All the carbohydrate foods we eat cause a release of glucose into the bloodstream and a rise in insulin, but some raise glucose more than others. The glycemic index was created to differentiate those foods from each other: It’s a system of ranking foods containing equal amounts of carbohydrate according to how much they raise blood-glucose levels.
By understanding what it is and how it works it can help you choose foods that have a gentler effect on blood-glucose levels.
How it Ranks
The glycemic index (GI) categorizes foods based on how much a food containing 50 grams of carbohydrate raises blood-glucose levels after eating. A food with a GI of under 55 is considered low, while anything more than 70 is high. An even more precise measure is a food’s glycemic load (GL), which considers both a food’s GI and how much carbohydrate the food contains in a standard portion.
Most vegetables, whole grains, beans and other high-fiber foods are lower on the glycemic scale, while foods containing refined starches are higher. While it is good to use the GI as a guideline it is also important to keep in mind blood-glucose responses to foods can vary widely from person to person, especially people with diabetes.
The GI system is a helpful guide that can give you some general direction for making better choices among different carbohydrate foods, but keep in mind you don’t always need to refer to a ranking system to know what foods are good for you to eat. Simply use your good judgment. You know that whole grains, vegetables, beans and other high-fiber foods are great choices and that a Snickers bar, donut and other processed foods are not.
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