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Diabetes: Eating Low-Glycemic Foods


Table of Contents


Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.   Diabetes: Eating Low-Glycemic Foods

Eating low-glycemic foods 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.

Key points

Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  What is low-glycemic food?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  Why should you focus on carbohydrate?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  How do you follow a low-glycemic eating plan?
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition.  Where to go from here

What? - What is the medical information or key concepts related to the action?  What is low-glycemic food?

Low-glycemic foods raise your blood sugar slowly. This helps you keep your blood sugar from getting too high. Eating this way is sometimes called a "low-GI" eating plan.

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.

The glycemic index is a way to tell how quickly foods that contain carbohydrate may raise your blood sugar.

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.

Glycemic index of some common foods1, 2

Fruits

Glycemic index

Apples

Low

Oranges

Low

Watermelon

High

Vegetables

Glycemic index

Potato, baked (such as russet)

High

Pumpkin

High

Sweet potato

Low

Dried and canned beans and legumes

Glycemic index

Kidney beans

Low

Lentils

Low

Peanuts

Low

Cereals and grains

Glycemic index

Rice (brown)

Medium

Instant oatmeal

High

Corn flakes

High

Breads

Glycemic index

Whole-grain bread

Low

Hamburger bun (white)

Medium

White bread

High

Pasta

Glycemic index

Spaghetti (whole wheat)

Low

Spaghetti (white)

Low

Macaroni

Low

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.

Choosing low-glycemic foods 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.

It is best to combine low-glycemic foods with another eating plan for diabetes, such as carbohydrate counting or the plate format. 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. And the plate format can help you eat a variety of foods and manage portion sizes.

Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. Diabetes: Counting Carbs If You Don't Use Insulin
Actionsets help people take an active role in managing a health condition. Diabetes: Using a Plate Format to Plan Meals

Test Your Knowledge

  1. The glycemic index is a measure of how much carbohydrate is in my food.

    1. True

      This answer is incorrect.

      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.

    2. False

      This answer is 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.


Why? - Why the action is important?  Why should you focus on carbohydrate?

Carbohydrate raises blood sugar more than protein or fat. So eating carbohydrate that raises blood sugar slowly is one way to help keep your blood sugar in your target range. This may lower 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 manage how much carbohydrate you're eating and to spread carbohydrate foods throughout the day.

Test Your Knowledge

  1. Carbohydrate raises my blood sugar more than any other nutrient.

    1. True

      This answer is correct.

      Carbohydrate does raise your blood sugar more than protein and fats.

    2. False

      This answer is incorrect.

      Carbohydrate does raise your blood sugar more than protein and fats.


How? - Learn the steps involved in taking action.  How do you follow a low-glycemic eating plan?

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.

Write down what you eat now

The first step is to look at the kinds of foods you're eating now. Write down 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.

Swap some high-glycemic foods with low-glycemic choices

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.

Follow some tips to make low-glycemic choices

Set goals and get support

Test Your Knowledge

  1. I can't eat any high-glycemic foods after I start a low-glycemic eating plan.

    1. True

      This answer is incorrect.

      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.

    2. False

      This answer is 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.


Where? - Other resources and organizations that can help you take action.  Where to go from here

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.

Organization

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
120 South Riverside Plaza
Suite 2000
Chicago, IL  60606-6995
Phone: 1-800-877-0877
Email: knowledge@eatright.org
Web Address: www.eatright.org
 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sets standards for all types of prescribed diets. The organization produces a variety of consumer information, including videos. This group will help you find a registered dietitian in your area who provides nutrition counseling.


References

Citations

  1. Atkinson FS, et al. (2008). International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. Diabetes Care, 31(12): 2281–2283.

  2. American Diabetes Association (2013). The Glycemic Index of Foods. Available online: http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/the-glycemic-index-of-foods.html.

Other Works Consulted

Credits for Diabetes: Eating Low-Glycemic Foods

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
Last Revised July 11, 2013

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