There is a lot of talk these days about a new meal planning tool called
the Glycemic Index (GI). But there is also a lot of misunderstanding
about the GI, which has actually been around for more than 20 years.
It is a good idea to get to know and understand the Glycemic Index,
because choosing foods with a low GI rating more often than choosing
those with a high GI may help you to:
• Control your blood glucose levels
• Control your cholesterol levels
• Control your appetite
• Lower your risk of getting heart disease
• Lower your risk of getting type 2 diabetes
The Glycemic Index is a scale that ranks carbohydrate-rich foods by
how much they raise blood glucose levels compared to glucose or white bread.
When you eat food that contains carbohydrates, the sugar (glucose)
from the food breaks down during digestion and gives you energy. After
you eat, your blood glucose level rises; the speed at which the food is
able to increase your blood glucose level is called the “glycemic response.” This glycemic response is influenced by many factors, including how much food you eat, how much the food is processed or even how the food is prepared (for example, pasta that is cooked al dente – or firm – has a lower glycemic response than pasta that is overcooked).
Good carbs, better carbs
Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends eating a diet
with 50% of each day's calories coming from carbohydrates. Not all carbohydrates are the same, however.
The Glycemic Index (GI) ranks carbohydrate-rich foods according to
their glycemic response. Foods that raise your blood glucose level
quickly have a higher GI rating than foods that raise your blood glucose
level more slowly. In general, the lower the rating, the better the quality
Not only do low GI foods raise your blood glucose more slowly and to a
less dramatic peak than higher GI foods, but most low GI foods are
all-around healthier choices. Low GI foods are usually lower in calories
and fat, while also being high in fibre, nutrients and antioxidants. Choosing low GI foods more often may help you increase levels of HDL (healthy) cholesterol in your blood and might help you control your appetite, as
they tend to keep you feeling fuller, longer.
Try to choose low and medium GI foods more often than high GI foods.
A GI of 55 or less ranks as low, a GI of 56 to 69 is medium, and a GI of
70 or more ranks as high. Use the chart below to help you make healthier choices.
Here are some tips to help you lower the Glycemic Index of your daily meals:
• Base your food choices primarily on overall nutrition – including vitamins, minerals and fibre.. Don't dismiss healthy foods such as white potatoes just because they have a high GI. Their other nutritional benefits make them
• Try to choose at least one low GI food at each meal.
• If you choose a high GI food, combine it with a low GI food, for an
overall medium GI meal. For example, half a bagel (high GI) with a bowl
of chili (low GI) , or corn flakes cereal (high GI) topped with a spoonful
of All Bran (low GI) and some strawberries (low GI).
• Limit the amount of processed, refined starchy foods, as they tend
to be low in fibre and other nutrients and have a higher GI.
• Try new foods that have a low GI. Experiment with beans, legumes
and lentils by including them in dishes such as chili, soups and salads.
• Eat whole grain, pumpernickel and oat bran bread more often than
• Eat fresh fruit and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have a low GI,
so they break down into sugar slowly in your body. Canada's Food Guide recommends five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Enjoy a variety!
• Choose parboiled, brown or white rice more often than instant rice.
• Eat pasta, rice, yams, lima beans or baked potatoes more often than mashed, boiled or instant potatoes. Eating potatoes cold, as in a salad, reduces their GI (but go easy on the mayo dressing).
• Use vinaigrette instead of a creamy salad dressing. It's lower in fat,
plus the acidity of the vinegar slows digestion, lowering the meal's GI.
• Watch your portion sizes; the bigger the portion, the more it will
increase your blood glucose, regardless of its GI rank. For more
information about healthy portion sizes, see the Handy Portion Guide
• Check your blood glucose level before eating and one to two hours afterwards to see how your body handles the meal.
The Glycemic Index is just one part healthy eating. Don't forget to:
• Eat at regular times
• Choose a variety of foods from all food groups
• Limit sugar and sweets
• Reduce the amount of fat you eat
• Include foods high in fibre
• Limit salt, alcohol and caffeine.
• Choose heart healthy fats such as canola and olive oil.
LOW GLYCEMIC INDEX FOODS (55 or less)
(choose most often vvv)
Oat bran bread
Converted or Parboiled rice
Al dente (firm) pasta
MEDIUM GLYCEMIC INDEX FOODS (56-69)
(choose more often vv)
Split pea or green pea soup
Shredded wheat cereal
Whole wheat bread
HIGH GLYCEMIC INDEX FOODS
(choose less often v )
Instant mashed potatoes
Baked white potato