Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Glycemic index diet: A helpful tool for diabetes?

Is the glycemic index diet useful if you have diabetes?

Updated: 05-22-2012

Answer

Some people with diabetes use the glycemic index (GI) as a guide in selecting foods — especially carbohydrates — for meal planning. The glycemic index classifies carbohydrate-containing foods according to their potential to raise your blood sugar level. Foods with a high glycemic index value tend to raise your blood sugar faster and higher than do foods with a lower value.

The glycemic index diet has potential benefits but may be problematic as well:

Possible benefits Potential problems
  • Lowers blood sugar level
  • Includes single food items rather than combinations of foods, which can impact blood sugar differently
  • Helps regulate blood sugar level throughout the day, which may reduce the risk of insulin resistance
  • Doesn't consider all variables that affect blood sugar, such as how food is prepared or how much is eaten
  • Reduces the need for diabetes medication
  • Only includes foods that contain carbohydrates
  • Controls appetite and delays hunger cues, which may help with weight management
  • Doesn't rank foods based on nutrient content — foods with a low GI ranking may be high in calories, sugar or saturated fat

It can be difficult to follow a glycemic index diet on your own. For one thing, most foods aren't ranked by glycemic index. Packaged foods don't generally list their GI ranking on the label, and it can be hard to estimate what it might be. Still, basic principles of the glycemic index diet may help you better manage and control your blood sugar:

  • Choose high-fiber foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose fresh or raw foods over canned or processed foods.

If you have diabetes, the glycemic index diet is just one tool to consider when determining your diet. If you're interested in learning more, talk to a registered dietitian. He or she can help you make changes in your diet.

Site view: at a glance