July 18, 2017

Low Glycemic Foods

Low Glycemic FoodsWe write on this website quite a bit about the importance of eating low glycemic foods and have described how low glycemic foods impact blood sugar and insulin levels. But, what are examples of low glycemic foods we should consume? So that’s what we are going to tackle today.

Low Glycemic Foods: A Key to Reducing Body Fat

A major key to weight loss is having the ability to burn calories from fat stores.  Insulin is produced in response to carbohydrates in the meal. Insulin drives sugar from the blood into the cells. But, it also prevents the release of calories from our storage fat. So as long as insulin levels remain elevated it becomes extremely difficult to burn fat calories, and therefore lose body fat.

The best way to tap into fat for calories (energy) is to consume carbohydrates that cause only mild elevations in insulin – low glycemic carbohyrates.  Low glycemic foods are considered those with a glycemic index under 55.

Low Glycemic Does Not Mean Low Carbohydrate

Sometimes the message is received wrong when discussing low glycemic carbohydrates.  Some misunderstand eating low glycemic foods for eating a low carbohydrate diet.  That is not the case. We need carbohydrates to prevent muscle fatigue, get fiber in the diet, and to prevent low energy levels.

But, the goal is to eat the right kind of carbohydrates – low glycemic carbohydrates are the right kind of carbs. Low glycemic carbs are slow carbs – carbs that are digested slowly without spiking blood sugar and insulin levels.

Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load

The glycemic index is a ranking of the quality of various carbohydrates based on how a carbohydrate affects blood glucose (sugar) levels.  Foods that breakdown quickly and cause a rapid rise in blood glucose are high-glycemic, and those that cause a slow and limited rise are low-glycemic.  Pure glucose is given a ranking of 100.  A carbohydrate that has a glycemic index higher than 100 causes a more rapid and elevated rise in blood sugar than glucose.  Carbohydrates that cause less of rise in blood sugar than glucose will have an index less than 100.

The glycemic index is determined by measuring the effect of 50 grams of a carbohydrate on blood sugar.  A glycemic index above 70 is considered high, 56 to 69 moderate, and 55 and below as low glycemic.

There’s a potential problem in relying only on the glycemic index.  Some foods like watermelon have a high-glycemic index of 72, but there is far fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrate in a typical serving. That’s where the glycemic load is helpful and comes into play.  The glycemic load takes into account the actual number of grams of a given carbohydrate in the typical serving and is calculated by dividing the GI (glycemic index) of a carbohydrate by 100 and multiplying it by the number of grams in the serving.

Watermelon has a glycemic load of only 4. Anything under 20 is considered healthy. So it is perfectly safe to eat a serving of watermelon. Carrots are another food where we see a discrepancy between the glycemic index and the glycemic load. It has a glycemic load of only 2 despite a glycemic index of 49.

The glycemic index of foods is what is most commonly reported, but the glycemic load is a better indicator (as long as you only eat the typical serving) of the sugar load of a food on the body.

Examples of Low Glycemic Foods


Food Glycemic Index Glycemic Load
Banana 54 13
Sourdough bread 53 6
Green peas 51 4
Oatmeal 49 9
Carrots 49 2
Long grain white rice 44 16
Sweet potato 44 11
Orange 42 5
Peach 42 5
White spaghetti 41 20
Rye bread 40 6
Strawberries 40 1
Raspberries 40 1
Apple 38 6
Pear 38 4
Tomato 38 1
Honey (100% floral) 35 6
Skim milk 34 4
Black beans 30 5
Lentils 25 5
Grapefruit 25 3
Sour cherries 22 3
Agave nectar 19 1
Peanuts 15 1
Hummus 6 1

The glycemic index and glycemic load of the following foods are negligible, and therefore ideal to eat having minimal impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. These are the foods to include in your diet on a daily basis.

  • Alfafa sprouts
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Squash

We generally recommend patients with elevated blood sugars and hemoglobin A1C’s and/or weight issues and for those who are trying to lose weight to consume foods that have an glycemic index of 45 or less and glycemic load less than 10.

Low glycemic foods are carbs that are digested slowly and raise blood sugar and insulin levels minimally.  And, that’s probably the best way to think of them – as SLOW CARBS.

See related articles.

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“7 Anti Aging Foods to Feast On”



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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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