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You may have heard the buzz words "glycemic index" or "glycemic load" when it comes to certain foods. The glycemic index of food is important when constructing a healthy, balanced diet and to promote overall health.

What is glycemic index (GI)? GI of food is an indication of how fast sugar enters our bloodstream, or the immediate effect of eating carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. GI refers to the carbohydrate content in foods and is ranked by number. What this means is carbohydrate in foods is broken down into glucose, or blood sugar, and the higher the GI number, the faster the food empties into the bloodstream after digestion.

What is the difference between GI and GL? As described above, the GI indicates the carbohydrate in foods and its potential to raise blood sugar levels. Glycemic load is essentially the effect of food on our blood sugar level.

You can calculate GL by multiplying the GI of a food by the number of carbohydrate grams contained in the food and then dividing the total by 100. A lower GL indicates that there is a gradual release of glucose (sugar) in to the blood from the digestion. Therefore, blood sugar levels are not likely to rise very quickly. It is recommended to have a lower glycemic load, and to consume mostly foods with a lower GI in general.

How is the GI of certain foods determined? To determine the glycemic index of a food, typically, individuals are given a test food that provides 50 grams of carbohydrate and a control food (white bread or pure glucose) providing the same amount of carbohydrate on different days (JAMA, 2002).

Blood samples for the determination of glucose are taken prior to eating and at regular intervals after eating over the next several hours. The changes in blood glucose over time are plotted as a curve.

The glycemic index is calculated as the area under the glucose curve after the test food is eaten, divided by the corresponding area after the control food is eaten. The value is multiplied by 100 to represent a percentage of the control food. (Source: Linus Pauling Institute webpage:

To note: Different sources list the GI of foods. You will probably notice some differences in the GI of foods between sources. (For example, a baked potato may have a GI of 85 in one source, while another source may cite a GI of 93).

What determines the GI number? Refined carbohydrates in sweets (cakes, cookies, etc.) will likely have a higher GI (causing an immediate rise in the blood sugar). There are of course some exceptions to this, but as a general rule, foods with a high fiber content such as whole grains and high fiber cereals tend to have a lower GI (desirable). This is because they do not produce a rapid rise in blood sugar after eating them.

Tips for Lowering Glycemic Load:

•   Increase the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), nuts, and whole grains. •   Use whole grains. "Whole" means the hull or skin is still attached, which slows down the assimilation of the carbohydrates inside. An obvious example is brown vs. white rice. Brown rice is still encased in its hull. •   Decrease the consumption of sugary foods like cookies, cakes, candy, and soft-drinks.

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