Glycemic Index Food Lists and Explanation

Research Reveals Pros and Cons of Using GI for Improved Health

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Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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Glycemic index (GI) provides an estimate of how 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

Some studies suggest that following a diet lower in glycemic index can help to manage diabetes. 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. Choosing foods or avoiding foods based on GI might help to manage blood sugar or weight; however, GI is complicated, and there are many variables to consider.

The GI of any one food can vary depending on several factors such as cooking, mixing, shape, density, molecular structure, fiber content, and food processing methods. Meal combinations and whether or not you eat protein and fiber with your carbohydrates can also play a role in glycemic response and how total GI is calculated.

Sometimes, certain food choices may be lower in GI but are not considered to be healthy food choices. For example, watermelon has a GI of 72, and a Snickers candy bar has a GI of 41. For most of us who eat enough calories daily, choosing watermelon over a candy bar will be a better food choice.

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 carbohydrates (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 Froot 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. But food and individuals can vary a great deal. 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 best way to tell how a food affects your blood sugar is to check your own blood sugar before and two hours after eating.

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 can be a low GI food, with a minimum score of 21. Most nutrition experts would agree that ice cream is a less healthy choice than brown rice—a high fiber food that has a GI range of 50 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 be difficult to get 50 grams of carbohydrate from eating raw broccoli (you’d need to eat roughly 10 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.

  • Potatoes and pancakes often have a GI of over 90.
  • Medium-grain rice, rice pasta, many baked goods, and some processed cereals are above 80.
  • Sports drinks, white bread, rutabaga, and watermelon 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 estimate the exact difference between foods.

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 foods.

When we eat different carbohydrate foods in a meal, how do we count it? Protein and fat tend to lower a meal's glycemic response, 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 (both with low carbohydrate content). 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 based on glycemic index, according to the University of Sydney Glycemic Index Database:

Sugars

Sugar
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

All of these are 50g portions.

  • Fructose: 21-23
  • Glucose: 93-100
  • Honey, pure: 58
  • Lactose: 43-46
  • Sucrose (granulated table sugar): 60
  • Maltitol: 26

Dairy Products

glass of cow's milk
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman 
  • Milk, regular (full fat): 11–41
  • Milk, skim: 32-37
  • Yogurt without added sugar: 17-21

Bread

Bread
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • White bread, Wonder, enriched flour: 71-77
  • Whole wheat bread made with 100% whole wheat flour: 52–87
  • Muffins: can range based on ingredients from 37 to over 100
  • Cakes: can range substantially based on ingredients from low 30s to high 80s
  • Pancakes: can range based on ingredients from 46 to over 100
  • Waffles: some brands estimated to be about 76

Crackers

Crackers
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Rice Cakes: 61–91
  • High-fiber rye crispbread: 59
  • Stoned Wheat Thins: 67

Cold Cereal

Whole grain cereal
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • All-Bran breakfast cereal: 30–55
  • Bran Buds: 58
  • Bran Buds with Psyllium: 47
  • Cornflakes: 72–92 (American cornflakes were 92)
  • Corn Chex: 83
  • Froot Loops: 69
  • Golden Grahams: 71
  • Grape Nuts: 67–80
  • Life: 66
  • Puffed Wheat: 67–80
  • Rice Chex: 89
  • Rice Krispies: 82
  • Shredded Wheat: 67-83
  • Special K: 54–84
  • Total: 76
  • Weetabix: 75

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): 50–75
  • Quick-cooking oats: 65

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: 50–69
  • Rice, short and medium-grained white: 75-89
  • Rice, brown: 50–87
  • Wheat, whole kernels: 30–48
  • Wheat, bulgur (cracked wheat): 46–53

Pasta

Spaghetti
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

The glycemic index of pasta made from wheat (most pasta) depends on the way it is cooked and what it is cooked with.

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, boiled: 39-45
  • Rice pasta (including brown) 51–92
  • Wheat pasta: Most studies show GIs in the 40s and 50s
  • Gluten-free pasta: 54

Fruit

Mangos
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Apples: 28–44
  • Apricots, raw: 34-57
  • Apricots, canned in light syrup: 64
  • Apricots, dried: 30-32
  • Apricot fruit spread, reduced sugar: 55
  • Banana, underripe: 30
  • Banana, overripe: 52
  • Banana, not specified: 46–70
  • Cantaloupe: 65-70
  • Cherries, sour: 22
  • Dates, not specified: 62
  • Grapefruit: 25
  • Grapes: 43–49
  • Kiwi fruit: 47–58
  • Mango: 41–60
  • Orange: 31–51
  • Papaya: 56–60
  • Peach: 28–56
  • Pear: 33–42
  • Pineapple: 51–66
  • Plum: 24–53
  • Raisins: 49-66
  • Strawberries: 40
  • Watermelon: 72-80

Fruit Juice

Tomato juice
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Carrot juice: 43
  • Cranberry juice cocktail: 52–68
  • Grapefruit juice: 48
  • Orange juice: 46–57
  • Pineapple juice: 46
  • Tomato juice: 33

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.

Some vegetables, such as tomatoes and carrots, for example, contain more carbohydrates and therefore can result in a raise in blood sugar. According to the University of Sydney database, raw carrots have an glycemic index of 16.

Starchy Vegetables

Carrots
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Beets: 64
  • Corn: 52
  • Parsnips, peeled, boiled: 52
  • Potato: 23–118 (depending on potato type and preparation)
  • Potato, instant: 74–97
  • Rutabaga: 72
  • Sweet potato: 44–94

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.

Lentils
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Black-eyed peas: 33–50
  • Butter beans: 26–36
  • Chickpeas (garbanzo beans): 31–36
  • Chickpeas, canned: 38-42
  • Kidney beans (dried and boiled): 23–42
  • Kidney beans, canned: 52
  • Navy beans: 30–39
  • Navy beans, pressure cooked: 29–59
  • Peas, dried, split: 25
  • Pinto beans: 39
  • Pinto beans, canned: 45

Nuts and Snack Foods

Popcorn
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Cashews: 22-27
  • Corn chips: 42-74
  • Ice Cream: 21–80
  • Peanuts: 7–23 (average 14)
  • Popcorn: 55–89
  • Pop Tarts: 70
  • Potato chips: 51–60

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: 41-68 (for plain flavor)

Soft Drinks

soda
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman
  • Coca Cola: 53–63
  • Gatorade: 78
  • GatorLode, orange flavor: 100

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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12 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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