Navigating the Glycemic Index – Low Glycemic Foods and Benefits
A simple Dietitian’s guide to the glycemic index for better blood sugar control and increased energy
Maybe you have heard the term glycemic index before but don’t really know what it means or why it is important or how it can apply to you. After reading today’s blog post, where we will be diving into the world of the glycemic index (GI) – a handy tool that can be a game-changer in managing diabetes and that has important health benefits such as increased energy, I hope you feel more comfortable answering those 3 questions.
Let’s break it down in a way that’s easy to understand and even easier to apply in your daily life.
What is the Glycemic Index?
In simple terms, it is a scale that measures how different carbohydrate containing foods or beverages can affect your blood sugar levels.
The scale is between 1-100 and has three main categories: low (0-55), moderate (56-69), and high (70+) GI foods.
Think of it as your blood sugar Richter scale. The higher the food ranks on the scale the greater the impact it will have on your blood sugar. Meaning that food will increase blood sugar higher and faster than foods with a lower glycemic index value.
How the Glycemic Index Works and Why it Matters
Now, let’s get into some of the details. To look at why it matters we need to understand a bit about carbohydrate digestion. When we eat or drink carbohydrate-containing foods (all foods get digested, but we are focusing on carbohydrate foods when we talk about GI) the body starts to break them down starting in the stomach and all throughout the digestive tract depending on their complexity.
All carbohydrates are broken down into a simple sugar molecule known as glucose, the body’s preferred source of energy. Glucose then enters the bloodstream and raises the concentration of glucose levels in your blood, also known as blood sugar level.
How quickly these carbohydrate-containing foods and beverages get broken down into glucose molecules depends on the kind of carbohydrate it is and what else you consume with those foods, i.e. protein, fat, or fiber.
Something like candy, which is a basic form of sugar, will enter your bloodstream quite quickly and elevate your blood sugar levels. Whereas something that contains starch, a more complex form of carbohydrates, like fruit, sweet potatoes, or whole grain bread, will take some time to impact blood sugar levels.
Thus, the GI scale breaks down how fast or slow carbohydrates are digested. Low-GI foods release glucose gradually, helping to keep your blood sugar steady.
On the flip side, high-GI foods can cause a rapid spike, leaving you on a blood sugar rollercoaster.
Benefits of Low Glycemic Foods
Choosing low glycemic foods isn’t just about numbers and a choose more often list– it’s about how they impact your health. Low glycemic foods help:
1. Stabilize blood sugar
2. Keep your energy levels in check
3. Play a role in managing your weight
It’s like giving your body a nutritional high-five.
When considering the glycemic index, we want to aim to choose low glycemic foods more often but that doesn’t mean we can’t eat from the moderate or high list on occasion.
Being particular with what we pair our foods with is also important as adding protein, healthy fats, and other fiber sources can help slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream and lower the impact on blood sugar levels.
The glycemic index isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s a valuable piece of the puzzle. Balancing your diet is crucial, and the GI can be your sidekick in that journey.
Foods and Their Glycemic Index Levels
Let’s talk about some specific foods.
Low Glycemic Foods:
- Non-starchy veggies
- Sourdough bread
- Sweet potato
- Cows milk and almond milk
- Nuts and seeds
Medium Glycemic Foods Include:
- Some fruits
- Whole wheat products and breads
- Most rice
High Glycemic Troublemaking Foods Include:
- Sugary snacks
- Refined grains
These can throw a party in your blood sugar levels.
Diabetes Canada put together a guide of commonly consumed foods and their glycemic category.
You can also find a fairly extensive list at the link below:
Practical Tips for Your Everyday Life
Now, for the good stuff – practical tips you can start using today.
1. Familiarize yourself with the glycemic index
2. Note some foods you consume that fall on the moderate or high list and find alternatives on the low list
3. Check food labels for GI information if available
4. Make a plan for when you would like to enjoy some of the higher-value foods and how you can incorporate them into your diet without impacting your blood sugar levels too much
5. Use this tool in combination with others, such as eating a balanced plate, incorporating physical activity, listening to your body when it is full, and managing emotional or habitual eating, to manage your health!
How a Dietitian Can Help
Working with a Registered Dietitian can help you understand how to incorporate the glycemic index into your diet in a simple way. We can help you make easy adjustments to incorporate more low glycemic foods to help stabilize your blood sugar and energy. You can still eat the foods you love and a Dietitian on our team can help you achieve this.
In Conclusion – Let’s Recap
So, there you have it – the breakdown of the glycemic index. Remember, it’s not about overhauling your entire diet but making smart choices that work for you. Start small, and gradually incorporate those low glycemic food options into your meals.
Take charge of your health, one glycemic choice at a time. Your future self will thank you for it!
Are you interested in improving energy or lowering your blood sugar? Our team of Registered Dietitians can help you navigate the glycemic index
Our Registered Dietitian team specializes in nutrition for energy, mental health, meal planning, health conditions like diabetes, emotional eating, eating disorders, digestive health and more. Find out more about our Dietitian Nutrition Counseling Programs here.
As trained Registered Dietitians, you can count on us for credible advice and practical meal planning so you don’t have to stress about food anymore. You can achieve a healthy and joyous relationship with food and your body. Let’s talk about what this can look like for you.
Want to keep learning? Check out these blog posts below:
Registered Dietitian & Online Nutritionist - Weight Concerns, Women’s Health, Diabetes & Meal Planning
The first thing you will notice about Shauna is her contagious optimism, energetic personality and zest. Shauna loves teaching and has a heart full of compassion and empathy for helping clients work through health concerns. Shauna specializes in healthy cooking, diabetes, cardiovascular health, weight concerns and womens health. Read more