How to Use GI and GL for Better Control
A little bit of knowledge and a pencil and paper are all you need to make use of these great tools.
By Chris Sparling
Learning how to use the glycemic index and glyemic load to help better manage your blood sugar is easier than you may think â€?and it may well be worth your while. Plenty of research has indicated that low-glycemic-load eating can contribute to reducing health risks, and not only for people with diabetes.
The first step is to understand what these two terms mean.
â€?The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion, releasing glucose rapidly into the bloodstream (like those found in white bread), have a "high GI" (70 or higher); carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream (like those in whole grains and legumes), have a "low GI" (55 or lower).
â€?The Glycemic Load (GL) is a ranking system for the glycemic impact of foods, based on their carbohydrate content, portion size, and glycemic index. Low = 1 to 10; Medium = 11-19; High = 20 or higher.*
As explained in the book The New Glucose Revolution for Diabetes (Marlowe, 2007), the GL was developed by Harvard researchers, who posited that eating a small amount of a high-GI food would have the same effect on blood sugar as large amounts of a low-GI food. The other problem with looking at just the GI of a food is that itâ€™s tied to the number of grams of carbohydrates in a food and, obviously, that number varies by large amounts. Watermelon is a good illustration of this problem. Watermelonâ€™s GI is high, 72. But the GI is based not on a portion of watermelon, but on 50g of carbohydratesâ€?worth of watermelon. To get 50g of carbs, youâ€™d have to eat almost 5 cups of diced watermelon. GL combines both the quality and the quantity of the actual carbohydrates consumed â€?and provides one "number." The GL of a cup of watermelon is about 9, which is low.
This leads us to our next step: Math.
Not to worry, weâ€™re not talking about advanced algebraic equations; rather, the formula for calculating GL requires only some basic multiplication and division.
GL = (GI x the amount of carbohydrate) divided by 100.
Using an apple as an example, letâ€™s input the fruitâ€™s GI score of 38 and its 13 grams of carbohydrates into the equation and see what the resulting GL turns out to be.
GL = (38 x 13) / 100
GL = 5
Easy enough, right? Well then, how about we try something a bit starchier, like a baked potato (GI = 85, Total Carbs = 14)?
GL = (85 x 14) / 100
GL = 12
Based on these simple calculations, we see that the potato will have twice the glycemic effect as the apple. Knowing this can help people make better decisions toward keeping blood sugar steady â€?and reducing the chances of unexpected spikes.
So, GI or GL?
To keep your blood sugar in a healthy range, the best strategy is to consume a lot of low-GI carbohydrates but check your portion size and use the GL calculation as a reality check on your choices. And remember, these tools are for carbohydrate foods â€?grains, starches, legumes, fruits, and veggies. Other rules apply when making choices about proteins and fats, of course. And even if you master the GI and GL approach, remember that diabetes is very individual, and the only way to know how foods will truly affect your blood sugar levels is to test yourself.
For more information on GI and GL, check out these resources:
The Official Site of the Glycemic Index
Oregon State Universityâ€™s Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Research for Optimum Health, "Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load"
Nutrition data: Glycemic Index
* Glycemic load ranges, according to David Mendosa
Last Modified Date: October 6, 2008