About the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index ranks the carbohydrates in foods to give you an idea of how they may affect your blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrates are the food products that give us energy. They work with the proteins that help our bodies grow and heal, along with the fats that are responsible for assisting the body’s nutrient absorption, joint lubrication, and protection of its organs.
Carbs include everything from the smallest, freshest blueberry to the warm, fragrant loaf of bread that your grandmother just baked. When you eat a carbohydrate, it raises the level of sugar in the bloodstream either a little or a lot. If the body is active and can use it, the carbohydrate is burned and then flushed from the body. When there is more of it than the body needs, the liver metabolizes it and the extra is stored beneath the skin as fat.
Scientists initially created the glycemic index to help diabetics understand which carbohydrates have the least impact on their blood glucose levels. They developed this uniform food ranking system by asking human subjects to fast overnight and then consume identical portions of various foods. Below is the glycemic index of popular foods, along with some suggestions for incorporating them into your daily regimen.
Carbohydrates Are Not All Alike…
Most simple carbohydrates, like sugar or white bread, have a medium to high-GI rating. The body absorbs these types of carbohydrates quickly, resulting in severe spikes in blood sugar levels.
Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, contain molecules of at least three sugars. It takes longer for your body to process them, so sugar is released in the bloodstream slowly, resulting in more stable blood sugar levels. Complex carbohydrates tend to have more fiber in them, so they also help you to feel full for a longer time after you eat.
Glycemic Index of Popular Foods: Low, at 55 and Below:
Nature painted many of these foods with bright colors to make them look juicy and appetizing—your colorful fruits and vegetables. Many of them are also full of great antioxidants. There are really a lot of
food choices here—but people often go wrong when they add sauces or fry them.
- Many popular vegetables have a low-GI rating in the 30s. You can eat as much as you want of them in a healthy diet.
- While yams come in at 37, sweet potatoes, eaten baked without fat, have a medium GI rating at 61. Raw carrots are 16, but cooked are 47.
- An apple, whether it’s raw, cooked, or candied, is 38. Pears are 38. Strawberries are a little higher at 40; peaches, nectarines, and plums are 42. Bing cherries ring in at 22. Oranges and grapes fall into the 40s range.
- The banana, at 52, is an example of a complex carbohydrate with a low fiber content—it won’t keep you filled for very long.
- Soups generally are low, depending on what you put in it—vegetable soup at 26, and pea soup made with milk at 46.Add chunks of potatoes and you might well drive the GI-rating up in the medium or high range.
- Black beans are 20; the kind you find in chili are 39
- Pumpernickel is the lowest bread at 50. Sour dough bread is 54; oatmeal bread, 55.
- Most milk products—whole and skim milk, cheese, and yogurt—hover around 30.
- Converted white rice—not instant–comes in at 47. All other types of rice are higher.
- Pasta products have varying numbers in the low range. Spaghetti is 42.
- No matter what you do to eggs, they score at 50. That means you can fill them with mushrooms, onions, and peppers and enjoy.
- Nuts score nothing or next to it—almonds and Brazil nuts are zero, and dry-roasted peanuts are 14. Cashews are the highest at 22. Consider these good low-glycemic snack foods.
- Oat bran is the only cereal in the mid-range at 55. But look in the middle range for ready-to-eat cereals that contain oat bran. You can also have Mueslix, if you like it, at 48.
- Lunch meats are in the low range. Bologna and salami are among the lowest at 28. Chicken roll or turkey ham both ring in at 50, as do canned ham, capicola, and prosciutto.
- Gravy is 50, whether it’s redeye, giblet, or flour-and-water gravy.
- Saccharine might be calorie-free, but it comes in at 50 on the glycemic index.
Continue on Page 2 for the glycemixc index of popular foods in the medium and high ranges
Glycemic Index of Popular Foods: Medium, from 56 to 69
In the medium glycemic range you’ll find more bread products and additional produce.
- A white pita is 57, while a whole wheat pita is 71. Rye bread is 58. White bread is 70.
- A taco made with beef and lettuce plus some cheese is 68.
- There is so much variation on cheese, but you can have something like macaroni and cheese—thinking of the cheesiest here—at a value of 64.
- Corn (raw, without butter) and beets are among the few vegetable choices to score in the medium range at 60 and 64 respectively.
- Potato salad is 65 to 68. Boiled white potatoes are 66.
- You can stay in the medium range with instant white rice, 69.
- What about snack foods? Potato chips start at 54. Tortilla and corn chips are 63.
Glycemic Index of Popular Foods: High, 70 and Up
High glycemic foods include those fluffy, warm potatoes as well as your store-bought, sugar-laden cereal.
- Bagels are 72, muffins 77. A baguette roars in at 95.
- The sauces and breading you use on your fish, meat, and chicken (all zero by themselves) skyrocket them up to 95.
- Most breakfast cereals fall into the high range. Even Cheerios and Bran Flakes are 74. Special K is 69; Corn Chex and Rice Krispies, 83 and 82 respectively.
- Puffed rice and even the humble, low-calorie rice cake both score in the 80s.
- Mashed white potatoes rank at 70—but if you think that’s bad, consider French fries at 75 and a baked potato at 72. Instant mashed are a walloping 86 as well as red-skinned potatoes boiled—at 88—which illustrates perfectly that when some foods break down as they’re cooked, their glycemic number climbs. Scientists still don’t understand why.
- Turnips, parsnips, and rutabaga score 72, 97, and 72 respectively
- Popcorn is 72 and pretzels are 83.
Putting It All Together…
You’ve got to choose your foods considering how often you eat them and whether your daily energy expenditure will be high. What works best is to keep track of what you’re eating and look where it falls on the index. Gradually eliminate the higher-scoring foods and replace them with choices from the medium-to-low glycemic index.
Keep in mind that the glycemic index only rates foods based on how they may affect your blood sugar levels and not how many calories they bring to the table.
US National Institutes of Health – National Cancer Institute. Glycemic index values database. Retrieved at https://riskfactor.cancer.gov/tools/glycemic/ (click on the MS Excel link)
US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus. Carbohydrates, retrieved at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002469.htm
All images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net: