All Carbohydrates Are Not Created Equal

Most people are aware that simple sugars turn into body fat more easily than complex sugars will.  More importantly though, we need to talk about a second very important variable when considering carbohydrate food fuels; that is, a particular food’s glycemic load.   Selecting low glycemic carbs minimizes the fluctuation of blood glucose and insulin levels.  Eating low glycemic carbs versus high glycemic carbs is considered the key to long-term health by reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.


Glycemic load is a way of numerically expressing how specific foods effect blood-sugar levels.  In order to know the glycemic load of a particular food, you need to know its glycemic index first.  The glycemic index is the speed at which a food converts into glucose in the blood.  Due to the fact that glucose is the primary blood sugar, its glycemic index is set at 100.  The faster a food turns to glucose in the blood, the higher the glycemic index.


Knowing the glycemic index of a food is the first step in being able to calculate its glycemic load.  Glycemic load is a number reflecting how much insulin is needed to turn the food into glucose and how much total sugar is in the serving.   You can calculate the actual glycemic load of a particular food by simply multiplying the total number of carbs in a serving of food by its glycemic index.  Of course, there are plenty of value tables out on the internet estimating glycemic loads of various foods as well.


Another way of thinking about glycemic load is that it is a number which estimates how likely the food is to raise your blood sugar.  If a food is under 10, like nuts, asparagus, celery, cucumbers and low-fat yogurt than it is a great food choice.   Foods with values between 10 and 20 like brown rice, oat brain and popcorn are moderate.  Foods over 20 like white bread, chips, and jelly beans are foods that should go on the rarely to seldom eaten list.

Experts vary on their recommendations as to what your total glycemic load should be each day.  A typical target for total glycemic load is 100 total points or less per day.  If you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome, it should probably be a little lower.  If you are relatively fit and active, a bit higher is acceptable.  Obviously, if your carbohydrate intake is very low, the glycemic load number would have to be low.

As a rule of thumb we like to tell people who are attempting to lose weight to try to keep the total grams of carbohydrates under their pounds in body weight.  If you weigh 130 pounds, you would want to try to eat less than 130 grams of carbohydrates, most of them from the low to moderate glycemic load lists. If you are involved in exercise activities that stretch on for an hour or more or if your workouts are particularly intense, you can add low glycemic carbohydrates to fuel those activities effectively.  You don’t need to chart each food you eat but keeping rough estimates in your daily journal will be a huge help in monitoring and managing your return to superior fitness.

In summary, you should begin estimating and learning the glycemic load of the foods that you commonly consume.  Don’t be afraid to put those values in your food journal.   There are a great many different websites that can help you. Personally, I like to use but any similar site will do.

Published by Sadie