5 Steps to Meal-Planning With the Glycemic Index

Diabetic meal-planning all comes down to managing your blood sugar.

It's a delicate balance, but you must eat foods that keep insulin levels stable and prevent blood glucose highs and lows.

The glycemic index, or GI, refers to how much a food will raise blood sugar levels. Understanding the basics of the glycemic index, including which foods are high or low on the GI scale, can help you plan nutrient-rich meals that will keep you full, balance your blood sugar, and keep your diabetes in check.

Five Easy Steps

  1. Know the food groups.Foods in the GI scale are only foods that contain carbohydrates: vegetables, bread products, fruits, beans, lentils, and some dairy. Meats and fats don't have a GI because they don't contain carbohydrates.
  2. Understand the basics categories: high, medium and low. It may take some practice, but once you understand which types of foods fall into the low, medium, or high GI categories, you'll get faster at meal planning for proper nutrient balance. Low-GI foods include stone-ground whole wheat, oatmeal, oat bran, converted rice, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, legumes, most fruits, and all non-starchy vegetables. Medium GI foods include more processed wheat products or oats. High GI foods include "white" bread products, baked goods, crackers, tropical fruits (like melon and pineapple), and potatoes. A full list of foods on the GI scale can be found here.
  3. Learn balance. The GI of a food is different when it's combined with other foods than when it's eaten alone. So if you're eating a high-GI food, try to combine it with other low-GI foods to help balance out the effect on blood sugar levels.
  4. Understand carbohydrates. The more you understand about carbohydrates and how they affect blood sugar, the better you'll be able to grasp the GI scale. For example, eating a low-GI food doesn't mean you should eat a lot of it – especially if it's a food with a fair amount of carbohydrates. Studies have shown that the total amount of carbohydrates in food, rather than GI, is a better predictor of blood sugar changes. Combined with carb counting, using the GI scale can help you "fine-tune" your dietary choices.
  5. Know what affects a food's GI. Different factors affect the GI of a food. Ripe fruits and vegetables have a higher GI, and processed juice has a higher GI than whole fruit. In general, foods that are cooked longer will also have a higher GI.

At the end of the day, it comes back to nutrient balance and common sense. The GI scale, while helpful, should probably be combined with other methods of tracking your carbohydrates and calories for best results.

Source: American Diabetes Association

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