Low Glycemic Foods

Ever heard of the glycemic index?  It refers to a carbohydrate’s ability to raise blood sugar to a particular level within a given period of time. Some starchy foods have a high glycemic index that may cause high blood sugar levels after meals. Most non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and legumes have a low glycemic index. The glycemic index of a food can change depending on the variety of the food (for example, red potato or white potato), its ripeness, how it is prepared (for example, juiced, mashed, or ground), how it is cooked, how long it is stored, and the foods eaten with it.

Foods on the glycemic index diet are scored on a scale of 0 to 100 based on how much they raise your blood sugar level.

  • High-GI foods (70 or higher): white rice, white bread, pretzels, white bagels, white baked potatoes, crackers, sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Medium-GI foods (56-69): bananas, grapes, spaghetti, ice cream, raisins, corn on the cob
  • Low-GI foods (55 and under): oatmeal, peanuts, peas, carrots, kidney beans

Why is glycemic index important?  For those with diabetes, it is very important because eating low on the index can help manage blood sugar.  What about for the rest of us?  Sticking to a low glycemic index diet may help prevent conditions like diabetes and heart disease.  The research is inconclusive at this time, but the foundation of this style of eating encourages the consumption of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes which are all important to a healthy diet.  Here are a list of some commonly eaten foods that have a low glycemic index.

  • Leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and romaine
  • Broccoli and cauliflower
  • Artichokes
  • Celery
  • Peppers
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes
  • Butternut squash
  • Potatoes like yams and red potatoes
  • Legumes like black beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas
  • Green peas
  • Grains like barley, quinoa, millet, and oats

Why consider using the glycemic index as part of your healthy eating plan? You don’t have to count calories and you can eat a pretty varied diet. Rather than cutting out carbs, the glycemic index teaches you to be selective about your carbs.  Another important reason to consider low glycemic eating is that 10% of the American population had diabetes, many of them undiagnosed.  Over a million cases of diabetes are diagnosed each year, according to the American Diabetes Association, so managing your blood sugar in a preventive way is a great idea.  Not coincidentally, most of the lower glycemic foods that are indexed are healthy! One caveat, just because parsnips have a higher index than vanilla cake, doesn’t mean you should choose the cake.  Consider the nutritional value of food as well. Sweet potatoes have a higher glycemic index, but are packed with nutrition.


Bottom line:  as always you have to be a smart consumer when thinking about your health. The glycemic index can be a way to inform your decision about foods to consider in your diet.

Andrea wants to live in a world where the neighborhoods are walkable, bike lanes are plentiful, and the food is fresh, delicious and readily available. A 20-year veteran of the health and wellness industry, she started her career in the fitness industry while earning a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and then on to the burgeoning field of worksite wellness. Andrea has competed in collegiate level soccer, worked as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, wellness coach, and master trainer, climbed 14ers, and completed cycling centuries and metric centuries. All of these experiences give her the opportunity to view well-being from many different perspectives. When she’s not helping others to be their healthiest self, you can find her at a farm to table restaurant, down dogging at the yoga studio, or experiencing the Colorado landscape on a bicycle, snowshoes, cross country skis or on foot.