Glycemic Index Food Lists and Explanation

Research Reveals Pros and Cons of Using GI for Improved Health

The glycemic index (GI) provides an estimate of how carbohydrate foods affect blood glucose levels. By using the index, the goal is to manage blood sugar spikes to maintain steady energy throughout the day. The glycemic index is used by some people with type 2 diabetes, on low-carb diets, or those who are trying to lose weight.

However, not everyone agrees that the glycemic index is accurate enough to be helpful. There are contradictory and somewhat confusing issues surrounding using GI numbers when choosing specific foods to eat.

Purpose

Reliable research has shown that eating a diet with a relatively low blood glucose impact can help protect us from diabetes and potentially from other conditions including obesity and heart disease. Therefore, choosing foods that are less likely to produce a blood sugar spike may be a healthy preventative choice.

Additionally, some people—such as those with diabetes, prediabetes, insulin resistance, or metabolic syndrome—have problems processing large increases in blood glucose.

The GI number assigned to each food helps provides an estimate of how that food will affect blood sugar levels. Consumers can use the glycemic index to choose foods to eat and foods to avoid in order to manage a medical condition or possibly prevent one from occurring.

But the glycemic index is not the only tool available to consumers. There are many different methods available to help people manage blood sugar and choose healthy carbohydrate foods.

Calculation

To fully understand the pros and cons of using the glycemic index, it is helpful to learn how the numbers are calculated and assigned.

Researchers used a group of healthy people to determine the index. The individuals ate food with a standard amount of carbohydrate, usually 50 grams. Their blood was tested every 15 minutes to see how much and how fast their blood sugar rose.

Each food consumed is rated on a scale of 1–100. Foods that raise blood sugar sharply and quickly are given a higher score. Food that raises blood sugar modestly and at a more steady pace are assigned a lower score.

As a point of reference, eating pure glucose (sugar) is assigned a GI rank of 100. All other foods are given a ranking in relation to glucose. A GI score of less than 55 is considered to be a low GI. A score higher than 70 is considered high GI.

A food with a glycemic index of 95 raises blood sugar almost as much as pure glucose, but a food with a glycemic index of 20 doesn't raise blood sugar much at all.

The University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, maintains an international database of GI scores. Researchers, dietitians, and scientists at the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders and Charles Perkins Centre located within the university have maintained the database and related website since 1995.

Glycemic Load

The glycemic index does not take portion size into account which is a key concern among those who need to manage blood sugar. A food's impact on blood glucose is determined by its sugar content but also by the amount that is consumed.

Glycemic load (GL) attempts to combine these concepts. Glycemic load is a score that takes both the glycemic index and portion size into account.

Foods with a low glycemic load will have a number ranging from 1–10. Foods with a high glycemic load are assigned a GL of 20 or more. Medium GL foods fall between those two ranges.

Concerns

Accuracy

While the glycemic index is a helpful tool for some, there are concerns about the accuracy of the numbers assigned. Many factors influence the final GI number—including physical differences between people tested, food preparation methods, laboratory techniques, and normal variations between foods.

Additionally, the final number assigned is an estimate based on averages of all individual physical responses, possibly based on various studies performed in different locations around the world. For example, a GI number for Fruit Loops cereal was assigned at 69 but the range reported by individual test subjects was between 60 and 78.

Sometimes a GI score is presented as a range which represents the highest and lowest value from different studies.

Because there is so much variation between foods and between individuals, there is essentially no difference between foods that have a difference of less than at least 5 or 10 points on the glycemic scale.

Although the concept of the glycemic index can be useful, it is important to keep its scope in mind. The only way to truly tell how food affects your body is to check your own blood glucose. That said, the glycemic index can give us some general information about carbohydrates.

Overall Nutrition

Another concern among some health experts is that the glycemic index does not take overall nutrition into account. For example, a food with a low GI score may not have a strong impact on blood sugar, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the food is good for your body.

For example, ice cream is a low GI food with a score of 37. But most nutrition experts would agree that ice cream—generally considered an empty calorie food—is a less healthy choice than brown rice, a high fiber food that has a GI range of 66–87.

Glycemic index does not take into account sodium content, vitamin or mineral content of a food, and other factors that may affect whether a food is a good choice for your meal plan.

