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You may have heard such words as “glycemic index” or “glycemic load” when it comes to certain foods. The glycemic index of food is important when constructing a healthy, balanced diet as well as to promote overall better health.

What is the glycemic index (GI)? The GI of food is an indication of how fast sugar can enter our bloodstream, or the immediate effect of eating carbohydrates on the blood sugar level. GI refers to the carbohydrate content in food and is ranked in numbers. What this means is that carbohydrate in foods is then broken down into glucose, or blood sugar, and the higher the GI number is, the faster the food empties into the bloodstream after digestion.

What is the difference between the GI and the GL? As described above, the GI indicates the carbohydrates in food and its potential to raise the blood sugar levels. The glycemic load is essentially the effect of food on our blood sugar levels.

You can calculate the GL by multiplying the GI of a certain food by the number of carbohydrate grams contained in the food and then dividing the total by 100. A lower GL indicates that there’s a gradual release of glucose (sugar) into the blood from digestion. Therefore, blood sugar levels aren’t likely to rise very quickly. It’s recommended to have a lower glycemic load, and to consume mostly food with a lower GI in general.

How do you determine the GI of certain foods? To determine the glycemic index of any food, typically, individuals are given a test food that provides 50 grams of carbohydrate and a control food (white bread or pure glucose) providing the same amount of carbohydrate but on different days (JAMA, 2002).

Blood samples for the determination of glucose are taken before eating and at regular intervals after eating over the next several hours. The changes in blood glucose over time are then plotted in a curve.

The glycemic index can be calculated as the area under the glucose curve after the test food is eaten, divided by the corresponding area after the control food is consumed. The value will be multiplied by 100 to represent a percentage of the control food. (Source: Linus Pauling Institute webpage:

Please note: Different sources can list the GI of foods. You’ll probably notice some differences in the GI of foods between different sources. (For example, a baked potato may have a GI of 85 in one source, while another source may cite its GI as 93).

What can determine the GI number? Refined carbohydrates in sweets (cakes, biscuits, etc.) will be likely to have a higher GI (causing an immediate rise in the blood sugar). There are of course some exceptions, but in general, food with a high fibre content such as whole grains and high fibre cereals tend to have a lower GI (desirable). That is because they don’t produce a rapid rise in blood sugar after eating them.

Tips To Lower The Glycemic Load:

• Increase your consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), nuts, and whole grains.

• Use whole grains. “Whole” means that the hull or skin is still attached, which slows down the assimilation of the carbohydrates inside. An obvious example is brown and white rice. Brown rice is still encased in its hull whereas white rice isn’t.

• Decrease your consumption of sugary foods like cookies, cakes, sweets, and soft-drinks.


John Rifkind is a contributing editor at This article may be reproduced provided that its complete content, links and author byline are kept intact and unchanged. No additional links permitted. Hyperlinks and/or URLs must remain both human clickable and search engine spiderable.