The number 1 myth about people with diabetes is that they cannot eat anything sweet.  Diabetic people can have their sweet, but in limited amount, as part of their healthy meal plan. A better way to manage the sugar level in a healthy meal plan for diabetic is using the Glycemic index (GI).

Glycemic index (GI) measures the effect of carbohydrate digestion on the blood sugar level.

  • High GI – Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the blood.
  • Low GI – Carbohydrates that break down slowly during digestion and release glucose gradually into the blood.

Glycemic Index is measured by the area under 2 hr blood glucose response curve following the intake of a 50 g of carbohydrate. It is measured in a scale from 1-100.

  • Low GI food (lower than 55) – most fruits and vegetables, whole grains and nuts
  • Medium GI (56-69) – whole-wheat products, basmati rice, sweet potato, sucrose
  • High GI (more than 70) – baked potato, watermelon, white bread, noodle, corn flakes, glucose

Therefore, GI can be a useful tool in the management of diabetes diet to control blood glucose and insulin level.

In Australia and New Zealand, the GI symbol on food is launch in supermarkets to help consumer identify food that has been properly tested and choose wisely.

Cooking and processing may affect a food’s GI value; unripe banana GI is 43 compared to over ripe banana GI is 74. Wheat, maize and oats have low GI but GI increase when processed into grains.

Protein and fats have no GI because they do not cause any effect on blood glucose. That is why a high lean protein diet is essential for diabetic management.

Glycemic Index tells you how rapidly a carbohydrate is turned into glucose, which is the quality of the carbohydrates. But, it does not tell you how much carbohydrate is in a serving of a particular food.

You can eat 2 times the carbohydrates in food that has GI of 50 compared to a carbohydrate that has GI of 100 and have the same blood glucose response.

Therefore, a better way is to look at Glycemic Load (GL), which takes into account the quantity of available carbohydrates. Glycemic Load measures the effect of the GI of a food multiply by the available carbohydrates content in a standard serving. Glycemic Load is a better way to predict blood glucose value of different types and amount of food.

Some food may have high GI, but low GL:

  • Watermelon – GI=72, GL=3.6
  • Banana – GI=52, GL=10
  • Rice – GI=64, GL=15.4
  • Carrot – GI=47, GL=3.5

The general strategy for managing diabetic diet is:

  1. Increase intake of whole grain, nuts, legumes, fruits and non-starchy vegetables
  2. Reduce intake of starchy vegetables such as potato, white rice and white bread
  3. Reduce intake of sugary food such as cookies, cakes, candy and soft drinks.
  4. Take a nutritious shake as a meal replacement to reduce calories intake.

Ultimately, Glycemic Index or Glycemic Load should be combined with exercise to achieve a healthier lifestyle and you will be able to manage and reverse diabetes eventually.

For details of GI and GL in various foods, refer to the  table from the America Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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