Limited Foods

Foods tested for the glycemic index are those high in carbohydrates. Keeping in mind that the standard amount of carbohydrate is 50 grams, spaghetti is included in the index because it is reasonable that one could eat 1¼ cups of spaghetti, the amount it would take for you to get the 50 grams.

On the other hand, it would be quite difficult for you to get 50 grams of carbohydrate from eating broccoli—you’d need to eat between 16 and 22 cups a single sitting. Thus, broccoli and other foods for which it would take a lot for you to tip the carb meter are not tested for the glycemic index.

Varied GI Reactions

Most of the time when a food is tested for the glycemic index, there is a substantial amount of variation between the people in the study, so it's difficult to tell how any given person will react to a food. 

A 2015 study that investigated consistency in food responses found that when tested, each person reacted similarly to foods on different days, but there was sometimes a tremendous amount of variation between people eating the same thing.

Limited Range

If you look at foods tested for glycemic responses, you'll find that they fall into a fairly narrow range.

Two foods have a glycemic index over 90: parsnips and amaranth. Potatoes, honey, and some processed cereals are above 80. Sports drinks, white bread, white rice, watermelon, and some processed baked goods rank in the 70s. At the low end of the scale (GIs below 40) are various beans, grapefruit, and nuts.

By far, most of the foods tested have GIs between 40 and 70. Remembering that GIs are based on averages and not exact numbers, it is difficult to tell if any true differences between the majority of the foods exist.

Doesn't Account for Meals

The glycemic index only provides information about a single given food. But in most circumstances, we eat more than one food at a time. In fact, we combine foods to create most meals and snacks.

When we eat a lot of different carbohydrate foods in a meal, how do we count it? Protein and fat tend to lower the glycemic index in a meal, but we have no way of knowing how much, short of each person testing his or her own blood (which is unreasonable in everyday life).

Research

Researchers have studied the use of glycemic index with mixed results. Most of the research is centered on the use of the GI for weight loss, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and diabetes management.

A review conducted in 2012 acknowledged that replacing fatty foods with sugary foods can have a detrimental effect on weight control and risk for cardiovascular and inflammatory disease. It suggests that using the GI to choose healthier foods may reduce some of this risk.

But another controlled feeding study compared a DASH-type diet with low GI foods to a DASH-type diet with higher GI foods. Researchers concluded that choosing low GI foods did not result in improvements in insulin sensitivity, lipid levels, or systolic blood pressure.

A study published in African Health Sciences examined the benefits and shortcomings of using concepts of low glycemic indices and glycemic load foods as key drivers in the dietary management of type 2 diabetes. Researchers concluded that in view of discrepancies in GI and GL scores, patients should balance the numbers with other information before including the food in the diet.

And an examination of using GI for disease prevention published similar findings. Authors of the 2018 review stated that "Other measures of dietary quality, such as fiber or whole grains may be more likely to predict health outcomes."

Research has provided mixed results regarding the use of the glycemic index to manage diabetes, weight or risk for cardiovascular disease. Many scientists conclude that other factors may have a greater impact on overall health.

Glycemic Index List

To see how different foods compare on the glycemic index, scan this food list.

Sugars

Sugar
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Fructose: 12–25 (average 19)
  • Glucose: 85–111 (average 100)
  • Glucose consumed with 15–20 grams of fiber: 57–85
  • Glucose consumed with protein and fat: 56
  • Honey: 32–87, average 55
  • Lactose: 46
  • Sucrose (granulated table sugar): 58–65 (although some studies have reported this number to be higher bringing the average to 68)
  • Maltitol and other sugar alcohols: 0–60 depending on the type

Dairy Products

glass of cow's milk
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 
  • Milk, regular (full fat): 11–40 (average 27)
  • Milk, skim: 32
  • Yogurt without added sugar: 14–23

Bread

Bread
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • White bread: 64–87 (average range is 70–73)
  • Whole wheat bread made with 100 percent whole wheat flour: 52–87 (average 71)
  • Wheat bread made with 50 percent cracked wheat kernels: 58
  • Wheat bread made with 75 percent cracked wheat kernels: 48
  • Muffins, cakes, pancakes, waffles, etc: varies widely from 38–102, but most fall in the range of 55–80

Crackers

Crackers
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Rice Cakes: 61–91 (average 78)
  • High-fiber rye crispbread: 59–69 (average 64)
  • Stoned Wheat Thins: 67

