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Glycemic index and diabetes

Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a food can make your blood sugar (glucose) rise. Only foods that contain carbohydrates have a GI. Foods such as oils, fats, and meats do not have a GI, though in people with diabetes, they can affect the blood sugar.

In general, low GI foods increase glucose slowly in your body. Foods with a high GI increase blood glucose quickly.

If you have diabetes, high GI foods can make it harder to control diabetes.

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Not all carbohydrates work the same in the body. Some trigger a quick spike in blood sugar, while others work more slowly, avoiding large or rapid rises in blood sugar. The glycemic index addresses these differences by assigning a number to foods that reflects how quickly they increase blood glucose compared to pure glucose (sugar).

The GI scale goes from 0 to 100. Pure glucose has the highest GI and is given a value of 100.

Eating low GI foods can help you gain tighter control over your blood sugar. Paying attention to the GI of foods can be another tool to help manage diabetes, along with carbohydrate counting. Following a low-GI diet also may help with weight loss.

Glycemic Index of Certain Foods

Low GI foods (0 to 55):

Moderate GI foods (56 to 69):

High GI foods (70 and higher):

Meal Planning with the Glycemic Index

When planning your meals:

The GI of a food is affected by certain factors, such as the ripeness of a piece of fruit. So you need to think about more than the GI of a food when making healthy choices. When choosing meals, it's a good idea to keep these issues in mind.

For many people with diabetes, carbohydrate counting, or carb counting, helps limit carbohydrates to a healthy amount. Carb counting along with choosing healthy foods and maintaining a healthy weight may be enough to control diabetes and lower the risk for complications. But if you have trouble controlling your blood sugar or want tighter control, you should talk with your health care provider about using the glycemic index as part of your action plan.

References

American Diabetes Association. 5. Facilitating behavior change and well-being to improve health outcomes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2020. Diabetes Care. 2020;43(Suppl 1):S48-S65. PMID: 31862748 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31862748/.

American Diabetes Association website. Glycemic index and diabetes. www.diabetes.org/glycemic-index-and-diabetes. Accessed October 18, 2020.

MacLeod J, Franz MJ, Handu D, et al. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Nutrition practice guideline for type 1 and type 2 diabetes in adults: nutrition intervention evidence reviews and recommendations. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2017;117(10)1637-1658. PMID: 28527747 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28527747/.

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Review Date: 10/18/2020  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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