Glycemic index and Glycemic load

black and grey casio scientific calculator showing formula

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Everyone is talking about the Glycemic Index these days.  I’ve had a lot of patients ask what it is all about and if they should use it as a guide of what to eat.  So, here’s my take…

The Glycemic index was invented for diabetic management in the 80’s as a measure of how much certain foods will increase your blood glucose, thus causing an insulin release and subsequent weight gain, as well as a host of other bad things to occur in your body.  This measurement was also used to help diabetics plan their insulin dosing based on the glycemic index of the foods they planned to eat and is still sometimes practiced today.  Unfortunately, it is a flawed measurement, like determining how fast your car is going by the rate that you pass gas stations, it will sometimes be accurate, but a lot of the time it will not.   Anywho, the main flaw with the glycemic index is that it is actually a measurement of how much 50 grams of a food’s carbohydrates will increase your blood sugar, but fails to take into account that some foods (like carrots, beets, peas, and red peppers) are super low in carbohydrates, so their numbers are artificially high.  A better measurement tool is the glycemic load.

The Glycemic load is much more representative of what the food will actually do to your blood glucose level.  For example, green peas have a glycemic index of 54, which is higher than a snickers bar (51), but green peas are so low in carbohydrates that the glycemic load is 4, whereas the glycemic load of a Snickers bar is 18.  To compare the two foods in a different way, one Snicker serving is 2.07 ounces, don’t ask me why they insist on being so precise, but I suspect that it’s something shady, like the extra 0.07 ounces means that they don’t have to pay taxes, or now they can use cyanide coated peanuts because of an 18th century law allowing a tincture of poison in foods with prime number weights.   Anyways, in order to get the same rise of blood sugar that you get from the 2.07 ounces of Snickers, you would have to eat a ridiculous 17 cups of green peas, rather quickly, which of course is probably physically impossible, but a person would wrongly assume based on their respective glycemic indexes (or is it indices) that Snickers would cause less of a blood glucose bump than the peas.  This is just one of the many examples of how the glycemic index has tricked people into eating the wrong foods.  I will give you another example but in reverse.  Pasta has a glycemic index less that green peas, usually between 40 and 50, but unlike the 17 cups of peas you need to eat to achieve the corresponding rise in blood sugar, in the case of pasta, you will only need to consume a fraction of one single serving, and so to get a corresponding rise of glucose from peas, the number of cups goes up to somewhere near 25.  Like the Snicker’s Bar, pasta’s moderate glycemic index number is very misleading, but its very high glycemic load value of 22, is much more in-line with what pasta will do to your blood glucose levels.  So as you can see, even when you’re a sophisticated consumer using the newest nutritional jargon of the day like glycemic index, you can still be misled.  The good news is that using our plan, you can put away your abacus, excel spreadsheet, and that motherf****** food scale and ignore all these numbers, equations, and calculations.  Also, you are now armed with a good rebuttal when some jackass gives you a hard time about eating a diet rich in carrots whilst chewing on a whole grain bagel, after all carrots have a higher glycemic index than a wholegrain-bagel. 🙄

The foods pictured below are in my top 10 favorite healthiest foods, except the almonds, which aren’t bad for you, but aren’t in my top 10.  It’s a stock photo.  I googled “blueberries, eggs, macadamia nuts, avocados, and a young shirtless Bill Murray” and this is what I got.  Once again the internet has let me down.

egg near blueberries

Photo by Jenna Hamra on