Cold Cereal

Whole grain cereal
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • All-Bran: 30–51 (average 42)
  • Bran Buds: 58
  • Bran Buds with Psyllium: 47
  • Cornflakes: 72–92 (average 81, however, American cornflakes were 92)
  • Corn Chex: 83
  • Crispix: 87
  • Fruit Loops: 69
  • Golden Grahams: 71
  • Grape Nuts: 67–85 (average 71)
  • Life: 66
  • Puffed Wheat: 67–80
  • Rice Krispie-type cereals: 81–95
  • Rice Chex: 89
  • Shredded Wheat: 67-83 (average 75)
  • Special K: 54–84
  • Total: 76
  • Weetabix and similar: 61–74 (average 70)

Hot Cereal

Oats
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Cream of Wheat: 66
  • Instant Cream of Wheat: 74
  • Oatmeal from rolled oats (not instant): 42–75, (with American brands highest at an average of 58)
  • Quick cooking oats: 66

Grains

Brown rice
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Barley: 22–48
  • Barley, cracked: 50
  • Barley, rolled: 66
  • Buckwheat: 49–63
  • Cornmeal boiled in water: 69
  • Couscous (processed wheat): 61–69
  • Millet: 71
  • Rice, long-grained white: 50–64 (average 56)
  • Rice, short and medium grained white: 83–93
  • Rice, brown: 66–87
  • Wheat, whole kernels: 30–48
  • Wheat, bulgar (cracked wheat): 46–53 (average 48)

Grains listed are boiled whole unless stated otherwise.

Pasta

Spaghetti
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The glycemic index of pasta made from wheat (most pasta) depends on the shape of the pasta (the thicker, the lower the GI) and the way it is cooked.

When cooked as the Italians do, "al dente" (somewhat firm) has the lowest glycemic index. The longer you cook it, the softer it is, and the higher the GI.

Depending on these factors, these are the results:

  • Wheat pasta: Most studies show GIs in the 40s to low 60s, with a few dipping into the 30s.
  • Rice pasta (including brown) 40–92
  • Mung bean noodles (bean thread) 26–39

Fruit

Mangos
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Apples: 28–44 (average 38)
  • Apricots, raw: 57
  • Apricots, canned in light syrup: 64
  • Apricots, dried: 31
  • Apricot fruit spread, reduced sugar: 55
  • Banana, underripe: 30
  • Banana, overripe: 52
  • Banana, not specified: 46–70
  • Cantaloupe: 65
  • Cherries: 22
  • Dates: 103
  • Grapefruit: 25
  • Grapes: 46–49
  • Kiwi fruit: 47–58
  • Mango: 41–60 (average 51)
  • Orange: 31–51 (average 42)
  • Papaya: 56–60 (average 59)
  • Peach: 28–56
  • Pear: 33–42
  • Pineapple: 51–66
  • Plum: 24–53
  • Raisins: 64
  • Strawberries: 40
  • Watermelon: 72

Fruit Juice

Tomato juice
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Carrot juice: 43
  • Cranberry juice cocktail: 52–68
  • Grapefruit juice: 48
  • Orange juice: 46–53
  • Pineapple juice: 46
  • Tomato juice: 38

Non-Starchy Vegetables

Most non-starchy vegetables aren't tested because a person would have to eat so much to get the required 50 grams of carbohydrate for the test. Many vegetables cause little or no rise in blood sugar because the small amount of carbohydrate they contain is balanced with fiber.

For this reason, some low-glycemic diets call these "free" foods. On the other hand, some non-starchy vegetables have more sugar than others, and some, like tomatoes, are actually fruits that will definitely cause a blood sugar rise.

Starchy Vegetables

Carrots
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Beets: 64
  • Carrots: 16–92 (average 47)
  • Corn 37–62 (average 53)
  • Parsnips: 97
  • Peas, green, fresh or frozen: 39–54 (average 48)
  • Potato: 56–111 (most averages in the high 80s)
  • Potato, instant: 74–97 (average 80)
  • Rutabaga: 72
  • Sweet potato: 44–78 (average 61)

Sweet potatoes and yams cover a wide variety of species that are called different things in different places in the world. For example, garnet yams in the U.S. are a type of sweet potato. Species are seldom given in the tables.

