Glycemic Load, Glycemic Index, and Insulin Index

3 Terms You Need To Know If You Are Looking To Lose Weight

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Glycemic Load, Glycemic Index, and Insulin Index are three terms diabetics and people watching their weight will need to know. Here is an explanation of each term.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index is a scale from 0-100 which is used to measure how fast blood glucose level rises after food has been consumed compared to pure glucose. Glucose has arbitrarily been given 100 on the glycemic index scale. The index is a way to distinguish between fast-acting carbs and slower acting carbs. Some common types of carbohydrate-rich food that have a high glycemic index are bread, potatoes, rice and pasta.

High glycemic foods are a problem for those looking to lose weight because they increase your insulin level quickly. Insulin stores sugar in muscles or fat cells and your blood can only hold approximately three teaspoons of glucose at any one time. What happens after the surge in insulin is a crash in blood sugar. We end up feeling tired, hungry, and low in energy. 

Conversely, low glycemic types of food increase blood sugar slowly. Insulin levels also increase slowly. It takes a lot longer to feel hungry and tired. Some examples of types of food that have a low glycemic index are beans, lentils, asparagus, spinach, kale, cauliflower, cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, and zucchini.

Glycemic Load

A glycemic load is a number used to depict the impact that food will have on a person’s blood glucose level over some time. It is calculated by multiplying the weight in grams of the carbohydrates in the food with the glycemic index divided by 100. [(grams of carbs) x (glycemic index)] ÷ 100.

For example, let’s say you had a meal that weighed 1 kg, but there were only 500 grams of carbohydrates in it. We would need to know the glycemic index of each of the different types of food in the meal to get an average. For the sake of this example, let’s say the average glycemic index of the meal was 52. The glycemic load is then calculated as 52×500/100=260.

The glycemic load depends on a combination of the glycemic index of the food, the percentage of carbohydrates in the food, and how much of the food gets eaten in grams. If you only eat a little bit of pasta, which is very high on the glycemic index, you won’t raise your blood sugar too much due to the small amount of food you consumed. You can calculate the glycemic load of a specific type of food (e.g. pasta or broccoli) or a whole meal, or all the food you ate in a day.

glycemic load

Insulin Index

The insulin index is the number representing the increase in insulin in the blood within two hours after food has been consumed. Food that has a high glycemic index is going to have a much bigger impact on insulin levels than the same quantity of food with a low glycemic index.

However, certain foods that don’t have that high a glycemic index can also massively increase insulin, such as fish, oranges, or yogurt. This is because the insulin index takes into consideration the glucose contribution from the breakdown of other types of food, not just carbohydrates. Glucose from the conversion of protein, alcohol, and to a lesser degree fat can increase insulin levels as well.

The insulin index is probably the most important of the three measures, because the more you increase your insulin levels, the more you are storing calories in your cells. If your muscles don’t need energy because they are full, then the calories get stored as fat.

Good, Healthy Foods


insulin index

Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant, Cornish game hen, look for hormone and antibiotic-free. Seafood: anchovies, clams, cod, crab, flounder/sole, herring, small halibut, mussels, wild salmon (canned or fresh), sardines, sable, shrimp, scallops, trout. Eggs: Up to 8 per week, organic or omega 3 eggs only. Red or Wild Meat: lamb, beef, bison, venison, ostrich, deer, elk. Soy: tofu or tempeh, organic non-GMO only. Nuts & Seeds:

Nuts: almonds, Brazil, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia, pecans, pine, pistachios, walnuts, raw cacao. Seeds: chia, flax, hemp, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower. Nut/Seed Butters: Almond, cashew, pecan, macadamia, walnut. Nut Flours: almond meal, coconut flour.


insulin load

For cooking with high heat: coconut, grapeseed, avocado. For cooking with moderate heat: olive, grapeseed, unrefined sesame. Preparation without heat: flaxseed, extra virgin olive. Nuts & Seeds: (See above). Fish: salmon (canned or fresh), sardines, trout, herring, anchovies. Produce: avocado, olives, raw cacao, coconut.

Non-Starchy Vegetables

glycemic load

Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, avocado, bean sprouts, beet greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chives, collard greens, cucumber, dandelion greens, eggplant, endive, garlic, ginger root, green beans, hearts of palm, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mushrooms, mustard greens, onions, parsley, peppers (bell, chili, etc.), radicchio, radish, rutabaga, seaweed, shallots, snap beans, snow peas, spinach, summer squash, Swiss chard, tomatillos, tomatoes, turnips, turnip greens, watercress, zucchini.


glycemic load

Blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, kiwi, lemons, limes, raspberries.


insulin index

Purified water, herbal tea, seltzer, mineral water (in moderation).

From Dr. Mark Hyman’s “10 Day Detox Diet

Remember, we have a very limited amount of calories we can take in and we need to maximize the nutrients in those calories. Avoid empty calories and get as nutrient-rich foods as you can. Get a variety to try and meet your body’s needs. If you want to learn more on how to control your blood sugar levels then see my article on “How To Cheat A Cheat Meal

I wish you lots of health, love and happiness!

Travis Wade

The only holistic personal trainer in Edmonton.

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