The Glycemic Index: Serena Marie RD’s Take

photo (53)Whoops. I disappeared for a week. Sorry about that. It wasn’t intentional. I had a serious case of the “I just ran a marathon so I can be lazy” disease and all the time I didn’t spend working out and should have spent blogging, I spent… watching TV? I don’t really remember. But now I’m post-marathon day 5 (well, on the day this is written, not necessarily the day its published), and I am feeling very ready to be back on my game.

Today I even wanted to go for a run OUTSIDE. Emphasis on the outside. Not to get a workout in, since I don’t really believe in working out within seven days of running 26.2 miles, but because the sun was setting and it was 50*F and it was beautiful outside. But because of this whole Knockout craze, I stayed inside, terrified and debating whether I should drive to the gym and workout INSIDE. Inside, as in where I’ve been all day, inside, at work. Bleck. No. I’d rather cook & write in my blog.

So anyway, I have been meaning to talk about the glycemic index for a while now!! So right now’s the perfect opportunity since I am scared to run outside.

The glycemic index is touted as a miraculous way to measure how quickly a carbohydrate containing foods will spike and drop your blood sugar. In theory, foods which spike your sugar faster are “worse” for you and have a higher glycemic index than those which cause your sugar to very slowly and steadily rise.

photo (57)However, as with most things in the nutrition biz, there’s a common misconception. You see, that really isn’t an accurate description of the glycemic index. In actuality, the glycemic index is a measure of the area beneath the curve of how a food spikes blood sugar in comparison to 50 grams of pure glucose. Basically, its measuring the area beneath the curve, not the spike itself.

Whatever. That confuses me too. Let’s just talk about why worrying about a food’s glycemic index is confusing and silly.

1. A Low Glycemic Food Is Often Higher in Fructose! 

Remember that time we talked about why fructose is even worse for you than regular ole’ sugar? For those of you who don’t, well fructose increases fat storage in your liver leading to fatty liver disease & decreases your body’s ability to sense satiety. No bueno.

But! Since fructose is metabolized differently in the body than glucose, it does not increase blood sugar, thus it does not have an impact on the glycemic effect of food. So… take high fructose corn syrup or agave nectar, both are super high in fructose and lower in glucose, thus have a “low” glycemic index. HOWEVER, I would never go touting either as healthy choices!

2. The Total Glycemic Impact of a Meal is Influenced By the Total Sum of its Parts!

So basically, if you eat your super low glycemic chickpeas with super high glycemic white baguette, then you break even because the total glycemic load will be somewhere in the middle. There’s no need to stress and add glycemic indices when all the glycemic indices of different foods will result in a skewed index that you can’t possibly calculate without a calculator, a food scale, and a whole lotta’ silly dedication.

3. There’s Bigger Fish to Fry!

Instead of worrying about the glycemic effect of the food you’re choosing, worry about the nutrient density. How many nutrients are you “depositing” into your body when you consume this food? If the answer is zero or minimal, then its probably not the best carbohydrate. Choose carbs rich in vitamins and minerals! Like squash, zucchini, beets, asparagus, cucumbers, oranges, berries, grass fed yogurt and sweet potatoes (but the list is endless!!!).


  • Ann Musico
    Posted at 12:44h, 26 November Reply

    As always, simple, common sense! I always suggest structuring your meal well so there’s healthy fat, fiber and protein to balance out any carbs. Big difference between glycemic index and glycemic load – right?

    • Serena Hunt RDN CD-N
      Posted at 23:05h, 26 November Reply

      Absolutely!! But I guess my point is that I just don’t even like thinking of “glycemic” anything. I know we, as practitioners, have to answer questions regarding the glycemic index in general, but it just seems like such a silly concept for us to consider when it should be easy– eat veggies (fiber), protein and healthy fat — and forget about glycemic blah blah:) :) Thank you for your comments! They are always so appreciated!!!!

      • Ann Musico
        Posted at 04:52h, 27 November Reply

        I really love how you make things plain and simple and easy to understand! Eating “healthy” is pretty simple and some experts try to make it so complicated. You are a breath of fresh air.

  • Bill Bochnak
    Posted at 11:00h, 10 December Reply

    “How many nutrients are you depositing”… great analogy and so true if only we care about our health as much as we do about our bank accounts imagine how rich we all would really be :-)

    • Serena Hunt RDN CD-N
      Posted at 22:44h, 10 December Reply

      Ahh… so wise, Bill :) Its sad how little the common person values their health!!!

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