What Is The Glycemic Index and Why Is It Important?

If you’ve been hanging around Every Kid Can Cook for awhile, you’ve probably heard us mention how, after we digest food, it’s converted to what’s called “glucose”. Glucose is a fancy word for digested sugar, and it serves as an important energy source for our cells (especially our brain!). Even though glucose basically means sugar, it doesn’t necessarily mean it came from a traditionally sugary food (like candy or dessert). Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and many other types of foods are digested and converted into glucose for energy, too. While it’s normal for this process to happen, raising our blood glucose (blood sugar) too quickly can be dangerous to our health, if we do it too often. Chronically high blood sugar has been linked to diabetes and heart disease.


One way to measure how quickly a certain food will raise your blood sugar levels is by it’s “glycemic index”. If a food has a high glycemic index, you can assume it will raise your blood sugar pretty quickly and dramatically. If a food has a low glycemic index, it will raise your blood sugar levels more slowly and to a lesser extent. While this is a useful tool, it’s important to remember that all foods are okay in moderation (even the foods that score high on the glycemic index scale). There’s no reason to cut any food out that you enjoy, unless it’s for medical or personal reasons. But for most generally healthy people, there’s room for all of our favorite foods on our plate in balance.


Here are some examples of how different foods score on the glycemic index scale. This list doesn’t include all foods, but it should give you a better idea of which types of foods fall under which category.


High Glycemic Index Foods (a score of 70 or higher): white bread, white rice, white potatoes, desserts and pastries, candy, sugary drinks like pop, many breakfast cereals (like Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, etc.)


Moderate Glycemic Index Foods (a score of 56-69): sweet potatoes, corn, many breakfast cereals (like Cream of Wheat and Mini Wheats), couscous


Low Glycemic Index Foods (a score of 55 or less): whole grain/brown rice, whole grain bread, steel cut oats, pasta, leafy greens, non-starchy vegetables, most fruits, beans, low fat dairy, nuts


Can you think of any ways to incorporate more lower glycemic index foods into your meals and snacks? Try swapping out your white bread for whole grain to better control your blood sugar. Or, swap out your white potatoes for sweet potatoes. Another easy switch is to prepare some hearty oatmeal in place of a sugary breakfast cereal in the morning. The possibilities are endless (and tasty!).