Use the Glycemic Index to Choose Good Carbs

Written By: Elizabeth Daeninck, MS, RD

Title: Registered Dietitian

Alumni: Colorado State University

Last Updated on:

There is so much discussion about the glycemic index of foods these days – many diet books incorporate the concept into their specific plans. It can be very confusing knowing what to eat when considering so many different variables presented to you. The glycemic index is a good tool to help you in choosing which carbohydrates to eat most frequently – read on to learn more…

Low Glycemic Index foods are slowly digested, releasing sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream gradually, resulting in a slow and steady increase in blood sugar that helps keep your body functioning well for longer than high GI foods.

High Glycemic Index foods are quickly digested and metabolized, producing a rapid rise in blood sugar. It’s best to avoid these high GI foods that cause spikes in blood sugar that can result in your body “crashing” or feeling hungry again quite quickly after you eat.

Glycemic Index Categories

Low Glycemic Index Foods (below 55) – Eat more often

  • Most Vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, spinach, kale, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, peas, celery, red cabbage, cucumber, lettuce, mushrooms, peppers, yams
  • Fruits: apples, apricots, grapes, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, prunes
  • Juices: apple, grapefruit, pineapple, tomato
  • Legumes: black, navy, pinto, and kidney beans; chickpeas; lentils; black-eyed peas
  • Starches: most pastas, brown rice, barley, quinoa, bulgur, wheat bran and germ, pumpernickel, and whole wheat bread
  • Cereals: All Bran, Fiber One, Kashi
  • Milk products including milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Nuts and Nut butters
  • Sweeteners: fructose, agave cactus nectar, sugar alcohols

Medium Glycemic Index Foods (56 – 69)

  • Vegetables: white and sweet potatoes, corn
  • Fruits: bananas, tropical fruits (mango, cantaloupe, papaya, pineapple), kiwi fruit, raisins, figs, fruit cocktail
  • Juices: orange, cranberry
  • Starches: white rice, wild rice, couscous
  • Cereals: Cream of Wheat, Life, Mini Wheats, Oat Bran, most oatmeals, Raisin Bran
  • Sweeteners: honey

High Glycemic Index Foods (above 70)

  • Fruits: watermelon, dates
  • Snacks: popcorn, rice cakes, most crackers (soda, Stoned Wheat Thins, Water Crackers), cakes, doughnuts, croissants, muffins, waffles, white bread, baguette, bagels
    Starches: millet
  • Most Cereals: Bran Flakes, Cheerios, Cornflakes, Instant Cream of Wheat, Crispix, Grapenuts, Puffed Wheat, Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat, Special K, Total
  • Sweeteners/Sweets: table sugar, hard candy, soft drinks, sports drinks

The Bottom Line

A low glycemic diet reduces the onset of dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which can better control diabetes, hypoglycemia and hunger. It’s wise to substitute high GI foods with low GI foods, not only for their slower rate of blood sugar surge, but also for their superior nutrient profile. Most low GI foods are whole grains, beans, or fruits and vegetables – all of which are packed with antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber.


glycemic index, phytonutrients


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