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What Does Glycemic Index Refer To?

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

This article originally appeared on page 20 in the April 24-25, 2004 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Wellness, Doctor's Corner.

There seems to be a common misconception in newly diagnosed diabetics and others that diabetes is due to too much sugar consumption.

Sugars are simple carbohydrates that our bodies require. Glucose is the most efficient form of energy that our body can access. Different sugars burn at different rates, depending on how easily their molecular bonds can be broken.

The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how fast our bodies use a particular type of food to raise blood sugar. It takes into account that carbohydrate is only one component of food. I would refrain from using the glycemic index as a guide to good and bad foods.

Sugar is mostly stored in the liver as glycogen. When a cell signals the need for energy, the liver readily releases its stores. Elevated blood sugars signal insulin to be released. Insulin allows the sugar to be transported into the cell.

It makes sense to eat foods like apples, milk, and raisins with low glycemic indexes. The food you eat should not cause rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin release. A slowly converting food keeps you satiated longer and wards off cravings.

I always wonder what the origin of a craving is. We seem to crave things that are sweet or chocolaty, harmful in excess but essential. There may be a genetic basis. Hundreds of years ago, cravings led to food seeking behavior that resulted in procurements of only small amounts of the desired item. Industrialization changed all that so that cravings could be readily met with engorgement behavior.

High glycemic index (GI) foods such as most candy bars, dates and rice cakes transfer their sugar into your blood quickly. Glycemic index of various foods is measured using human volunteers and standard portions.

A glycemic index now exists for the majority of foods that we consume. Foods also contain proteins and fats. The GI tells you nothing about this content. Some foods with high GI's have small carbohydrate contents and are in fact preferable. For this reason, we now also talk about the glycemic load. I prefer this value, because it multiplies GI by the proportion of carbohydrate to yield a more standard basis for comparison.

The glycemic index is one small portion of smart nutrition planning. It is possible to learn to eat sensibly but this takes effort and time, both in short supply. Pass the prunes please!!


The glycemic index was first developed by Dr. David Jenkins and his team of scientists at the University of Toronto, Canada, in 1981, to help diabetics choose food.


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Related resources:

Glycemic index from Wikipedia.

What is the Glycemic Index?

GI News.

GI Database. Alphabetic GI list.

What Is the Glycemic Index and Is It a Helpful Tool? from Joslin Diabetes Center, a Harvard Medical School Affiliate.

The Glycemic Index - Good Carb, Bad Carb by Caroline Cederquist, ezinearticles.com.

Twix and pizza - are these really diet foods? Don't judge a food by its glycemic index. A guide to good and bad carbs, by Alan Aragon, M.S. Men's Health. "A Pizza Hut Supreme pizza may be a 'low glycemic' food, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's low in carbohydrates."

Glycemic Index and Diabetes from WebMD. The Glycemic Index: Food’s Impact on Blood Sugar in Diabetes. Low Glycemic Index Foods Are Healthier Choices. Glycemic Index and Your Diet. Factors That Alter the Glycemic Index.

Glycemic Index - The Index in Depth from Canadian Diabetes Association.

The Glycemic Index - Foods with the GI Symbol from University of Sydney. A high GI value is 70 or more, A medium GI value is 56-69 inclusive, A low GI value is 55 or less.

The Glycemic Index Explained.

Glycemic Index Charts from South Beach Diet Guide, Miami.

GI Food List - Here is the glycemic index for some everyday foods, and FAQ About Low GI Diet from Fifty 50 Foods.

Glycemic Index: How quickly do foods raise your blood sugar? from Diabetes Mall, includes table listing GI values for selected foods.

The Glycemic Index and the Glycemic Response from HealthCheck Systems.com.

Ask the Dietitian: Carbohydrates & Glycemic Index by Joanne Larsen.

The Glycemic Index by Rick Mendosa, a freelance medical writer and consultant specializing in diabetes.

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