You may or may not have heard of the terms glycemic index and glycemic load but they are quickly becoming an effective way of consuming the most effective foods for your body in terms of weight management, disease prevention, and so on. 

Not all carbohydrates are created the same. The Glycemic Index was created as a way to measure how much of a rise in circulating blood sugar a carbohydrate triggers - the higher the number, the greater the blood sugar response. A high GI food is said to break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream. This causes that roller coaster effect of eating certain carbohydrates, having your blood sugar spike, experiencing a surge in energy, and then having that level of energy quickly fall, leaving you more tired than ever, sometimes depressed, less focused, hungry again, and so on, causing you to crave more sugary foods. 

Do you remember the last time you ate several cookies at once or ate a candy bar? Felt great for a short while, then felt awful? Craved more sugar shortly afterward? Do you feel stuck in this hamster wheel? We often hear about high GI foods in terms of  the "white menaces," namely refined sugar and white flour. However, these are not the only carbohydrates that can have this effect on your blood sugar.

Low GI foods, on the other hand, are broken down slowly and release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, avoiding the rush and crash associated with high GI foods.   By including more low GI foods in the diet, you can experience some or all of the following benefits:

  1. Manage weight
  2. Increase the body's sensitivity to insulin
  3. Reduce the risk of heart disease
  4. Reduce hunger and keep you fuller longer
  5. Prolong physical endurance

Consuming mostly low GI foods doesn't have to be challenging. Once you develop an understanding of where your favorites foods fall on the list, you'll be able to easily adjust your eating habits. No counting, no numbers to memorize, simply swap one food out for a healthier counterpart. 

Foods with an index of 70 or above have a high GI. Examples include short grain white rice (72), bagels (72), watermelon (103), pretzels (83), and baked white potatoes (83). Are you surprised to learn that a fruit like watermelon is on the high list? Keep reading...

Low GI foods have a number of 55 and under. Examples are brown rice (55), cherries (22), whole milk (22), broccoli (10), and chickpeas (33).  Picking foods from this list will have a host of health benefits for you! 

What about glycemic load, though? Is it different from the index? What should you be paying more attention to?

The Glycemic Load (GL) takes into account a food's GI but is a fuller picture. A GI only tells you how rapidly a particular carbohydrate turns into sugar. It doesn't tell you how much of that carbohydrate is in a serving of that particular food.  Like in the watermelon example above, where the GI of the watermelon is 103 but there's a small amount of carbohydrate in a serving (watermelons are mostly made up of, you guessed it, water!), making the GL quite low. You'd have to eat an extremely large serving of watermelon in one sitting to have your blood sugar drastically affected.

A GL of 20 or above is high, 11 to 19 is medium, and 11 or below is low. Foods that have a low GL almost always have a low GI but foods with an intermediate or high GL can range from very low to very high on the GI.

So, what does all of this information mean for you? If you suffer from being overweight, having low energy, have cravings for carbs, have unstable mood, and so on, you would do well (meaning almost everyone reading this at one point or another in their life) with slowly crowding out the high Glycemic Load foods in your pantry with low GL foods. I guarantee by making these simple, sustainable switches you will experience a marked improvement in your health and life!