Tracking your food intake on the glycemic index can feel a bit overwhelming when you first start. It can feel like that one extra thing you have to do that you really don’t want to. Isn’t tracking carbs enough? Not necessarily. Not all carbs are created equal.
Take an apple for example. A medium apple will, on average, have 25 carbs in it. For those strictly following a low carb diet, apples are a no-no. But if you look at the glycemic index number of an apple, it’s only a 39. That’s pretty low. And if you take that a step further, an apple has a glycemic load (the actual affect on your blood sugar) of 5. So while you may be getting more carbs, those carbs are not affecting your blood sugar the same way a donut would.
What is the glycemic index?
It is a number range or scale with a number assigned to individual foods that tell you how fast a food will convert to glucose in your body. Anything above a 55 is considered to be something to avoid by those looking to control high blood sugar. Anything below that number is considered a low glycemic food.
While the glycemic index is not an exact method, it is a very useful tool.
WHY DOES THE GLYCEMIC INDEX MATTER FOR DIABETICS?
Tracking the glycemic load of the foods you eat is a step beyond counting carbs. Every food out there has a particular number of carbs, from zero (in plain meats) up to hundreds, depending on what food it is and how much you eat of it. A single Fanta orange soda has 76 grams of sugar and 30 grams of carbs which come directly from the sugar content. It is a 68 on the glycemic index and has a glycemic load of 23 (which is high). And that’s for a small, 8 oz. serving. (What soda drinker only drinks 8 oz. or soda?) A diabetic coma waiting to happen, in my humble opinion.
GLYCEMIC INDEX RANGES
- Low Glycemic Index: 0-55
- Medium Glycemic Index: 55-70
- High Glycemic Index: 70+
So each individual food has its own number on the glycemic index scale. The glycemic load, however, is how each gram of that specific food will impact your glucose levels. It tends to be a more “telling” number and one I try to calculate as often as I can. Again, a quick google search can help with that.
Glycemic Load Ranges
- Low Glycemic load: 0 to 10.
- Medium Glycemic load: 11 to 19.
- High Glycemic load: 20 and over.
That being said, you can follow a more generalized approach by simply referring to the glycemic index and it will still be quite beneficial. Here is a calculator to help you determine the glycemic index number of any given food.
GLYCEMIC INDEX CALCULATOR
CALCULATING GLYCEMIC LOAD
While I do not recommend trying to calculate glycemic load by yourself for many reasons (there are limitations to these calculations), if you are brave enough to want to track the glycemic load of what you are eating, here’s how it’s done:
To find a food’s GL [glycemic load], multiply its GI [glycemic index] by the number of carbohydrate grams in a serving, and then divide by 100. A low GL is between 1 and 10; a moderate GL is 11 to 19; and a high GL is 20 or higher. For those with diabetes, you want your diet to have GL values as low as possible.(source)
If you need more of a “visual walk-through”, try this one on WikiHow.
LOW CARB VS. LOW GLYCEMIC DIETS
While low carb diets are indeed effective to an extent, they can also be very difficult to maintain for the long term for many people.
In my own personal experience, after being on a low carb/keto diet for nearly 2 years, my blood sugar became so overly sensitive to the smallest amount of carbs that I was trying to get down to zero carbs a day just to maintain normal glucose levels. And as anyone with a medical degree will tell you, carbs do matter. We need them for glucose production. We may not want to overdo them, or eat the bad ones, but carbs matter, despite the new age science that says they don’t.
As diabetics, our instincts may tell us that glucose production is the opposite of what we want. But it’s not. It’s critical. It’s just that we need to control it much more rigidly than non-diabetics.
I can only speak from my own, non-medical, personal experience when I say, I feel better getting healthy carbs. I function better. I stopped losing my hair (I lost nearly half my hair on a keto diet) and many small ailments cleared up once I went off the diet.
I’m not saying it doesn’t work, because it does. It was effective for both my weight and my blood sugar. But the long term effects weren’t worth it in the end. So now I just choose better carbs and I feel and function much better. And best of all, I control my blood sugar just fine!
Every person will have a different experience. Your approach to managing your glucose is as individual as you are. What works for me may not work for you. The above information is not medical advice, nor should it be used as such. Consult your doctor or dietitian for individual advice.