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Low glycemic index foods - Exactly what are they?

  [ 17 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Dr. Scott Olson, ND* • • November 12, 2010

Low glycemic index foods - Exactly what are they?

Q: I saw on the message board that using “the glycemic index” to pick foods to eat could help me control blood sugar rushes and crashes. I’m curious to know what this way of eating is all about, and are fruits out because they're sweet?

A: Low glycemic foods are the best foods to eat if you are trying to control your blood sugar, and it also works well to eat low glycemic foods if your goal is weight loss. But just what ARE low glycemic foods?


The glycemic index is a listing of foods and how each of those foods increases our blood sugar. As you might imagine, eating straight sugar increases your blood sugar but here is the strange thing: Other foods increase your blood sugar too (some even more than eating straight sugar).

The glycemic index came about when a scientist decided to check someone’s blood sugar and then give them a single food and then test to see what that food did to their blood sugar. It is a simple enough experiment, but it yielded some surprising results.

• Foods that we thought would increase blood sugar did, but some of those foods act more sugary that sugar itself.

• Part of this has to do with what we are measuring and part of it has to do with how readily available the sugars in foods are when we eat them.

Here is a breakdown of a typical glycemic index chart:

High Glycemic Index Foods
• Sugar (of course)
• Any refined grain-based food (think bread, chips, donuts, cereals…)
• And cooked potatoes (French fries…)

Medium Glycemic Index Foods
• Whole grains eaten as whole grains (like rice, barley, but not whole grain breads)
• Some beans
• Pasta

(Why is pasta a medium glycemic index food when bread is high? “That is just the way it is.” Before we started using the glycemic index, we would just guess what foods did to our blood sugar. We thought that brown rice would keep our blood sugar low and white rice would cause our blood sugar to rise. What we found out when we did the studies was that both brown and white rice cause our blood sugar to rise about the same amount. It didn’t make sense, but is what the studies show. Scientists suggest that there is something about pasta and the way it is made and prepared that keeps our bodies from digesting it too quickly, so it releases its sugar molecules slowly.)

Low Glycemic Index Foods
• Most fruits and vegetables (but not potato)
• Proteins (like fish, chicken, beef)
• Nuts

What you will notice about the chart is that most of high and medium glycemic index foods are grains, sugars and simple starches. These are the foods you want to avoid.

Here is a list of some of the low glycemic foods (for a database, go to


• Pearl barley
• Grain Products
- Fettuccine, egg
- Lasagna
- Macaroni
- Ravioli
- Spaghetti

Fruits (Raw)

• Apple
• Blackberries
• Blueberries
• Cherries
• Dried apricots
• Grapes
• Kiwi fruit
• Mango
• Orange
• Peach
• Pear
• Pineapple
• Plums
• Raspberries
• Strawberries


• Avocados
• Broccoli
• Brussels sprouts
• Cabbage
• Carrots, raw
• Cauliflower
• Celery
• Chard
• Eggplant
• Garlic
• Kale
• Onions
• Radish
• Sprouts
• Squash (most)
• Tomato Juice
• Tomato soup
• Tomatoes
• Yam (Canada)
• Lettuce of all kinds (green leaf, iceberg, red leaf, romaine)
• Mixed greens (arugula, beet greens, collard greens, endive, escarole, radicchio, red mustard, spinach)


• Baked Beans
• Black eyed beans
• Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)
• Hummus (chickpea salad dip)
• Lentils, red
• Pinto beans
• Red Kidney Beans
• Romano beans
• Soya beans


• Full-fat cows’ milk
• Cheese (most)

Nuts and Seeds

• Almonds
• Cashews
• Macadamia
• Mixed nuts
• Peanut butter (no sugar)
• Peanuts
• Pecans
• Pistachio
• Sunflower seeds
• Walnuts


• Beef
• Chicken
• Eggs
• Fish
• Pork
• Poultry (all)
• Sausages
• Wild game


• Maitake
• Reishi
• Shitake


* Dr. Scott Olson, ND, is a board certified Naturopathic Doctor, researcher, and author, with expert knowledge of natural medicine and nutrition. Visit Dr. Scott’s friendly and informative website to read his many articles on diet, dieting & weight loss, and other health issues. There you can also ask his advice and read about topics covered in his recently published book Sugarettes: Sugar Addiction and Your Health.

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is general and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.

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