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, it is believed that you can 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 glycemic index was developed to help both groups of people. The GI number assigned to each food helps provides an estimate about 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 use a group of healthy people to determine the index. The individuals eat food with a standard amount of carbohydrate, usually 50 grams. Their blood is tested every 15 minutes to see how much and how fast their blood sugar rises.

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. This 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 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 G:L 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. The final number is an average 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. That range is 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 as low as 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. Remembering 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. So, 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 of 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 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. They suggest that using the GI to choose healthier foods may reduce some of this risk.

But another 5-week 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 (GIs) and glycemic load (GL) 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 it 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 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

If you are interested in seeing how different foods compare on the glycemic index, scan this food list.

Sugars

  • Fructose 12-25, average 19, but please read this before using fructose
  • 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) most 58-65, 2 studies higher, bringing the average to 68 (sucrose is half glucose and half fructose)
  • For the glycemic index of sugar alcohols such as maltitol, see the chart.

Dairy Products

  • Milk, regular (full fat) 11-40, average 27
  • Milk, skim - 32
  • Yogurt without added sugar - 14-23

Bread

  • White bread 64-87 - averages 70 and 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. vary widely (38-102), but most between 55 and 80

Crackers

  • Rice Cakes - 61-91, average 78
  • High-fiber rye crispbread - 59-69, average 64
  • Stoned Wheat Thins - 67

Cold Cereal

  • All-Bran - 30-51, average 42
  • Bran Buds - 58
  • Bran Buds with Psyllium - 47
  • Cornflakes 72-92, average 81 (USA cornflakes were the 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

  • Cream of Wheat - 66
  • Instant Cream of Wheat - 74
  • Oatmeal from rolled oats (not instant) 42-75, again highest was US oatmeal average 58
  • Quick cooking oats - 66

Grains

Boiled whole unless stated otherwise

  • 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

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) it has the lowest glycemic index. The longer you cook it, the softer it is, and the higher the GI.

With variation 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

Individual fruits are linked to carbohydrate counts and other nutritional information. For more information about the sugar/carbohydrate content of fruit see the low-carb fruit list.

  • 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
  • Mangoes 41-60, average 51
  • Oranges 31-51, average 42
  • Papayas 56-60, average 59
  • Peaches 28-56
  • Pears 33-42
  • Pineapple 51-66
  • Plums 24-53
  • Raisins 64
  • Strawberries 40
  • Watermelon 72

Fruit Juice

  • 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

  • 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 usually given 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

Unless otherwise noted, this refers to dried beans or peas which are boiled. When canned beans are tested they tend to have a higher glycemic index.

  • 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 (white beans, haricot) 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

  • 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

  • Jelly Beans 76-80
  • Kudos Chocolate Chip Snack Bar 62
  • Life Savers 70
  • Mars Bar 62-68
  • Skittles 70
  • Snickers average 55

Soft Drinks

  • 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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