Glycemic Index vs Glycemic Load

We all know that sugar is bad for us, right? (If you don’t, check out this article.) Suffice it to say for now that if I could change just one thing about the way people eat in America, it would be to dramatically reduce or eliminate processed sugar consumption.)

But what counts as “sugar”? It’s not just cane sugar: it’s any food that can turn into a lot of glucose once it hits the bloodstream, and can do so quickly.

But what counts as “quickly”? And what’s “a lot of glucose”?

The Glycemic Load

The glycemic load is a measurement of how much glucose a particular carb-rich food represents per unit of volume or serving size. Anything below 10 is considered “low”; above 20 is considered “high.”

This isn’t the only thing we need to know, though; there’s two other considerations. First, the glycemic load is based on a particular serving size. Yellow corn is a good example: the whole GMO issue aside, glycemic load is 61.5 (very high). But that is for a full cup. An ear of corn is about 3/4 cup on average, but most servings of corn are far smaller—1/4 cup at most. In that serving size, the glycemic load would really be 15.3—still moderate, but certainly not the 61.5 value of a full cup.

Second, some otherwise healthy foods carry a moderate to higher glycemic load, but they don’t hit the bloodstream very quickly. This is where Glycemic Index comes in.

The Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a measurement of how quickly the glycemic load actually hits the bloodstream. The measurement goes from 0 to 100, with pure glucose at 100. Officially, low is anything under 56, while high is anything over 70.

But some foods with a high glycemic index carry a low glycemic load per serving. The carbohydrates in that food might hit the bloodstream fast, but it’s not likely to have a strong overall effect on the blood sugar. Carrots are a good example of this: their glycemic index is 92, but their glycemic load is only one. So eating a carrot isn’t likely to impact your blood sugar too much.

The Upshot

This chart is a very helpful way to keep track of both the glycemic load and the glycemic index. If you’re going to use it for your carb choices, my recommendation would be to:

  1. Note the serving size for the glycemic load and make sure it’s a reasonable amount. If it’s not, do the math to make it so.
  2. The resulting number should be under 10 for most foods you consume (say 75%), and the rest should be under 20. The over 20 foods should be the very rare exception.
  3. If the glycemic load is under 10, the glycemic index doesn’t matter. (Again: carrots.)
  4. If the glycemic load is over 10, the glycemic index should be under 40 for most of what you eat. Make higher glycemic index and load foods only the very rare exception.

Or if this is all too complicated for you: avoid foods with added sugar, minimize grains, and eat whole, unprocessed foods. 🙂

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