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