Research has indicated that hyperglycemia is associated with chronic diseases and obesity. As a result, measures of the glycemic response to food consumption have been developed so that people can choose foods with a smaller glycemic response. The first measure developed for this purpose was the glycemic index. The glycemic index is the relative change in blood glucose after consumption of 50 g of carbohydrate in a test food compared to 50 g of carbohydrates of a reference food (white bread or glucose). Thus, a high glycemic index food will produce a greater rise in blood glucose concentrations compared to a low glycemic index food, as shown below.
Figure 4.521 Blood glucose response to a high glycemic index (GI) food compared to a low glycemic index food1
As a general guideline, a glycemic index that is 70 or greater is high, 56-69 is medium, and 55 and below is low. A stop light graphical presentation has been designed to emphasize the consumption of the low glycemic index foods while cautioning against the consumption of too many high glycemic index foods2.
Figure 4.522 Food glycemic index classifications2
The main problem with the glycemic index is that it does not take into account serving sizes. Let's take popcorn (glycemic index 89-127) as an example. A serving size of popcorn is 20 g, 11 g of which is carbohydrate3. This is equal to approximately 2.5 cups of popcorn4. Thus, a person would have to consume over 11 cups of popcorn to consume 50 g of carbohydrate needed for the glycemic index measurement. Another example is watermelon, which has a glycemic index of 103, with a 120 g serving containing only 6 g of carbohydrates3. To consume the 50 g needed for glycemic index measurement, a person would need to consume over 1000 g (1 kg) of watermelon. Assuming this is all watermelon flesh (no rind), this would be over 6.5 cups of watermelon4.
The website glycemicindex.com (link provided below) contains a database where you can search to see the food's glycemic index and glycemic load (covered in the next section). The database contains detail on how the measurement was done and more information on the product itself. The top link below will take you to this website. The second link is to another database that contains the same information that might be easier for some people to use. However, please note that in the second link the glycemic loads are calculated using 100 g serving sizes for all foods. This might not be the actual serving size for all foods, which is what is typically used, so it is important to keep this in mind.
References & Links
- Foster-Powell K, Holt SHA, Brand-Miller J. (2002) International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002. Am J Clin Nutr 76(1): 5.
- USDA National Nutrient Database - www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/