Glycemic Index vs Glycemic Load, What Is The Difference?

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Maria Lorenz
Join me on my "I Fit and Healthy" journey! Maria is an Upstate New Yorker interested in all things healthy-living related! She started the "I Fit and Healthy" Blog to document life and her pursuit of healthy living. By day she work in digital media and advertising. By night she’s a first-rate wife and mom of two crazy little girls! She is self-proclaimed addicted to her iPhone/iPad and always on the hunt for the latest health tools and fitness gadgets.

What is the difference between Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load, and what should I follow? This question came in via email from Mike in Pennsylvania.

While equal justice for all helps to insure a basic promise of a democratic society, in a world of nutrition the same promise does not apply. Those pesky carbohydrates are a rebellious bunch.

Glycemic Index (GI) is a ranking system designed to rank carbohydrates according to their affect on our blood sugar level. The index measures how quickly a fixed food serving (usually 50 g) converts to sugar. Foods with carbohydrates that break down rapidly cause a dramatic rise in blood sugar and insulin levels, because our body needs less energy to convert such foods into sugar.

The Glycemic Index has its critics. The GI of a food could vary depending on a number of factors such as: ripeness, storage time, cooking method, variety, and a food combination in a given meal. There are other individual dependent contributing factors, such as: insulin resistance, blood glucose levels, and glycemic response.

If you want to know the impact of a particular food on blood sugar and insulin, you need to know the glycemic index and how much of that food you are going to eat. GI ranges are:

Low GI = 55 or less
Medium GI = 56-69
High GI = 70 or more

The Glycemic Load (GL) is a more accurate indicator of carbohydrate conversion and its affect on our blood sugar and insulin levels. The GL provides a measure of an overall impact on our blood sugar and insulin level. To calculate it, multiply GI value by the amount of carbohydrate (grams), divided by 100. GL ranges are:

Low GL = 10 or less
Medium GL = 11-19
High GL = 20 or more

To help illustrate all of this a little better, please consider this example.

The GI value for a carrot juice = 43
The GI value for a boiled carrot = 92
The GI value for boiled wholemeal spaghetti = 32

Thus, on a surface it seems like boiled wholemeal spaghetti is a better choice. However, the GL values for the above foods reveal something interesting.

The GL value for a carrot juice = 5.7
The GL value for a boiled carrot = 3.9
The GL value for boiled wholemeal spaghetti = 14.2

Despite the fact that a boiled carrot has a whooping GI of 92, the GL for it is only 3.9.

My recommendation is not to be overly concerned with GI or GL, unless you have a diabetic condition, in which case you should consult with your doctor.

If you are trying to lose weight, increase the consumption of non-starchy vegetables, moderate to low-carb fruits, and do not be a stranger to lean protein sources. Stay away from sugary foods like cakes, candy, soft drinks, cookies, and sources of simple carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, pasta and potatoes.


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