The Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load are both used as a measure of the rise of blood sugar when a carbohydrate is consumed. It is important to know the difference between these two terms in order to make wise food choices. Carbohydrates are not the enemy – they are an important fuel for our day to day activities. But it is important to choose carbohydrates that won’t cause a rapid spike your blood sugar. Carbohydrates that spike your blood sugar at a fast rate cause your body to store fat, get an energy rush followed by a crash and consequently increase your chances of type II diabetes. The glucose (sugar) travels into your bloodstream when you eat any carbohydrate, whether it’s from fruit or a bowl of rice.
The glycemic index refers to how fast this sugar is rushing into your bloodstream. The ranking system determines if the food is low, medium, and high on the scale. If it is low on the scale, it means the sugar does not spike your blood sugar levels so rapidly. This is important because it means insulin does not get excreted at a rapid state. Insulin is the hormone that regulates the carbohydrate metabolism in your body and allows your body to not store this excess sugar as fat.
The glycemic index was primarily used for diabetes patients to control their blood sugar levels from spiking. Over the years, it’s been recognized as a tool for weight loss, and health management. The problem with the Glycemic Index is it does not account for the size of the serving you are consuming. It lists each food item on a scale (low, medium, high) without reference to serving size.
The Glycemic load on the other hand is more accurate and helpful, as it accounts for how much is being consumed and the amount of sugar in the carbohydrate. It is calculated by the carbohydrate content in grams (g), multiplied by the food’s Glycemic Index, and divided by 100. For example, carrots are shown to be high on the GI (74), but low on the Glycemic load. What the Glycemic load does is take into account how much carbohydrates in grams a food contains as well as how quickly it’s spiking your blood sugar levels. Since the carbohydrate in grams is not as high in carrots, carrots therefore would not spike your blood sugar in comparison to a bowl of white pasta. Another good example is watermelon: the glycemic index of watermelon is a high 72, but the glycemic load of watermelon is actually low, because it is mostly water.
Tips to slow down the sugar spike:
1) Consume carbohydrates that have a high source of fibre such as whole grains, legumes, fruits.
2) Consume a source of fat with a carbohydrate as it slows down the release of glucose (e.g. nuts, nut-butters, avocados, seeds, coconut oil).
3) Consume a source of protein at each meal to balance your insulin levels.
Glycemic Load of Some Common Foods:
• Low (10 or less): Apples, 100% rye bread, raw carrots, oatmeal, lima beans, lentils, green veggies
• Medium (11 to 19): sweet potato, chickpeas, pineapple, banana, honey, pinto beans
• High (20): white bread, white pasta, pastries, potatoes, corn, cornflakes, most processed food.
This post was created by guest blogger, Hiba Beyhum, a student of The Institute of Holistic Nutrition. Alex Gellman is Hiba’s preceptor.