Legumes

Lentils
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Blackeyed peas: 33–50
  • Butter beans: 28–36 (average 31)
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans): 31–36
  • Chickpeas, canned: 42
  • Kidney beans: 13–46 (average 34)
  • Kidney beans, canned: 52
  • Lentils: 18–37
  • Lentils, canned: 52
  • Navy beans: 30–39
  • Navy beans, pressure cooked: 29–59
  • Peas, dried, split: 32
  • Pinto beans: 39
  • Pinto beans, canned: 45
  • Soybeans: 15–20
  • Soybeans, canned: 14

Unless otherwise noted, the numbers listed refer to dried beans or peas which are boiled. When canned beans are tested, they tend to have a higher glycemic index.

Nuts and Snack Foods

Popcorn
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Cashews: 22
  • Corn chips: 72
  • Ice Cream: 37–80
  • Peanuts: 7–23 (average 14)
  • Popcorn: 55–89
  • Pop Tarts: 70
  • Potato chips: 51–57

Candy

Candy
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Jelly beans: 76–80
  • Kudos Chocolate Chip Snack Bar: 62
  • Life Savers: 70
  • Mars Bar: 62–68
  • Skittles: 70
  • Snickers: average 55

Soft Drinks

soda
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Coca Cola: 53–63 (average 58)
  • Gatorade: 78
  • Orange soda: 68

A Word From Verywell

While using the glycemic index is helpful for some, it is not an effective tool for others. If you consider using it, try to gather more information about a food's nutrition to make an informed decision. And remember to get help from your healthcare provider, registered dietitian, or diabetes educator to help manage your medical condition and overall wellness.

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Article Sources

  1. Glycemic Index and Diabetes. American Diabetes Association

  2. Search for the Glycemic Index. The University of Sydney

  3. Zeevi D, Korem T, Zmora N, et al. Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic Responses. Cell. 2015;163(5):1079-1094. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2015.11.001+

  4. Sacks FM, Carey VJ, Anderson CA, et al. Effects of high vs low glycemic index of dietary carbohydrate on cardiovascular disease risk factors and insulin sensitivity: the OmniCarb randomized clinical trial. JAMA. 2014;312(23):2531-41. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.16658.

  5. Vega-lópez S, Venn BJ, Slavin JL. Relevance of the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for Body Weight, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients. 2018;10(10). doi:10.3390/nu10101361

Additional Reading

  • Eleazu C. O. (2016). The concept of low glycemic index and glycemic load foods as panacea for type 2 diabetes mellitus; prospects, challenges and solutions. African health sciences16(2), 468–479. doi:10.4314/ahs.v16i2.15

  • Foster-Powell, Kaye, Holt, Susanna and Brand-Miller, Janette. "International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 76,:1: 5-56 (2002).

  • International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium, Jenkins, D. J., Willett, W. C., Astrup, A., Augustin, L. S., Baer-Sinnott, S., … Wolever, T. M. (2014). Glycaemic index: did Health Canada get it wrong? Position from the International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC). The British journal of nutrition111(2), 380–382. doi:10.1017/S0007114513003905

  • Leroux, MarcusFoster-Powell, Kaye, Holt, Susanna and Brand-Miller, Janette. "International Table of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load Values: 2002." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 76, No. 1, 5-56, (2002).

  • Lui, S., Willett, WC, et al. "A prospective study of dietary glycemic load, carbohydrate intake, and risk of coronary heart disease in US women.." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 71(6):1455-61. (2001).

  • Mayer-Davis, E.J., Dhawan, A et al. "Towards understanding of glycaemic index and glycaemic load in habitual diet: associations with measures of glycaemia in the Insulin Resistance Atherosclerosis Study.." British Nutrition Journal. 95(2):397-405. (2006).

  • Sacks, F. M., Carey, V. J., Anderson, C. A., Miller, E. R., 3rd, Copeland, T., Charleston, J., … Appel, L. J. (2014). Effects of high vs low glycemic index of dietary carbohydrate on cardiovascular disease risk factors and insulin sensitivity: the OmniCarb randomized clinical trial. JAMA312(23), 2531–2541. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.16658

  • Salmeron, J, Manson, JE, et al. "Dietary fiber, glycemic load, and risk of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in women.." Journal of the American Medical Association. 12;277(6):472-7. (1997).

  • Vega-López, S., Venn, B., & Slavin, J. (2018). Relevance of the Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for Body Weight, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease. Nutrients, 10(10), 1361. doi:10.3390/nu10101361

  • Zeevi, D. Korem N. et al. Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic ResponsesCell. 163:(5):1079-94. November 2015.