Closing the GI loop – quality + quantity of carbohydrates

 This is the third in a blog series on Mondays across World Diabetes Month on the Glycemic Index (GI). We started with one on the benefits of low-GI carbohydrates which happily surprised many us.

Then last Monday we talked about ways to make the change, including tips and tricks, so that you can do that.

So this third blog is designed to close the loop on understanding the glycemic index by explaining about Glycemic Load (GL) which combines the quantity and quality of carbohydrate foods to help us make the most of our carbohydrate intake. The GL is calculated by multiplying the GI of a food item with it’s carbohydrate quantity.

For those of you with type 2 diabetes particularly, this should be really helpful in working out how much of various carbohydrate types you should be including. In saying that, please do not change your eating habits without checking with your D-team of health professionals as medications and other issues can alter what YOU need in the way of carbohydrates.

When we talk about the quality of carbohydrates, it’s not only the GI but also the nutritional quality of the carbohydrate that should be taken into consideration. For example, some fruits that are high in nutrients have a high GI rating, and some starches that have a lower GI rating, such as longer grain rices, have little nutritional benefit. With or without diabetes, we should aim to make every mouthful be chocked full of nutrients to help us maintain our wellness.

Another numbering system of carbohydrate foods, this GL stuff could get a little overwhelming. So we don’t want to overcomplicate matters. Put simply, ass with the glycemic index, the lower you go the more you can eat without upsetting your BGLs and insulin levels. But when you look at the research that backs it up, it’s certainly worth considering.

In 2008 Australian researchers published a paper that lists 1000 foods and their GI & GL called “International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008” (by Fiona S. Atkinson, Kaye Foster-Powell, and Jennie C. Brand-Miller in the December 2008 issue of Diabetes Care, Vol. 31, number 12, pages 2281-2283). Since that table was published there has been a significant amount of further research published to demonstrate the benefits for general improved glycemic control in various populations and for health conditions such as cardiovascular disease for diets with a lower glycemic load.

As a broad guideline we should think about a GL of 100 per day being a reasonable number to aim for. Carbohydrate foods with a GL less than 10 should be your first choice for carbs. Foods that fall between 10 and 20 on the GL scale have a moderate effect on your BGLs, and those greater than 20 will cause both BGL and insulin spikes.

If you’re interested in having a go at working out your Glycemic Load, Harvard Health Publications published a table ‘Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods’ that came from the research paper by our Australian researchers in Diabetes Care, and is freely available to anyone wishing to try.

Using breakfast as an example from that list, if I have 30g of museli (GI=66, GL=16) with 250ml of skim milk (GI=32, GL=4), then my breakfast Glycemic Load will be 16+4=20.

Why don’t you give it a go for an average one of your days to see if you fit below the 100 mark?? You wouldn’ t need to do it every day, but a one off workout might be an eye opener for you.

Good luck 🙂



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