What is Glycemic Index & Glycemic Load? The Secret Formula to Choose Good Food for Diabetics

Let’s start with a quiz. All of us know that cola is very high in sugar. It has 27 teaspoons of sugar in every litre. And for the last 20 years, we have been told that cornflakes are a super healthy breakfast item. So, let’s play a simple quiz: Which food amongst cola and cornflakes raises your blood sugar levels more? You will be super surprised with the answer. But you have to wait till the end of this article  to know the answer with some startling facts. 

Every food that we eat breaks down and releases sugar into the bloodstream at a certain pace. And as we know, excess release of sugar is not good for a diabetic patient. That’s why the Glycemic Index was created to measure how quickly a food affects blood glucose levels.

Pure glucose is used as a benchmark and given a value of 100. And all other foods are given an index depending on the rate at which they release sugar into the bloodstream compared to glucose e.g. Apple has a GI of 39. Low GI foods have a ranking of 55 or less whereas medium GI foods have a ranking of 56-69 and high GI foods have a range above 70 or more. 

Foods which have a high GI cause a rapid increase in blood glucose levels, hence a cause of concern for a diabetic patient. Here is a list of some food items with their GI Values.

S.NoGL 10 or below 10GL 11 or 19GL 20 or above
1.Kidney, pinto, garbanzo, soy and black beansWhole-wheat bread and pastaBeverages/juices with high sugar levels
2.Fibrous fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, grapefruit, apples, green peas, and watermelonRice cakesPizza
3.Cereals with 100% branOatmealCheese Macaroni and cheese
4.LentilsFruit juices without added sugarLow-fibre cereals (with added sugar)
5.Peanuts and CashewsBrown riceCandies
6.Whole-grain bread such as pumpernickel, barley and whole wheatBulgur and BarleyCouscous
7.MilkGraham crackersWhite pasta
8.Tomato juiceSweet potatoFrench fries
9.Whole-wheat tortillasBaked potatoes, dates and raisins
10.White rice

If you have to eat a high GI food, try to reduce its effect on blood sugar levels by combining it with a low-GI food or a high-protein food. Studies show that by doing so, the effect of the high-GI food on blood sugar levels is reduced. Adding lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil can lower the GI of the meal. 

“नीम हकीम ख़तरा-ए-जान” A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Half knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Lot of dieticians classify food as good or bad on the basis of just GI, which is foolhardy. Just because a food has a high GI rating, it shouldn’t be excluded from the diet. By focusing only on the Glycemic Index, many dieticians recommend not to have watermelon, beetroots, pumpkin and papaya. Watermelon has a GI of 72, beetroot’s GI is 64, pumpkin’s GI is 75 and papaya’s GI is 59. But how can these super healthy foods be bad?

Because there is more to the Glycemic Index. It is not the complete indicator. It only measures at what pace is the sugar released in the bloodstream, but it does not say how much sugar is released. And if you think about it, the amount of sugar is more important. If you eat 1 spoon of sugar, or if you eat 10 spoons of sugar, will it have the same effect on the body? Obviously not. But GI for 1 spoon is the same as 10 spoons.

Hence, another indicator was created to measure the amount of sugar released: Glycemic Load (GL). It is a number that estimates HOW MUCH the food will raise a person’s blood glucose level after eating it.  A GL of 20 or more is high, a GL of 11 to 19 is medium, and a GL of 10 or less is low.

Let’s look at GL of watermelon, beetroot, pumpkin and papaya: 4, 3, 5, 10. So all these foods will classify as low GL foods, which makes them perfect for good health. The reason why these foods have low GL is because a single serving of these foods do not have a lot of carbs e.g. watermelon is 91% water and is only 6% sugar. 

Please do not listen to dieticians who blame these healthy foods for your weight-gain and diabetes. Let’s come back to the quiz. We had asked which food: cola or cornflakes raises your sugars more? Which has a higher GI and GL?

Cola has a GI of 63 and GL of 16. Cornflakes GI is 93 and GL is 23. If cornflakes is a diet food, then cola is a super diet food! One would say cornflakes is not a breakfast item, it’s a dessert!

How Can Diabetics Have Sweets?

Life is bland, if we can’t have sweets. Right? Don’t worry.  Laddoos, or any mithai or ice-cream, definitely have a high GI. But based on what we learnt from the concept of GL, we can lower the GL of laddoos by eating ladoos in smaller quantities. One laddoo will have half GL as that of two ladoos. Also, you can reduce the GL of your meal by having laddoo not after the meal (as we usually do), but by having it by itself. This way, the amount of sugar that would be released would be controlled. You can eat your favorite food as long as you control the portion size of unhealthy foods.

Conclusion

Understanding what Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load does to the body is crucial for diabetics. Don’t let only one value fool you. By knowing these two values of the foods we consume, we are able to be the master of our diets. You too can take charge of your diet, with knowledge. 

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