Making Sense of the Glycaemic Index
Glycaemic index (GI) is a measure of how a carbohydrate food affects your blood glucose level. The glycaemic index (GI) tells us whether a food raises blood glucose levels quickly, moderately or slowly. This means it can be useful to help you manage your diabetes. Different carbohydrates are digested and absorbed at different rates, and GI is a ranking of how quickly each carbohydrate-based food and drink makes blood glucose levels rise after eating them.
Low GI foods produce gradual rises in blood glucose levels as they are more slowly digested and absorbed than higher GI foods. Low GI diets help in the management of diabetes. They also reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance and therefore can be helpful in the management of impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Low GI foods tend to be more filling and therefore can help people to reduce their energy intake for weight management.
Glycemic index is a number. It gives you an idea about how fast your body converts the carbs in a food into glucose. Two foods with the same amount of carbohydrates can have different glycemic index numbers.
The smaller the number, the less impact the food has on your blood sugar.
55 or less = Low (good)
56- 69 = Medium
70 or higher = High (bad)
Look for the glycemic index on the labels of packaged foods. You can also find glycemic index lists for common foods on the Internet.
What else affects GI?
Cooking methods: frying, boiling and baking
Processing and the ripeness of fruit and certain vegetables
Fibre: wholegrains and high-fibre foods act as a physical barrier that slows down the absorption of carbohydrate. This is not the same as ‘wholemeal’, where, even though the whole of the grain is included, it has been ground up instead of left whole. For example, some mixed grain breads that include wholegrains have a lower GI than wholemeal or white bread.
Fat lowers the GI of a food. For example, chocolate has a medium GI because of it’s fat content, and crisps will actually have a lower GI than potatoes cooked without fat.
Protein lowers the GI of food. Milk and other diary products have a low GI because they are high in protein and contain fat.
Is it ok to only focus on GI?
If you focus only on the GI of foods, without looking at other aspects, your diet could be unbalanced and high in fat and calories, which could lead to weight gain (making it harder to control your blood glucose levels) and increase your risk of heart disease. It’s important to think about the balance of your meals, which should be low in saturated fat, salt and sugar and contain plenty of fruit and vegetables.
The amount of carbs you eat has a bigger effect on blood glucose levels than GI alone. For example, pasta has a lower GI than watermelon, but pasta has more carbs than watermelon, so if you eat similar amounts of either of these two foods, the pasta will have more of an impact on your blood glucose levels. The most important thing to do is get your portion size right – once you do this, you will get an added bonus for choosing low-GI alternatives.
Can low GI foods help me lose weight?
Low GI foods, which cause your blood sugar levels to rise and fall slowly, may help you feel fuller for longer. This could help control your appetite and may be useful if you're trying to lose weight.
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