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How to Use the Glycemic Index

The Bigger Picture: Glycemic Load and a Good Diet

The glycemic index shouldn't be the only thing you consider when making choices about what to eat. The fact a food has a low glycemic index doesn't mean it's super-healthy, or that you should eat a lot of it. Calories, vitamins, and minerals are still important.

For example, potato chips have a lower glycemic index than oatmeal and about the same as green peas. But oatmeal and green peas have more nutrients.

Portion sizes matter, too. The more of whatever kind of carbs you eat, the more they'll affect your blood sugar. That's what the glycemic load tells you. It's a number you may see along with the glycemic index in lists. Think of it as the glycemic index for a specific amount of that food.

Glycemic load helps you account for both the quantity and the quality of your carbs at the same time. Less than 10 is low; more than 20 is high.

For a diet with a lower glycemic load, eat:

  • More whole grains, nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables without starch, and other foods with a low glycemic index
  • Fewer foods with a high glycemic index, like potatoes, white rice, and white bread
  • Less of sugary foods, including candy, cookies, cakes, and sweet drinks

You can still eat foods with a high glycemic index. Just enjoy them in smaller portions, and offset them with nutritious, low-glycemic index foods when you do.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on September 26, 2014
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