Good carbohydrates, bad carbohydrates. Low glycemic index, high glycemic index. A great tool to help you manage diabetes or lose weight. You might have heard all these statements associated with the glycemic index. What is this glycemic index all about? Is it worth considering as a way to help you control your blood sugar levels?


Researchers have spent years debating what makes blood sugar levels too high in those with diabetes. Potential culprits have included sugar, carbohydrates in general, simple carbs, starches, and more. The glycemic index is one attempt to measure each individual food’s effect on blood sugar. If you’re trying to lose weight, calories count more than the types of food in your diet.

What researchers have learned is that high glycemic index foods generally make blood sugar levels higher. In addition, people who eat a lot of high glycemic index foods tend to have greater levels of body fat, as measured by the body mass index (BMI). High BMIs are linked to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Low glycemic index foods include these:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole and minimally processed grains
  • Legumes

Keep this general principle in mind: Unprocessed foods tend to have lower glycemic indices than refined foods.

  • Low (good) glycemic index levels: 55 or less
  • Medium glycemic index levels: 56–69
  • High (bad) glycemic index levels: 70 or higher

Knowing whether a particular food has a low or high glycemic index is a great start. However, several factors can change a particular food’s glycemic index:

  • The other foods eaten at the same time
  • Other components of a food, such as the amount of protein or fat
  • How the food was prepared
  • Your own body’s reaction to the food

Many people have found the glycemic index to be a useful tool for controlling blood sugar or for losing weight. If you want to try the glycemic index as well, talk to your doctor. He or she may refer you to a dietitian, who can give you specific steps to follow as well as tips to make using the glycemic index easier.