Getting to Know Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

Getting to Know Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

by Dr. Morgan Camp M.D. admin


Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is not only important for general health but also very important for successful long term weight loss. Blood sugar spikes from processed and sugary foods are a major factor in weight gain and fat storage!

After eating, your body breaks down the food and the sugar is released into the bloodstream. If you eat food with lots of sugar or simple carbohydrates, the amount of sugar in your blood spikes rapidly. To return it to normal your body produces a lot of insulin, which pulls the sugar into your cells and signals your body to store fat. Who wants more fat storage?  Not us!

Eating foods that slowly release sugar into your blood stream over time–such as whole foods on the diet–will keep your blood sugar at a more even level allow your body to use more of that energy and avoid putting it away for storage.  There are 2 great way to measure how much sugar is going to be rapidly released into your blood after eating: the Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL).

Glycmic Index

The Glycemic Index is a ranking on a scale of 1-100 of how much the carbohydrates in foods increase blood sugar. Foods on the upper end of the scale, closer to 100, have a high GI are digested quickly and cause rapid blood sugar and insulin spikes. However foods that are on the low end of the scale “complex carbohydrates” are digested and absorbed by the body more slowly, meaning blood sugar and insulin rise slowly. Studies show that eating a diet rich in low GI foods improves lipid and glucose levels in people with diabetes, and help prevent diabetes by lowering insulin levels and controlling insulin resistance. In addition low GI foods help with weight management by controlling appetite and delaying hunger.  So, clearly your goal is to choose foods with low GI’s.

To measure the GI of a food a portion containing 50 grams of carbohydrates is fed to 10 healthy individuals after an overnight fast. Their blood sugar is measured at periodic intervals for two hours. This rise in blood sugar is compared to how quickly and how much blood sugar rises when eating an equal carbohydrate portion of glucose sugar to determine the final GI number.


55 or less = low (good)

56-69 = medium

69-100 = high (bad)


Choose foods whenever possible with low or medium GI.


Glycemic Load

Different foods have different amounts of available carbohydrates. That is why you should consider the glycemic load of the food you eat. Glycemic load takes into consideration the amount of available carbohydrates in a food and its glycemic index.  For example watermelon has a GI of 72, which is relatively high. The sugar in watermelon is very easily digestible and readily absorbed by the body. However watermelon also contains a lot of water, so you have to eat a lot of watermelon to consume 50g of carbohydrates. While it is important to understand Glycemic Index, the Glycemic Load of a food gives you a better idea of how your meal is going to affect your body.


1-10 = low (good); Ex: some beans, fiber rich fruits and veggies, cashews and peanuts

11-19 = medium; Ex: oatmeal, brown rice, barley and bulgur, sweet potato, whole wheat pasta

20 and above = high (avoid); Ex: candy, fruit juice, potato, white bread and pasta, raisins, dates


Please take note that often the same foods will have high glycemic loads and glycemic index numbers.  Obviously, processed wheat products, sugar, potatoes, and desserts of all kinds will wreak havoc with your ability to lose weight!



The GI and GL can be important tools when choosing foods for weight loss.  While it is important to be conscious of the GI and GL of the foods you eat, these are not the only factors to consider.  It is still important to get adequate vitamins, minerals, protein, and fat, which are not indicated on GI.  If you follow the diet, you will be getting the complex nutrition you need without spiking blood sugars and storing fat!

In addition, just because a food has a high GL that does not mean you should never eat it. It is important to remember that you should consume things in moderation. Everybody needs a break once and a while, so go ahead and use one of your cheat meals on your birthday cake and enjoy!

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