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Low-Glycemic Superfoods

Keeping your blood sugar in check with low-glycemic foods

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Updated June 04, 2014

Woman pouring lentils into a bag in a grocery store
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Low-glycemic foods contain less sugar (either natural occurring sugar or when added through processing) and therefore will not raise your blood glucose as much as other foods that have a greater amount of sugar in them.

There has been a lot of research on the benefits of eating low-glycemic foods, especially for those with diabetes. When low-glycemic foods are incorporated into your regular meal plan, it has been shown to even out many of the large and rapid blood glucose spikes that many with type 1 diabetes experience. Even mixing in a few low-glycemic foods into your current meal plan may help you to better manage your blood glucose levels.

The glycemic index

The research on glycemic foods has resulted in a glycemic index that ranks foods according to their glycemic impact, or how they affect blood sugar levels. The index specifically focuses on carbohydrates and ranks them on a scale from 0 to 100. Foods that are higher on the glycemic index are absorbed more quickly by your digestive tract and therefore cause a faster and greater rise in your blood sugar.

Here’s the generally accepted standard for identifying the glycemic ranking of foods:

  • Low glycemic foods have a ranking of 55 or less
  • Medium glycemic foods have a ranking of 56 to 69
  • High glycemic foods have a ranking of 70 or higher

So, when using the glycemic index, you want to choose foods in the low glycemic category that have a ranking of less than 55.

Glycemic load

To effectively use the glycemic index you also need to consider the glycemic load of a food. The glycemic load tells you how much carbohydrate is in a particular food. It considers the serving size and calculates the number of carbohydrates in that serving, which gives you a more accurate means of predicting how it will affect your blood sugar.

Calculating the glycemic load

To obtain the glycemic load of a particular food multiply the glycemic index ranking by the amount of carbohydrate in that food and divide the result by 100.

You can then measure the glycemic load accordingly:

  • 10 or less is a low glycemic load
  • 11-19 is a medium glycemic load
  • 20 or more is a high glycemic load

For example, a medium-sized apple has a glycemic index of 40 and about 16 carbohydrates. If you multiply 40 x 16 this equals 640. You then divide 640 by 100 for a glycemic load of 6. So, a medium sized apple would qualify as having a low glycemic load.

Here is a searchable database of foods that will provide you with the glycemic index, number of carbohydrates and the glycemic load.

Low-glycemic superfoods

Here are 5 low glycemic foods that are also high in nutrition.

  1. Chana Dal. Chana Dal is a type of chickpea that is widely used in India and the Mediterranean region of the world. It has one of the lowest glycemic rankings and is wonderful in soups. Three-fourths of a cup of cooked chana dal provides 25 grams of high-quality carbohydrate with a glycemic load of only 3.
  2. Dried beans. Dried beans vary somewhat in the glycemic rankings depending on the type of dried bean you choose. One-third of a cup of soaked and cooked dried beans, on average, will provide about 21 grams of carbohydrate and a glycemic load of about 5.
  3. Lentils. Lentils are also popular fare in the Mediterranean and Middle East and very nutritious and inexpensive and have a low glycemic load. A ½ cup of cooked lentils provides about 24 grams of carbohydrate and has a glycemic load of about 7.
  4. Whole wheat pasta. It may surprise you to hear that pasta could have a low glycemic load. But it is unique to whole wheat pasta and how you prepare it. A one cup serving of al dente (firm vs. soft) whole wheat pasta has about 25 grams of carbohydrate with a glycemic load of about 10. Cooking pasta beyond the al dente stage increase the glycemic load.
  5. Split peas. Split peas are high in dietary fiber and B vitamins in addition to being a low glycemic food. A ½ cup of cooked split peas provides about 20 grams of carbohydrate with a glycemic load of about 10.

Sources:

American Diabetes Association. "Diabetes Superfoods.”

Glycemic Index. "Glycemic Search Index.”

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