The Glycemic Load is a scoring system based on your blood sugar response to foods. Foods with a high glycemic load cause a blood sugar spike--a large increase in your blood sugar--while low glycemic load foods cause a small or zero increase in your blood sugar. Blood sugar spikes are bad because they are hard on your pancreas. Your pancreas has to release insulin in large amounts when there is a lot of sugar in the blood. When the pancreas releases a large amount of insulin at one time, it is an insulin surge. Insulin surges are not good because they can increase fat storage and insulin resistance, a risk for type 2 diabetes.
Eating a low glycemic load diet consists of eating foods that do not cause a blood sugar spike. Low glycemic foods are not as hard on your pancreas. The result can be weight loss and decreased risk for many healthy conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
What is Glycemic Load?
The glycemic load is different from the glycemic index. The glycemic load takes into account the usual portion size of a given food whereas the glycemic index is based on 50 grams of carbohydrate of the given food. Some foods are high glycemic index but low glycemic load. For example pears--pears have a high glycemic index but a low glycemic load. To consume 50 grams of carbohydrate from pear, you would need to consume about four pears. Most people only eat one pear per sitting.
Portion sizes of carbohydrate foods matter when you are aiming to prevent blood sugar spikes and insulin surges.
Another important factor for preventing blood sugar spikes and insulin surges is whether or not the food contains other nutrients besides or in addition to carbohydrate. Low glycemic load foods either contain no carbohydrate or they contain other nutrients along with carbohydrate. Foods that are mainly fiber, protein and/or fat such as nuts, lean meats, and non-starchy vegetables are low glycemic load foods. Foods that are mainly starch and/or sugar such as white bread and sugary candy, containing no protein or fat, are high glycemic load foods.
Each food category has high, medium, and low glycemic load foods.
To Eat a Low Glycemic Load Diet:
1. Choose high fiber grains such as whole wheat instead of white refined grains;
2. Choose fresh fruits and avoid canned or dried fruits and fruit juice;
3. Choose non-starchy vegetables instead of potato and corn;
4. Choose heart-healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, and fish;
5. Include lean or heart healthy protein such as grilled skinless chicken breast, nuts, and fish, and;
6. Control portions of starches and sweets. Read up on or talk to your dietitian about what the proper portion size of foods are and how many servings per meal, snack and day you should eat.
The low glycemic load diet is generally a healthy way of eating and may be a lifestyle change you can use to reach your health goals.
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Jamie Yacoub, M.P.H., R.D. is a clinical dietitian with a Master's of Public Health in Nutrition, and expected Certified Diabetes Educator (C.D.E.) fall 2013. She obtained her Bachelor of Science in clinical nutrition from UC Davis after four years, during which time she participated in internships in several different nutrition environments including Kaiser Permanente and Women, Infants, & Children (W.I.C.). After graduating from UC Davis, she went on to study public health nutrition at Loma Linda University where she obtained her Master's of Public Health in Nutrition. Jamie completed the community nutrition portion of her dietetic internship as an intern for a Certified Specialist in Sports Nutrition. She completed both the food service and clinical portions of her dietetic internship at a top 100 hospital in the nation, where she was hired as the only clinical dietitian shortly after. Jamie now works as an outpatient clinical dietitian and is an expert in Medical Nutrition Therapy (M.N.T.) using the Nutrition Care Process (N.C.P.) including past medical history and current laboratory values as a basis of nutrition assessment.