The Glycemic Index (GI) is a scoring system that rates the impact foods (carbohydrates) have on your blood sugar levels. In short, the lower the GI, the less of an impact that food will have on your blood sugar. Low GI foods are great for those with diabetes and are utilized by many diets. But a low GI doesn’t always mean the best nutritional option, so understanding the GI is helpful in balancing your diet.
Foods that are have low-GI numbers (under 50) include:
- Fruits: cherries, grapefruit, dried apricots, apples, pears, plums, peaches, oranges, and grapes.
- Vegetables & Beans: cooked carrots, yam, sweet potato, artichoke, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, all varieties of lettuce and peppers, snow peas, spinach, young summer squash, tomatoes, zucchini, boiled soya and kidney beans, dried peas, boiled lentils and chickpeas.
- Breads/Cereals/Grains/Bakery: pound cake, multi-grain bread, whole grain bread, coarse barley bread, All-Bran cereal, non-instant porridge, pearl barley, rye, wheat kernels, wheat tortilla, instant rice, bulgur, and brown rice.
- Dairy Products & Beverages: skim milk, reduced-fat yogurt with fruit, ice cream, tomato juice, unsweetened apple and orange juices.
Just because a food has a GI number higher than 50 doesn’t mean it is necessarily unheathly for you, but knowing their GI number allows you to make healthier choices when pairing food together in your meal planning. For example, eating watermelon is not an unhealthy food choice even though is has a high GI of 72 – but if you incorporate it into a meal of other high GI foods like:
- Kraft macaroni and cheese (GI = 64)
- a plain baguette (GI = 95)
- green peas (GI = 51)
- watermelon (GI = 72)
- Coca Cola (GI = 63)
then it can contribute to a spike in your blood sugar levels, which stimulates excessive insulin and leads to increased inflammation and blood pressure, and high triglyceride levels. Cherries or grapefruit, with GI scores in the low 20′s, would be a better fruit choice in a meal that already has several other items that have high GI scores.
Harvard Medical School developed a list of the GI scores of some common foods. You might be surprised by some popular junk foods GI scores:
- Pizza Hut Super Supreme Pizza (GI = 36)
- Peanut M & M’s (GI = 33)
- Snickers (GI = 51)
- Ice Cream (GI = 57)
Foods which have low GI scores do not necessarily equate to healthy eating choices or balanced nutritional options, but GI scores can be helpful when trying to balance out our diet and our intake of carbohydrates and natural sugars.