Glycemic Index Food Lists and Explanation

Research Reveals Pros and Cons of Using GI for Improved Health

sugar

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

In This Article

Glycemic index (GI) provides an estimate of how carbohydrate foods affect blood glucose levels. The goal of using the index is to manage blood sugar spikes and maintain steady energy throughout the day.

Some people with type 2 diabetes, those on low-carb diets, or those who are trying to lose weight might choose to use glycemic index. However, not everyone agrees that the numbers are accurate enough to be helpful.

There is contradictory and somewhat confusing information surrounding the use of the glycemic index to choose specific foods to eat. Here's what you should know about how GI works.

Purpose

Research has shown that eating a diet with a relatively low blood glucose impact can help protect people from diabetes and may help prevent other health conditions like obesity and heart disease.

Choosing foods that are less likely to produce a blood sugar spike might be a healthy preventative choice for people who have problems processing large increases in blood glucose (such as those with diabetes, prediabetes, insulin resistance, or metabolic syndrome).

The GI number assigned to each food provides an estimate of how that food affects blood sugar levels. When people choose foods to eat (or avoid) based on its GI, they might be able to manage a medical condition or possibly prevent one.

However, the glycemic index is not the only tool available. There are many methods that can 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. To begin, the individuals in the study ate food with a standard amount of carbohydrate (usually 50 grams). Then, their blood was tested every 15 minutes to see how much (and how fast) their blood sugar rose.

Using the glycemic index, 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 is assigned a lower score.

As a point of reference, eating pure glucose (sugar) is assigned a GI rank of 100. All other foods are ranked in relation to glucose's GI.

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 would raise blood sugar almost as much as pure glucose, while a food with a GI of 20 would not raise blood sugar much at all.

The University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, maintains an international database of GI scores. Since 1995, a group of researchers, dietitians, and scientists at the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise, and Eating Disorders, and Charles Perkins Centre have maintained the database and related website.

Glycemic Load

The glycemic index does not take portion size into account—an important fact to note for those who need to manage their blood sugar.

A food's impact on blood glucose is determined by its sugar content and the amount consumed. Therefore, the glycemic load (GL) attempts to combine these concepts.

A food's 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 to 10. Foods with a high glycemic load are assigned a GL of 20 or more. Medium GL foods fall within those ranges.

Concerns

Accuracy

While the glycemic index can be a helpful tool for some, there are concerns about the accuracy of the numbers.

Many factors influence the final GI number, such as physical differences between the people tested, food preparation methods, laboratory techniques, and normal variations between foods.

Additionally, the final number assigned is an estimate based on the averages of all individual physical responses—which were possibly based on studies performed in locations around the world.

For example, a GI number for Fruit Loops cereal was assigned a GI of 69 but the range reported by individual test subjects was between 60 and 78.

A food's GI score is sometimes presented as a range representing the highest and lowest values from different studies.

Food and individuals vary a great deal, but there is essentially no difference between foods with a difference of less than 5 or 10 points on the glycemic scale.

The glycemic index can provide general information about carbohydrates, and the concept can be useful in some situations. However, users need to keep the scope of the index in mind.

The only way to tell how food affects your body is to check your own blood glucose.

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 might not have a strong impact on blood sugar, but that does not necessarily mean the food is healthy.

For example, ice cream is a low GI food with a score of 37. 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 to 87.

Glycemic index also does not account for a food's sodium, vitamin, or mineral content, nor other nutrition elements that a person would want to consider before including a food in their diet.

Limited Foods

Foods tested for the glycemic index are 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 50 grams).

On the other hand, it would difficult to get 50 grams of carbohydrate from eating broccoli (you’d need to eat between 16 and 22 cups in one sitting). Thus, broccoli (and other foods you'd need to eat a lot of to tip the carb meter) are not tested for the glycemic index.

Varied GI Reactions

When a food is tested for the glycemic index, there is usually a substantial amount of variation between the participants in the study. This makes it difficult to tell how a specific person will react to a specific food. 

A study from 2015 that investigated consistency in food responses found that each person in the study reacted similarly to foods on different days. That said, there was also a tremendous degree of variation between people eating the same thing.

Limited Range

Foods tested for the glycemic index fall into a fairly narrow range. Here are a few examples.

  • Parsnips and amaranth have a GI of over 90
  • 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.
  • Various beans, grapefruit, and nuts are at the low end of the scale with GIs below 40

Most of the foods tested have GIs between 40 and 70. Keeping in mind that GIs are based on averages and not exact numbers, it is difficult to say if any true differences between the foods exist.

Does Not Account for Meals

The glycemic index only provides information for a single given food. However, in most circumstances, we eat more than one food at a time. In fact, we create most meals and snacks by combining food.

When we eat different carbohydrate foods in a meal, how do we count it? Protein and fat tend to lower a meal's glycemic index, but we have no way of knowing how much—short of each individual testing their own blood (which is unreasonable in everyday life).

Research

Researchers have studied the use of glycemic index with mixed results. Most of the research has been centered on the use of the GI for weight loss, reducing the 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 a person's risk for cardiovascular and inflammatory disease. It also suggested that using the GI to choose healthier foods might reduce some of this risk.

Another controlled feeding study compared a DASH-type diet with low GI foods to a DASH-type diet with higher GI foods. The 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 in 2016 examined the benefits and shortcomings of using the concepts of low glycemic indices and glycemic load foods as key drivers in the dietary management of type 2 diabetes.

In view of discrepancies in GI and GL scores, the researchers concluded that people should balance the numbers with other information before including specific foods in the diet.

A 2018 review examining the use of GI for disease prevention published similar findings. The review's authors 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 on 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

Here are a few examples of how foods compare according to the glycemic index.

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 (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% whole wheat flour: 52–87 (average 71)
  • Wheat bread made with 50% cracked wheat kernels: 58
  • Wheat bread made with 75% cracked wheat kernels: 48
  • Muffins, cakes, pancakes, waffles, etc: 38–102 (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

hot oatmeal with fruit in a bowl
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Cream of Wheat: 66
  • Instant Cream of Wheat: 74
  • Oatmeal from rolled oats (not instant): 42–75 (American brands were highest with an average of 58)
  • Quick-cooking oats: 66

Grains

Grains listed are boiled whole unless stated otherwise.

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)

Pasta

Spaghetti
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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

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

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

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 are not tested because a person would have to eat a large quantity to reach the 50 grams of carbohydrate required 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, low-glycemic diets sometimes call veggies "free" foods.

On the other hand, some non-starchy vegetables have more sugar than others, and some (such as tomatoes) are actually fruits that do cause a rise in blood sugar.

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 names depending on where you are 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

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.

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

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: 55 (average)

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. Talk to your healthcare provider, registered dietitian, or diabetes educator about how best to manage your medical condition and overall wellness.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Search for the Glycemic Index. The University of Sydney

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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.