken down immensely, and when you eat them, it metabolizes easily, and the body absorbs glucose fast.
Low glycemic foods
Low and medium-glycemic foods are ones that the body breaks down slowly, causing a gradual rise in blood sugar levels over time instead of a spike. You don’t have to count calories but swap high-GI foods for low-GI alternatives when following a low-GI diet.
You can choose to have plenty of nutritious foods you can have that have a low glycemic index. Some of these foods include:
- Fruits: Peaches, plums, apples, strawberries, apricots, pears, kiwis, tomatoes, and others.
- Starchy vegetables: Winter squash, sweet potatoes (with orange flesh), yams, and others.
- Legumes: Beans (various varieties like black, butter, and kidney), chickpeas, lentils and more.
- Noodles and rice: Basmati, Doongara, long grain, and brown rice. Vermicelli, soba, and rice noodles.
- Vegetables: Zucchini, kale, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and more.
- Grains: Semolina, couscous, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.
- Dairy and dairy alternatives: Yoghurt, cheese, milk, and plant milk alternatives.
- Bread and breakfast cereals: Multigrain, whole grain, sourdough, rye, bran flakes, and steel-cut oats.
You can use these low glycemic foods to prepare a menu and create a low GI diet. Additionally, some foods don’t contain carbohydrates and hence don’t have a GI value. You can incorporate these foods into your low-GI diet. These include:
- Seafood: Salmon, trout, prawns, sardines, and fish.
- Herbs and spices: Pepper, salt, dill, basil, and garlic.
- Nuts: Macadamia, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, and cashews.
- Fats and oils: Avocado, butter, and olive oil among otters.
- Animal products: Beef, chicken, pork, eggs and lamb.
Are foods with low glycemic index healthier?
Some foods with a low glycemic index should be part of our everyday balanced diet. These include fruits, whole grains, vegetables, lentils and beans. However, you should refrain from using the glycemic index to determine whether food combinations are healthy because that can be misleading.
Just because some foods have a high GI doesn’t mean they’re bad for you. Similarly, not all low-GI foods are healthy for you. For example, a parsnip can be a high-GI food, while a chocolate cake has a lesser GI value.
You’ll also find that foods containing fats or ones cooked in fats also have a lower GI. For example, potato crisps have a lower GI than those that aren’t deep-fried. However, since crisps are high in fat, they should be consumed in moderation.
If you only consumed foods with a low GI, you might consume a diet ful of fats and otherwise unbalanced.
Low glycemic foods and diabetes
Diabetes affects millions worldwide. When one suffers from the disease, they can’t process sugar as healthy people do. Therefore, their blood sugar levels get affected easily.
Good blood sugar control, however, helps delay or prevent the onset of complications like stroke, heart disease, and kidney and nerve damage. When one’s suffering from diabetes, studies suggest that a low GI diet can help reduce blood sugar levels.
Moreover, according to studies, high GI diets tend to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One study with over 205,000 participants showed that high GI diets have a 33% risk of type 2 diabetes in contrast to those consuming a low GI diet.
Understanding the glycemic index is necessary for those suffering from diabetes as it can help them control blood sugar by consuming foods with a low GI level. However, some factors must be considered when following a low GI diet.
For example, studies show that the amount of carbohydrates you consume rather than their GI rating determines your blood sugar levels after a meal. Consuming a diet low in fat, salt, and sugar and high in fresh vegetables and fruits is also necessary. People with diabetes need to consult a diabetes nutritionist before making dietary changes.
Benefits of a low glycemic diet
Besides helping manage blood sugar levels, low GI foods have many other benefits, which include:
- Weight loss: Low GI foods may help you lose weight because they can cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall slowly, keeping you full for longer. When you’re full longer, you don’t get the urge to eat more frequently, which can help you manage your weight.
- Improved cholesterol levels: According to various studies, low GI diets lower total cholesterol in the blood and, even more so, LDL cholesterol. When high in the blood, LDL cholesterol increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.
- May reduce heart disease risk: According to multiple researchers, high GI and GL diets are commonly associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
- May reduce risk of cancer: High GI diets, according to certain studies, suggest that high GI diets can increase the risk of cancers like colorectal, endometrial, and breast cancer.
High glycemic foods
High GI foods raise blood sugar promptly and can end up causing health problems if one consumes too much of these foods too often. If you want to manage weight and reduce the risk of diabetes or manage blood glucose, avoiding high glycemic foods should be considered.
Some examples of high-glycemic foods include:
- White rice
- White bread
- Cookies, cakes, and sweet treats
- Potatoes and fires
- Some fruits like pineapple and watermelon
- Breakfast cereals and cereal bars
- Sweetened dairy products
- Sugary foods, drinks, and sugar
Managing foods with allergies and intolerances
The glycemic index is important in determining foods to eat when you need to control your blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight. The best way to discover which foods are healthy is by ensuring you consume less processed foods, more fresh fruits and low glycemic vegetables. But what if you have allergies and intolerances?
When adapting your diet, acknowledging your allergies and intolerances is an important factor to consider. If you’re unsure of your allergies You can discover them by taking our Complete Body Test which analyses your blood sample against 38 allergies and 79 intolerances. For any further information on how to manage your allergy or intolerance in addition to taking control of the glycemic food you eat, you can speak to a member of our team for advice on testing.