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Glycemic Load, Glycemic Index, and Insulin Index Explained

Glycemic load and glycemic index are variables that measure the actual impact of foods that contain carbohydrates on blood glucose levels. The insulin index of a food demonstrates how much it elevates the concentration of insulin in the blood.

These terms are often used by people who are suffering from diabetes to control their blood sugar levels.

The Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is simply a measurement of how quickly a carbohydrate food raises blood sugar compared to the same amount of glucose.

The amount measured is the area under the “two hour curve” when blood glucose is measured for two hours after a meal. The bigger the area, the faster that particular carbohydrate raises blood sugar.

The way the scale works is that 50 grams of glucose is assigned a GI score of 100. Then other foods are measured and compared to glucose. For example, a food that raises blood sugar 40% as much as glucose is assigned a score of 40.

Many things can affect the glycemic index of a food. For example, it will be lower if consumed with fat or fiber. It will also depend on the individual and the ripeness and cooking method of the food.

Foods with a lower glycemic index (fruit, whole grains) tend to be healthier than foods with a higher glycemic index (candy, white bread), and eating foods with a low GI is correlated with improved health. This has a lot of exceptions, however.

The Glycemic Index Scale:

  • Low: 55 or less
  • Medium: 56-69
  • High: 70 or higher

The Glycemic Load

It is simple to figure out the Glycemic Load if you already know the GI of a food and its carbohydrate content. You simply multiply the Glycemic Index with the amount of carbohydrates in grams and divide by 100.

Glycemic Load (GL) = Glycemic Index (GI) * Carbs in grams / 100

For example, apples with a GI of 40 and a carb count of 16 grams: GL = (40 * 16) / 100 = 6.4

Therefore foods with a high GI and/or high carb content have a higher glycemic load, while foods with a low GI and/or low carb content have a lower glycemic load.

The Glycemic Load Scale:

  • Low: 10 or less
  • Medium: 11-19
  • High: 20 or higher

The Insulin Index

The Insulin Index measures blood levels of insulin after meals.

The Insulin Index measures the insulin response to various foods, relative to the insulin response to white bread, which is assigned a score of 100.

A food that raises insulin more than white bread has a score over 100, while a food that raises insulin less than white bread has a score of less than a hundred.

Some examples: porridge with an insulin index of 40 is much less than white bread, potatoes with 121 are higher than white bread, and beef with a score of 51 is less than white bread but higher than porridge.

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