What is Glycemic Index and how to use it to eat healthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I am trying to lose some weight and improve my diet. Is there a way to shop around for good foods that will load me with less sugar and help me eat healthier?

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Dear reader: The total amount of carbohydrates we consume (with a meal or with a snack) mostly determines what happens to our blood sugar levels right after we eat. But, it’s not just the absolute amount of carbs that’s important – the food itself also plays a big part. So, for example, a serving of white bread or white rice has almost the same effect as eating pure table sugar— it produces a quick, high spike in blood sugar. On the other hand though, a serving of something like zucchini, beans or squash has a slower, smaller effect.

Strategically picking good sources of carbs can help us control our blood sugar and in most cases, our weight although I don’t want this to sound too simple. The levels of our activity, age, sex, overall health and metabolism and genetics are all important parts of the equation.

Okay so let me give you one good way we can choose our foods: we can use the glycemic index (GI) to know how much any given food boosts blood sugar.

The glycemic index gives us the effect a certain amount of specific food would have on blood sugar as compared with the same amount of pure glucose. This means that a food with a glycemic index of say 20 boosts blood sugar only 20% as much as pure glucose would. One with a GI of over 90 acts almost like pure glucose.

Glycemic index is easy to use, just choose foods with a low(er) index rather than higher whenever you can. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Low glycemic index (GI of 55 or less): Most fruits and vegetables, pasta, beans, beats, minimally processed grains, low-fat dairy foods, fish and nuts
  • Moderate glycemic index (GI 56 to 69): White and sweet potatoes (swap baked potatoes with pasta), corn (choose peas instead) and white rice (go for brown rice)
  • High glycemic index (GI of 70 or higher): White bread (try whole grain bread), rice cakes, most crackers, cakes, bagels, stuff like ice creams and mochaccinos, doughnuts, croissants, most (if not all) packaged breakfast cereals and for sure fast foods like McDonald’s.

Click here to see the GI values for 100 most common foods and explore further to organize your diet and reduce your sugar load. This will help you eat better, lose some weight and be healthier.

Yours in Health,

Dr. Mo