Using the Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a measurement of the carbohydrate action of foods. Foods that have a gram-for-gram equivalent quantity of carbohydrates may impact blood glucose levels differently. Foods that have a low glycemic index (GI), such as beans, raise blood glucose at a slower and steadier level than those with a high GI (such as potatoes and pasta), which can cause a dramatic spike in blood glucose levels. A GI of 55 or less is considered low, while 70 or higher is considered high.

Tips for using the GI:

  • Get a guide. The New Glucose Revolution, by Drs. Jennie Brand Miller and Thomas Wolever, is the authoritative printed guide to the GI.
  • Consider the carbs. Don't lose sight of the total carbohydrates in a particular food or meal. Just because a food has a low GI doesn't mean you can eat twice as much.
  • Don't forget form. The same food can have different GI values based on whether it's cooked or raw, ripe or underripe, whole grain or finely ground. Make sure you have the right GI value for the form or preparation method.
  • Lighten your load. The glycemic load (GL) of a food, which takes the GI and factors in serving size, is also a useful tool for managing dietary control. A GL of 10 or less is considered low.

If you're interested in using the glycemic index for better dietary control of blood glucose levels, talk with your registered dietitian about incorporating it into your meal plan.

Reviewed by Francine Kaufman, MD. 4/08

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