What are High and Low Glycemic Index Foods?

The foods that have high glycemic index increase blood sugar rapidly and can be the cause to several health issues is one eats too many of them. Consumption of a diet low in GI, can help prevent and manage diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. One can also easily manage their weight with a diet low in GI as a part of an healthy eating approach.

This article focuses on the explanation of GI, and highlighting the foods that are low and high in GI items. It also highlights the benefit of following a diet low in GI and gives example of a low GI meal plan.

What is the Glycemic Index?

A low GI option of gluten-free green buckwheat pancakes with fresh berries and maple syrup.
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The measurement of according to which food is ranked, that, how much carbohydrates affects one’s blood sugar is the glycemic index. The ISO, Internation Organization of Standardization ranks foods from 1-100 and uses pure glucose, with a GI of 100 as a reference.

The classification for GI of foods is either low, medium, or high, according to the Glycemic Index Foundation. This is:

  • low GI is 55 or less
  • medium GI is 56–69
  • high GI is 70 or greater

A list of the common foods and their GI has been provided by the American Diabetes Association. They have notes that some sources use white bread as a reference point and not pure glucose.

Another measurement that many experts believe in is the glycemic load. It provides a more realistic picture of the way foods affect blood sugar and considers both the amount of carbohydrate in a portion of food and its GI.

Using the glycemic index, people can choose healthier foods and keep a check on the amount of sugar and carbs they consume. This can help in the management of weight and health conditions like diabetes.

Factors that Affect the Glycemic Index of Foods

The Glycemic Index of Foods can provide an explanation of the various factors that influence how quickly a particular food increases someone’s blood sugar. These factors are:

  • how refined the carbohydrate is
  • the physical and chemical structure of the food
  • the cooking method
  • the fiber in the food
  • the protein, fat, and acid in the food

Generally, refined and processed carbohydrates are quick to metabolize into glucose. The foods that have fiber, protein, and fats release glucose slowly, and hence, they have a lower GI. When food is cooked for a long time, it breaks foods down. This means that consumption of these would lead to quicker glucose absorption.

Foods High in GI to Avoid 

If the idea is to manage weight or diabetes, one can look out the GI of foods given in the International Tables of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Value. According to that, these are high in GI:

  • white and whole wheat bread
  • white rice
  • breakfast cereals and cereal bars
  • cakes, cookies, and sweet treats
  • potatoes and fries
  • chips and rice crackers
  • fruits such as watermelon and pineapple
  • dried fruits such as dates, raisins, and cranberries
  • sweetened dairy products such as fruit yogurts

Ones who follow a low GI diet consume foods that have a medium GI of 56-69, but generally foods with a lower GI. The food that has medium GI is rye bread and raisin bran cereal.

Benefits of a LowGlycemic Index Diet

The foods high in GI can increase a person’s blood sugar and cause their body to create more insulin. After insulin shunts glucose into cells, the blood glucose can decrease, and leave them feeling low in energy or mood.

Other than the short-term effects, having dysregulated blood glucose can lead to long-term health effects like insulin resistance and diabetes.

International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium suggests that a diet low in GI and GL is relevant to the prevention and management of diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, and obesity.

Studies have shown that diets low in GI is beneficial and helps prevent some health issues.

Being mindful of the GI of foods can help people control their blood sugar and avoid complications in relation to diabetes. Research shows that low GI diets help people with diabetes reduce their blood sugar levels.

A review from 2019 suggests that diets low in GI reduces the long-term markers of blood sugar control, body weight, and fasting blood sugar levels in people who have prediabetes or diabetes.

A diet low in GI also helps with gestational diabetes, which is a condition where one develops high blood sugar during pregnancy, and this usually resolved after giving birth.

A meta-analysis from 2016 suggests that for people who have gestational diabetes, eating a diet low in GI can reduce the risk of macrosomia. It is a condition that results in babies being larger-than-average and can cause several short-and long-term complications for the one giving birth and the baby.

A study shows that other than controlling glucose and insulin metabolism, low GI with energy-restricted diet can help in reduction of body weight.

Food high in GI can affect mood and energy. A study from 2016 showed that among adults who have a healthy weight and are overweight, the consumption of a high GI diet caused a 38% higher chance of depressive symptoms, and a 26% higher score for fatigue and inertia.

A study shows the relationship between the high GI and GL diets and coronary heart disease. Another study shows the association between a high GI diet and colorectal, bladder, and kidney cancers.

Example of a Low GI Meal Plan

These are some examples of meal options for someone wishing to follow a low GI meal plan:

Breakfast options

Some low GI breakfast options are:

  • scrambled eggs with smoked salmon
  • buckwheat pancakes with berries
  • breakfast quesadillas with black beans, spinach, and mushrooms

Lunch options

Some low GI lunch options are:

  • black bean soup
  • mango chicken and almond on rye bread
  • cauliflower and celeriac soup

Dinner options

Low GI dinner options can include:

  • lamb shanks with barley, garden peas, and mint
  • Tex-Mex tofu soft tacos
  • Indian-style spiced vegetable and cheese parcels

Snack options

Some low GI snack options are:

  • a slice of cinnamon, oat, and almond loaf
  • homemade full-of-fruit muffins
  • roasted soy nuts

When one is planning a meal, it is important that they count cards. Management of carbs using GI can help in controlling blood sugar levels in a better way.

Drawbacks of a Low GI Diet

One may find following a low GI diet complicated. A person needs to know the GI of everything on their plate, which can be problematic when a meal has several ingredients. Following a diet low on GI can limit the options for people when they are eating out.

One needs to consider the amount of fiber, fats, and protein in a meals to know how the meal as a whole would affect their blood glucose.

A study shows that people must consider low GL and GI for healthy eating. According to a review, the important components of a healthy diet are fiber and whole grains and it may predict outcomes better than GI.

Thus, it can be more important for people to focus on the GI of foods when they are looking to maintain a balanced and healthful diet.


To manage weight or health conditions, people may want to follow a low GI diet. For that, they can figure out the GI of foods and create a meal plan. It is important to consider other aspects of a balanced diet, like fiber and whole grain, while planning.

Diets low in GI can beneficial for the prevention and management of insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. However, the planning of a low GI diet is complex, so a person must consider getting the advice of a registered dietitian.