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This fantastic article was written by The Healthy Happy Coach, Joshua Graham (Fitness Expert and Nutritionist). Connect with him on Facebook at The Healthy Happy Coach .

When trying to lose weight or improve overall health, we all know that diet plays a large if not one of the biggest roles. However, not all ‘natural’ or healthy foods are created equal; one of the most commonly overlooked considerations is the impact a food has on our blood sugar levels.

Blood sugar is something that we often hear talked about in terms of diabetes but it is something we should all be paying attention to no matter what our goals are – whether it’s to lower stress and anxiety, lose weight, manage cravings or improve the condition of a chronic disease e.g. thyroid disease, high blood pressure.

What Is The Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index measures how fast a food turns into blood sugar (ie. glucose in the blood), on a scale from 0-100. The higher the number on the glycemic index the faster the food turns into sugar and this has harmful effects on the body.

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Below are some examples of foods high on the glycemic index:

  • White potato: 82
  • White rice: 63
  • Raisins: 64

When blood sugar levels goes up, the body secretes insulin which helps to lower blood sugar by pulling sugar into the cells. Once the cells are full the remaining sugar is transferred to the liver to be stored in the liver and the muscles for future use. If these stores are full, the sugar is turned into fat (our long term energy storage).

When you eat a food high on the glycemic index, it leads to a large insulin release. This large insulin release then causes a sharp drop in blood sugar which causes us to feel sleepy and lethargic. It can also cause us to feel irritable and stressed because our body pumps out stress hormones to help bring the blood sugar levels up to a better level.

In my high stress and unhealthy days, I used to love eating high glycemic foods like sugary granola bars because they would give me to get a boost of energy but then my blood sugar would crash and I would feel terrible. I would then crave more sweets and high glycemic foods to push my blood sugar up and once I had then it would keep this vicious cycle going all day long.

The only way out of this and to feel good all day long is to manage blood sugar levels by eating lower glycemic foods throughout the day. For example, foods that are higher in protein and fibre will have a lower effect on our blood sugar levels and a lower glycemic index.

The Glycemic Load – A More Accurate Tool Than Glycemic Index

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While the glycemic index can be a useful starting point, at times it can be quite deceiving. For example, a snickers bar is a 51 on the glycemic index while quinoa is a 53, obviously we shouldn’t be reaching for snickers over quinoa so in order to know what we should be having we can use something called the glycemic load.

While the glycemic index only takes into account how fast a food turns into blood sugar the glycemic load also takes into account serving size, which is a much more accurate measurement for us to use.

If we look at quinoa vs snickers again we can see a more honest picture

Food Glycemic Index Serving Size (grams) Glycemic Load
Quinoa 51 150g 13
Snickers 53 60g 18


As we can see from the table above a snickers bar has a higher glycemic load at almost a third of the serving size of quinoa. That means we could eat almost three times as much quinoa and still have a lower glycemic load.

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The glycemic load is a better marker to use because it gives us a more accurate picture of the foods we are eating by showing us what kind of effect the food is truly having on our system. We can use the glycemic load to help manage our goals and to help keep us healthy, by focusing on foods that have a lower glycemic load we can keep our blood sugar stable and avoid the big peaks and crashes.

We can also use the glycemic load to help us towards our goals for example if we looking to lose weight keeping our glycemic load at a 40 or lower will support that. If we are not looking to lose weight then we want to keep our glycemic load intake at around 50 per day.

A Handy Chart of All Foods Ranked Against GI and GL

Here is a sample list of some of foods which are low, medium and high in terms of glycemic load. This is not even close to an exhaustive list but it is a sample to show some of the rankings of different foods.

Category Food Glycemic Index Serving Size (g) Glycemic Load Ranking
Bean Soy beans, average 15 150 1 Low
Nut Peanuts 13 50 1 Low
Vegetables Carrots, average 39 80 2 Low
Fruits Grapefruit 25 120 3 Low
Bean Chickpeas 10 150 3 Low
Nut Cashews, salted 22 50 3 Low
Fruits Pear, raw, average 38 120 4 Low
Fruits Watermelon 72 120 4 Low
Vegetables Green peas 54 80 4 Low
Vegetables Parsnips 52 80 4 Low
Fruits Apple, average 36 120 5 Low
Fruits Oranges, raw, average 45 120 5 Low
Fruits Peach, average 42 120 5 Low
Fruits Pear, canned in pear juice 44 120 5 Low
Bean Lentils 28 150 5 Low
Bean Baked beans 40 150 6 Low
Bean Black beans 30 150 7 Low
Fruits Peach, canned in light syrup 52 120 9 Medium
Bean Chickpeas, canned in brine 42 150 9 Medium
Bean Kidney beans, average 34 150 9 Medium
Grain Couscous 65 150 9 Medium
Fruits Prunes, pitted 29 60 10 Medium
Fruits Banana, raw, average 48 120 11 Medium
Fruits Grapes, black 59 120 11 Medium
Grain Pearled barley, average 25 150 11 Medium
Bean Navy beans, average 39 150 12 Medium
Grain Bulgur, average 47 150 12 Medium
Grain Quinoa 53 150 13 Medium
Grain Sweet corn on the cob 48 60 14 Medium
Grain Parboiled Converted white rice (Uncle Ben’s®) 38 150 14 Medium
Bean Black-eyed peas 50 150 15 High
Grain Whole wheat kernels, average 45 50 15 High
Grain Brown rice, steamed 50 150 16 High
Vegetables Instant mashed potato, average 87 150 17 High
Fruits Dates, dried, average 42 60 18 High
Vegetables Yam, average 54 150 20 High
Vegetables Boiled white potato, average 82 150 21 High
Vegetables Sweet potato, average 70 150 22 High
Grain Quick cooking white basmati 63 150 26 High
Fruits Raisins 64 60 28 High
Grain White rice, boiled, type non-specified 72 150 29 High
Vegetables Baked russet potato 111 150 33 High

 

Tips To Keep Blood Sugar Levels Low

The best way to keep blood sugar level throughout the day is to focus on eating whole foods and lots of low carbohydrate vegetables like cucumber, celery, radish, peppers, tomatoes, etc.

Also, protein, fibre and fat containing foods are great at helping to manage blood sugar too. Some great options are fish, nuts and lentils.

The worst offender for spiking blood sugar of all is regular white sugar so we want to minimize (if not avoid) it completely. That means no sugar into our coffee or teas and avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages (ex. soda) as well as sugar laden foods (ex. baked goods). These foods have little nutritional value and are not good for our blood sugar levels, and therefore are harmful to overall health.

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Joshua Graham
Founder at Cocoon Health & Fitness
Joshua Graham is The Happy Healthy Coach, fitness expert, nutritionist, and owner of Cocoon Health & Fitness. Cocoon provides fitness classes, a 6-week nutrition and lifestyle program, and meditations classes all in one membership (in-home or online)!
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