Why are glycemic indexes and glycemic loads important?

According to Harvard Health,

  • Low glycemic foods help you feel full longer; help keep blood sugar even.”
  • “a low glycemic index diet can help maintain weight loss”
  • “a high glycemic index increases the risk of breast, prostate, colorectal, and pancreatic cancers”
  • “a high glycemic index diet increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease”

What is a glycemic load?

  • Glycemic Index is relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. The higher the glycemic index the higher the blood glucose will rise.
  • The glycemic index uses a scale from 1 to 100 and is based on 50 grams of carbohydrate.
  • Foods that have glycemic index above 50 is considered high where as those foods with a glycemic index blow 50 is considered low
  • Glycemic index does not take portions into account.

What is glycemic load?

  • Glycemic load takes into account portion sizes.

How is the glycemic load determined?

  • According to Harvard’s Health publication, “The glycemic load is determined by multiplying the grams of a carbohydrate in a serving by the glycemic index, then dividing by 100. A glycemic load of 10 or below is considered low; 20 or above is considered high.”
  • Lets take for example watermelon. Watermelon has a glycemic index of 8o, which is high. Remember I said the glycemic index is be based  on 50 grams of carbohydrates. A serving of watermelon if 6 grams, therefore 80 (glycemic index) x 6 (grams in a serving)/100=4.8 Watermelon has a high glycemic index but has low glycemic load.

What are some factors that influence glycemic index?

According to the American Diabetic Association there are several factors that can influence the glycemic index of a food,

  • How ripe a fruit or vegetable is. The more ripe a fruit or vegetable is, the higher the glycemic index.
  • Juice has a higher glycemic index than whole fruit. Consider a cold orange over a glass of orange juice, plus you gave the added benefit of fiber.
  • Mashed potatoes has a higher glycemic index than a whole baked potato.
  • Stone ground whole wheat bread has a lower glycemic index than whole wheat bread.
  • Cooking duration. Foods that are cooked longer tend to have a higher glycemic index. For example, al dente pasta has a lower glycemic index than soft-cooked pasta)
  • Long-grain white rice has a lower glycemic index than brown rice but short-grain white rice has a higher glycemic index than brown rice.

Remember that glycemic index and glycemic loads are used when describing carbohydrates, they are not used when describing fat and protein.

What is a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates are a family of molecules that occur in 3 main forms


Sugars are the simplest forms of carbohydrates.

  • Glucose is a type of carbohydrate and is found in our blood stream, it is elevated in those who have diabetes.
  • fructose  is a fruit sugar
  • lactose is a milk sugar


  • Starches are more complex than the simple sugars.
  • Some starches are quickly digested and cause a spike in the bodies blood sugar.
  • Whole grains and beans are digested more slowly, they do not cause the blood sugar to spike.


Fiber is a complex carbohydrate. Our bodies are unable to break fiber down. Foods with high fiber tend to move slowly through the intestines making you feel fuller for longer periods of time

Reference Harvard Health

Things to consider

According to the American Diabetic Association, “Research shows that both the amount and the type of carbohydrate in food affect blood glucose levels. Studies also show that the total amount of carbohydrate in food, in general, is a stronger predictor of blood glucose response than the glycemic index.”


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