Glycemic Index & Glycemic Load

Glycemic index and glycemic load can have major impacts on blood sugar control, insulin sensitivity/resistance, inflammation, fatigue among many other symptoms and disease manifestations. Understanding what these measurements are can be integral in optimizing the way we feel and how our body is functioning.

Glycemic index refers to how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food is converted to sugar upon ingestion. This an be influenced by a few different factors, including: simple vs. complex carbohydrate, pancreatic function, degree of processing of the carb, presence of fiber consumed with the carb and what other foods are paired with the carbohydrate when it's eaten. The glycemic index refers to carbohydrate-containing foods and not to fats and proteins because the latter macronutrients have no effect on raising blood glucose levels. Generally speaking, eating foods higher on the glycemic index will more quickly raise blood glucose levels and thus lead to pancreatic output of insulin to modulate those blood glucose levels. The insulin is responsible for allowing the glucose to enter skeletal muscle and the liver. Foods lower on the glycemic index will not as readily surge blood glucose levels and will allow for a less substantial insulin release, will keep blood sugars stabilized over time better and will keep one satiated for longer.

Glycemic load can represent a fuller picture of carbohydrate impact because it measures how much certain foods can impact blood sugar levels utilizing the glycemic index as well as the typical amount of carbs eaten in a serving. So here we have quantity and quality of carbs taken into account to offer a more accurate assessment of how carbs affect blood glucose levels. The glycemic index doesn't take into account the amount of the carbohydrate consumed whereas the glycemic load does. Take watermelon for example: it has a glycemic index score of 80 (high) and a glycemic load score of only 5 (low) because in that serving size the amount of carbohydrate is minimal. So more often than not the glycemic load can give a more accurate picture of how that particular carbohydrate will influence blood sugar levels based on the serving size consumed.

Lower glycemic foods can be beneficial for many people when it comes to stabilizing blood sugar levels. These lower glycemic foods will enter the blood stream at a slower pace compared to high glycemic foods and thus have less of a pancreatic output of insulin as well. This promotes better insulin sensitivity, allows blood sugars to be stabilized for longer and can promote better satiety compared to high glycemic foods. When a high glycemic food is consumed, insulin release is rapid and distributes those blood sugars into the liver and skeletal muscle quite quickly. Then blood sugars return to a lower state again and our bodies will want to stabilize those with food again soon.

Another benefit of low glycemic foods is that there is a minimized likelihood of insulin resistance and type two diabetes. Again these lower glycemic foods promote better insulin sensitivity because the insulin output is not as instantaneous and the volume is not as substantial when compared to consuming a lower glycemic food. Insulin resistance will create elevated levels of glucose in the blood fueling diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Lower glycemic foods will help balance appetite and promote more energy compared to high glycemic foods. The blood sugars stay stabilized for longer, energy is more sustained and there aren't blood sugar crashes from high glycemic food ingestion and subsequent insulin-lowering effects of blood sugar levels.

It has been observed that disease process initiation is lower when ingesting lower glycemic foods compared to higher glycemic foods over time. Too much of a good thing can be adverse for the body. Even if one consumes natural fructose and sugars found in fruit, too much can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, dyslipidemia, diabetes, hypertension and a host of disease processes in the body. It is best to not overdo the carbs and oftentimes it can be a good idea to pair them with a healthy fat, protein or even a good fiber option like chia or flax seeds. These will help stabilize blood sugar levels and create a more sustained release of the sugars into the blood stream so they don't spike.

When it comes to classifications of high, medium and low ratings for the glycemic index and glycemic load, it breaks down like this:

Glycemic index:

High: 70-100

Medium: 50-70

Low: below 50

Glycemic Load:

High: above 20

Medium: 11-19

Low: 10 or less

Here is a list of common foods and their associated glycemic index scores:


  • White wheat bread: 75

  • White rice: 73

  • Whole wheat bread: 72

  • Brown rice: 68

  • Couscous: 65

  • Corn tortilla: 52

  • White spaghetti: 50

  • White quinoa: 50

  • Wholemeal spaghetti: 42

  • Wheat tortilla: 30


  • Watermelon: 76

  • Pineapple: 66

  • Mango: 51

  • Banana: 50

  • Nectarine: 43

  • Strawberries: 40

  • Orange: 40

  • Apple: 34

  • Pear: 33

  • Peach: 28


  • Red potatoes, boiled: 89

  • Mashed potato: 83

  • Sweet potato: 77

  • Taro, boiled: 56

  • Sweet corn: 55

  • Parsnips, boiled: 52

  • Butternut pumpkin, boiled: 51

  • Plantain, boiled: 39

  • Yam, boiled: 35

  • Carrots, boiled: 33

Dairy Products

  • Ice cream: 51

  • Yoghurt, fruit-flavored: 42

  • Natural yogurt, low-fat: 35

  • Milk, full-fat: 34

  • Milk, skim: 32


  • Baked beans: 40

  • Pinto beans: 39

  • Butter beans: 36

  • Lima beans: 32

  • Lentils: 32

  • Navy beans: 31

  • Mung beans: 31

  • Black beans: 30

  • Kidney beans: 29

  • Chickpeas: 28


  • Cornflakes: 74

  • Cheerios: 74

  • Muesli: 64

  • Rolled oats, uncooked: 59

  • Bran cereal: 43


  • Gatorade: 78

  • Fruit punch: 67

  • Coca Cola: 63

  • Coconut water: 55

  • Orange juice: 50

  • Vegetable juice: 43

  • Prune juice: 43

  • Apple juice: 41

  • Tomato juice: 33

  • Fruit smoothie: 32

Baked Goods

  • Scones: 92

  • Waffles: 76

  • Doughnut: 75

  • Oatmeal muffin: 69

  • Crumpet: 69

  • Angel food cake: 67

  • Pancakes: 66

  • Flan cake: 65

  • Chocolate chip muffin: 52

  • Blueberry muffin: 50

  • Banana cake: 47

  • Sponge cake: 46

  • Butter croissant: 46

  • Vanilla cake with frosting: 42

  • Pound cake: 38


  • Jelly beans: 80

  • Licorice: 78

  • Skittles: 70

  • Milk Way: 62

  • Chocolate: 49

  • Twix: 44

  • Peanut M&Ms: 33

  • Dark chocolate: 23

  • Fruit and nut mix: 15

  • Candied ginger: 10

Snack Foods

  • Rice cracker: 91

  • Pretzels: 83

  • Puffed rice cakes: 82

  • Corn chips: 74

  • Graham wafers: 74

  • Pop Tarts: 70

  • Potato chips: 60

  • Popcorn: 55

  • Granola bars: 50

  • Chickpea chips: 44


  • Maltose: 105

  • Golden syrup: 63

  • Honey: 58

  • Maple syrup: 54

  • Agave nectar: 11

White bread has a high glycemic index score and readily increases blood sugar levels.

Choosing lower glycemic index foods can be a great option to help stabilize blood sugar levels, promote better insulin sensitivity, reduce chances for diabetes and metabolic syndrome and to have better energy. Glycemic load is a more accurate picture of exactly how the carbs are going to influence blood sugar levels because quantity and quality of the carbohydrate source are considered. Pairing the carbs with healthy fats, proteins and fiber can help slow the movement of the sugars into the bloodstream leading to better insulin sensitivity, energy and satiety.

Dr. Seamus Allen



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