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Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Diabetes: Eating a Low Glycemic Diet
Using a low glycemic index diet is one tool to help keep your diabetes under control. The glycemic index is a rating system for foods that contain carbohydrate. It helps you know how quickly a food with carbohydrate raises blood sugar, so you can focus on eating foods that raise blood sugar slowly.
The glycemic index is a way to tell how quickly foods that contain carbohydrate may raise your blood sugar.
On a low glycemic diet, you eat foods that raise your blood sugar slowly. This helps you keep your blood sugar from getting too high. This diet plan is sometimes called a "low GI" diet.
In general, carbohydrate raises blood sugar more quickly than other nutrients like proteins and fats. But some foods that have carbohydrate raise blood sugar more slowly than other foods with carbohydrate. For example, white bread raises blood sugar more quickly than whole-grain bread.
Foods in the index are given a number from 0 to 100. The higher the number, the higher the glycemic index. Foods are compared to glucose, which is sugar. It has a rank of 100.
The glycemic index of a food can change depending on the variety of the food (for example, red potato or white potato), its ripeness, how it is prepared (for example, juiced, mashed, or ground), how it is cooked, and how long it is stored.
Most of the carbohydrate-rich foods that you eat on this plan should be low or medium on the index. A dietitian or certified diabetes educator can help you pick foods that you like that are low on the index. You also can look at materials from the American Diabetes Association or go to its website at www.diabetes.org.
Apricots (canned in light syrup)
Potato, baked (such as russet)
Potato, new (such as small red)
Dried and canned beans and legumes
Kidney beans (cooked from dried)
Kidney beans (canned)
Lentils (cooked from dried)
Cereals and grains
Shredded wheat cereal
Breads and pastries
Hamburger bun (white)
Spaghetti (whole wheat)
Spaghetti (durum wheat)
People respond differently to the glycemic content of foods. And because many things affect the glycemic index, the only way to know for sure how a food affects your blood sugar is to check your blood sugar before and after you eat that food.
High-glycemic foods are rarely eaten by themselves, so the glycemic index might not be helpful unless you're eating a food by itself. Eating foods together can change their glycemic index.
Choosing a low glycemic diet doesn't mean that you can't eat any high glycemic foods. Some high glycemic foods, such as potatoes, have lots of nutrients. Just try to limit how much of these foods you eat.
You should combine a low glycemic diet with another eating plan for diabetes, such as carbohydrate counting. The glycemic index can help you know the kind of carbohydrate you're eating. Carbohydrate counting can help you know how much carbohydrate you're eating. For more information on carbohydrate counting, see:
The glycemic index is a measure of how much carbohydrate is in my food.
Sorry, that's not right. The glycemic index doesn't measure how much carbohydrate is in food. It's a way to tell how quickly foods that have carbohydrate may raise your blood sugar.
Yes, that's correct. The glycemic index doesn't measure how much carbohydrate is in food. It's a way to tell how quickly foods that have carbohydrate may raise your blood sugar.
Continue to Why?
People who have type 2 diabetes need to use diet and physical activity to keep their blood sugar under control. Some people who have type 2 diabetes also need to take medicine.
Carbohydrate raises blood sugar more than any other nutrient. So eating carbohydrate that raises blood sugar slowly is one way to help keep your blood sugar under control. Well-controlled blood sugar lowers your chance of getting problems from diabetes that can affect your heart, eyes, nerves, and kidneys.
The best way to keep your blood sugar under control is to count how much carbohydrate you're eating and to spread carbohydrate foods throughout the day.
Most foods that have carbohydrate also contain protein or fat, or both. But the protein and fat aren’t ranked in the glycemic index, because they don’t raise blood sugar like carbohydrate does.
Carbohydrate raises my blood sugar more than any other nutrient.
Carbohydrate does raise your blood sugar more than protein and fats.
Carbohydrate does raise your blood sugar more than protein and fats.
Continue to How?
You don't have to deny yourself certain food groups or favorite dishes when you follow a low glycemic eating plan. You focus on eating measured amounts of low or medium glycemic foods and trying to eat a balanced diet.
The first step is to look at the kinds of foods you're eating now. Write down(What is a PDF document?) the carbohydrate-rich foods you eat over several days. Then find the glycemic index of these foods and list them under columns labeled low, medium, or high. You can see at a glance how many high, medium, and low glycemic foods you eat.
You may find that you already are eating many foods that are low or medium on the index. But you also may find many foods that are high glycemic or on the high end of medium.
Look at your diary for high glycemic foods that you eat only now and then or that you wouldn't mind removing from your diet.
Find some low glycemic choices that you could eat in place of those high glycemic foods. The following are some examples. If you like baked potatoes, try having a baked yam instead. If you often eat a plain bagel for breakfast, try a slice of multi-grain toast instead. Watermelon is a fine treat once in a while in the summer. But you could limit how much of it you eat. Or you could have strawberries or other low glycemic berries instead.
I can't eat any high glycemic foods after I start a low glycemic diet.
Sorry, that's not right. It's a good idea to choose most of your foods from low and medium glycemic foods. But you can still have high glycemic foods. Try to eat small amounts of them along with foods that have a low glycemic index.
Yes, that's correct. It's a good idea to choose most of your foods from low and medium glycemic foods. But you can still have high glycemic foods. Try to eat small amounts of them along with foods that have a low glycemic index.
Continue to Where?
Now that you have read this information, you can start looking for low glycemic foods to substitute for high glycemic foods.
Talk with your doctor.
If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have questions.
Return to topic:
Foster-Powell K, et al. (2002). International table of glycemic index and glycemic values: 2002. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 76(1): 5–56.
American Diabetes Association (2011). Glycemic Index of Foods. Available online: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/the-glycemic-index-of-foods.html.
July 19, 2011
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
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