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How do I Use a Glycemic Load Chart?

By Jennifer Voight
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A glycemic load chart is a tool for determining how carbohydrate-containing foods affect blood sugar and blood insulin levels. Using the chart can help health-conscious people choose foods when planning meals. A glycemic load chart lists foods on a scale from one to 100, with lower numbers indicating that a food has a lower effect on blood sugar and insulin.

A score of 20 or higher is considered high, between 11 and 19 is medium, and 10 or lower is considered low. Foods with a lower glycemic load are healthier for people who have heart disease, diabetes, or who want to lose weight, because they enter the bloodstream more slowly and do not spike blood sugar levels.

Scientists have known that differing qualities of carbohydrates have differing effects on the body for quite some time. For years they used the glycemic index to measure how much foods raise blood sugar levels. To calculate the glycemic index of a food, scientists use a standard measurement of 50 grams of carbohydrate to measure its effect on blood sugar. The problem is that foods contain differing amounts of carbohydrate. The glycemic index may exaggerate the impact of foods that only contain a small percentage of carbohydrate, while minimizing the impact of foods lower on the glycemic index, but contain higher percentages of carbohydrate.

Using the glycemic index can be useful but does not give the whole story. Glycemic load may be a better indicator of the impact a food has on blood sugar than glycemic index because it considers actual portion sizes. To calculate glycemic load, the glycemic index of a food is multiplied by 100 and divided by the amount of carbohydrate in a standard portion size.

For example, carrots score 47 on the glycemic index chart but only 2 on the glycemic load chart. This is because the glycemic index does not take into account the low percentage of carbohydrate a carrot contains. It would take 1.5 pounds (700 grams) of carrots to equal the amount of carbohydrate used to measure the glycemic index of carrots. Based on a standard portion size, the glycemic load chart gives a more realistic measurement of carrots’ impact on blood sugar.

Foods that rank lower on the glycemic load chart tend to be vegetables, beans, nuts, and foods that contain more whole grains and more fiber. Refined carbohydrates rank higher on the glycemic load chart. People who wish to lose weight or control heart disease or diabetes should choose less-processed foods for most meals and can use the glycemic load chart to discern which foods will help achieve their health goals.

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Discussion Comments

By SteamLouis — On Apr 27, 2012

I think that neither the glycemic load food chart nor the glycemic index chart gives us the entire picture of how it affects our blood sugar. The article also touched on this and I agree with that.

The reason is because neither of these charts consider other nutritional values of foods, such as fiber. We all know that fiber slows down the entry of glucose in the bloodstream. So the higher the fiber content in a food, the slower that food will raise blood sugar levels.

But neither chart considers this. They only consider carbohydrates which is part of the picture but not whole. Many fruits for example are pretty high in carbohydrates (oranges, some apples, etc). But eaten whole, they also provide a lot of fiber. So even though there is a lot of carbs there, it doesn't spike blood sugar levels.

By discographer — On Apr 26, 2012

@burcidi-- You can figure that out by doing an easy calculation. For carrots, first find out how much carbohydrate is in 1 cup of carrots. For raw carrots, there is approximately 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup. Multiply this by the value of raw carrots on the glycemic index which is 47. And then divide that value by 100 to get the glycemic load. The glycemic load for 1 cup raw carrots is 5.64.

Diabetics need to keep their glycemic load under 10. So according to this calculation, 1 cup of raw carrots is perfectly safe for a diabetic. However, also calculate the total glycemic load you're getting per day. If you eat too much of foods all low in glycemic load, you'll still have problems. Most diabetics try to keep their total glycemic load under 50 per day and 60 maximum.

And no matter which chart you use, make sure to check your blood glucose levels and 3 month levels to make sure everything is going well. You have to listen to your body and see which foods you tolerate better than others.

By burcidi — On Apr 26, 2012

I had never heard of glycemic load table before. I've been using a glycemic index table to figure out what I should or should not eat. I was recently diagnosed with type two diabetes and I have to be careful with my diet.

I've been avoiding carrots for example because I know it has a high glycemic index. But it never occurred to me that this might not be a realistic representation of what carrots do to my body. Since carrots are actually low in glycemic load, does this mean that it's safe to eat for a diabetic patient?

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