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What’s the Glycemic Index and How Does it Work?

Understanding Carbs, Glycemic Index, and Glycemic Load

Starches, sugars, and fibers…oh my! What is food with a high glycemic index and glycemic load, and why does it matter for people with high blood sugar?

Many people with Prediabetes dismiss the glycemic index and think that to regain their health, they just have to cut back on added sugar in their daily food life. That’s not true! The sugar you add to your food does matter AND you also need to know which foods naturally contain carbohydrates…the carbs that can rate as high on the glycemic index.

I get it. Carbs taste wonderful.

Understanding carbs doesn’t mean we can never eat them again. Here’s one important fact:

Over 90% of the carbs we eat appear in our bloodstream as blood glucose within minutes of eating! If you have high blood sugar, this is vital information…

That’s why this updated “A Crash Course on Carbs” Booklet is so helpful! Designed by Diabetes Educator and Health Coach Georgianne Holland, it helps you understand carbs, count carbs, and make friends with carbs! Carbs aren’t the villain…they can be understood and eaten to create health!

The Glycemic Index

Pure sugar (with a glycemic index of 100) is the reference point for describing the glycemic index of foods. The smaller the glycemic index number, the less impact the food has on your glucose levels.

The biology behind carbs tells us that foods containing sugar and starch are easier for the body to quickly change into glucose for energy (higher glycemic ratings), but fibers like vegetables and whole grains digest more slowly and evenly (lower glycemic ratings).

sweet tooth

When we eat food that is only carbohydrate and has no fiber, healthy kinds of fat, or protein, it is not helpful in balancing our blood sugar. In general, foods that are closer to the form found in nature tend to have lower glycemic index numbers than refined or processed foods.

What’s the impact? Foods with higher glycemic index ratings trigger a fast spike in insulin and blood sugar, while foods with lower glycemic index ratings have a smaller, slower effect.

The Crash Course on Carbs can help you put this information into delicious choices in your kitchen!

Which of the following starchy foods are your favorites?

  • Potatoes, both regular and sweet
  • Corn
  • Fresh Peas
  • Lima Beans
  • Legumes (dried beans and peas)
  • Grains (wheat, oats, barley, and rice)
  • Products made from grains (pasta, bread, rolls, bagels, crackers, cereals, and baked goods)

Which of the following sugary foods are your favorites?

  • Fruit and Fruit Juice (also includes foods like jelly and fruit smoothies)
  • Sweet Bakery Items (cake, pie, donuts, cookies)
  • Sugary Drinks (soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, coffee concoctions)
  • Sweet Condiments (ketchup, barbecue sauce, relish, marinades)
  • Dairy Items (especially low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, ice cream)

What thoughts comes to mind when you read these lists of Starchy and Sugary foods? Are your favorite foods high on the glycemic index? Are there family members or friends you cook for who refuse to eat foods that are low-glycemic?

Let me help you think all of this through.

Why the Glycemic Index Ratings Matter

People with Prediabetes work hard to have stable blood sugar. They want to avoid glucose spikes that throw their bodies out of whack. In a nutshell, high-glycemic carbs are super-spikers. For example, a juicy grapefruit would deliver a nice flow of sustained energy, while a glazed doughnut is a crazed sugar high and later, an often-cranky slump. (Think “toddlers with a birthday cake.”) Many people have grown accustomed to chasing the blood-sugar high that junk carbs create, and perhaps this has happened to you, too. The lesson for all of us? Skip the spike, and choose nutritionally dense carbs with low glycemic index ratings.

glycemic index

Do you wonder how to count carbs on nutrition labels? Here are two ways you can analyze your carbs to sort out the good from the bad. First, check out the nutritional value of your selected carbs. Are they loaded with vitamins and minerals your body can use? Or, are they empty calories that pack on the pounds and leave your body hungry for “real food”?

glycemic load

Second, decide where your carbs fall on the Glycemic Index (GI), which ranks them according to how they affect blood sugar levels. More specifically, the number assigned to food indicates how fast our bodies will convert the carbs into glucose. This is vital information for people with Prediabetes because two foods with the same amount of carbohydrates can have very different glycemic ratings.

exchange list for carbs

Sometimes it’s helpful to think about your carb options. Perhaps you’re in the mood for a snack, and you want to limit your carb intake to 15 grams. I’d like to make this easy for you, so I created the Food Exchange Chart in my Crash Course on Carbs Booklet!

Every one of the items on the list will cause the same rise in blood sugar and the same potential* insulin response. An even swap! This type of exchange list can simplify the process of comparing carbs. Scroll down to learn how you can order your copy of the Carbs Booklet!

*There is a potential insulin response from eating 15 grams of carbs. Some people are insulin resistant and so their insulin release is different. You can learn all about this in Solution Starter Prediabetes Program. 🙂

[Much of the pioneering work on GI comes to us from the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia. Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, Ph.D. and her work are found at the University of Sydney.]

Make it Easy on Yourself! Use a List of Carbs with Glycemic Index + Glycemic Load Values

It’s important to understand the grams of sugar in specific, common foods. Sometimes, my coaching clients think they can eat all the pasta they like–as long as they’re not eating a lot of ice cream…

understand carbs

Did you know…1 cup of ice cream and 2/3 cup of pasta have the same impact on blood glucose?

Most pasta-lovers eat more than a 2/3-cup portion for dinner, by the way!

Another thing to understand is that products labeled as “Sugar-Free” may not be low-sugar items.

How is that happening? Here’s an example I like to share: a single-serving container of sugar-free chocolate pudding (1/2 cup) has 8 grams of carbohydrates. Those carbs come from the milk used to make the pudding.

The manufacturer labels this pudding as 0-grams of sugar because they didn’t add any white granulated sugar–but they added fake sugar. They added one of those lab-made, chemically 0-calorie sweeteners that play havoc on our digestive systems!

The total carbs in this kind of pudding snack are 8 grams of lactose (milk sugar), the added sugar is 0 grams, so this is not a FREE or healthy snack, and it certainly won’t help you solve prediabetes.

How to Choose Food for Blood Sugar Balance and Holistic Health

I’ve prepared the CRASH COURSE ON CARBS to help balance your blood sugar a holistic health way! It’ll support you as a student in the Solution Starter for Prediabetes Program, as well as it’ll support every savvy consumer.

In this Crash Course on Carbs E-Book you’ll learn:

  • The Secret to weight loss, an increased energy level, and balancing your blood sugar
  • What you need to understand about Blood Sugar, Insulin, and Carbohydrates
  • The Glycemic Index and why it’s an important Holistic Health Tool
  • What are Net Carbs
  • What is Glycemic Load
  • Why it’s better to count carbs than calories
  • The truth behind Blood Sugar Imbalance
  • Coach Georgianne’s 5 Step Strategy to being Carb-Smart

Carbohydrate is an essential part of your healthy eating, yet not all carbs are wholesome. I offer this free resource about food choices to support your healthy blood sugar and thriving lifestyle today!

Georgianne Holland

Coach Georgianne Holland
Certified Holistic Health Coach and Prediabetes Educator,
Food As Medicine and Mind-Body Medicine Practitioner

Creator of the Solution Starter™ for Prediabetes
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Holland Health Coaching in Colorado

Solutions Starter™ for Prediabetes