The glycemic index (GI) is a scale that ranks a carbohydrate-containing food or drink by how much it raises blood sugar levels after it is eaten or drank. 

Foods with a high GI increase blood sugar higher and faster than foods with a low GI. There are three GI categories:

  • Low GI (55 or less) – Choose most often
  • Medium GI (56-69) – Choose less often
  • High GI (70 or more) – Choose least often

Diabetes Canada recommends choosing lower GI foods and drinks more often to help control blood sugar. Work with your Registered Dietitian to find ways to substitute high GI foods for foods in the medium and/or low GI category.

Why should I eat foods with a lower glycemic index?

A low GI diet can help you:

  • Decrease risk of type 2 diabetes and its complications
  • Decrease risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Feel full longer
  • Maintain or lose weight

Meal planning ideas

Try these meal planning ideas to lower the GI of your meal:

  • Cook your pasta al dente (firm). Check your pasta package instructions for cooking time.
  • Make fruits and milk part of your meal. These foods often have a low GI and make a healthy dessert.
  • Try lower GI grains, such as barley and bulgur.
  • Pulses (such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas) can be grains and starches or meat and alternatives. Swap half of your higher GI starch food serving with pulses. For example, instead of having one cup of cooked short grain rice, have ½ cup of cooked rice mixed with ½ cup of black beans.

Remember that using the glycemic index to choose foods is only one part of healthy eating. Healthy eating also means choosing a variety of food groups, having moderate portion sizes, and selecting more whole foods instead of processed foods. Checking your blood sugar before, and two hours after, a meal is the best way to know how your body handles certain foods and drinks. 

LOW GI (55 or less)
Choose most often
MEDIUM GI (56-69)
Choose less often
HIGH GI (70 or more)
Choose least often
  • Heavy mixed grain, spelt, sourdough bread
  • Tortilla (whole grain)
  • Chapati, pita, roti (white, whole wheat)
  • Flaxseed or linseed bread
  • Pumpernickel, rye, stone ground whole wheat, whole grain wheat bread
  • Bread (white, whole wheat)
  • Naan (white, whole wheat)
  • All Bran™, Bran Buds with Psyllium™, Oat Bran™, oats (steel cut)
  • Cream of wheat™ (regular), oats (instant, large flake, and quick) 
  • All-Bran Flakes™, Corn Flakes™, Cream of Wheat™ (instant), Puffed wheat, Rice Krispies™, Special K™
  • Barley, bulgur, pasta (al dente, firm), quinoa, parboiled or converted rice
  • Mung bean noodles
  • Pulse flours
  • Basmati, brown, short or long grain white, and wild rice
  • Cornmeal, couscous, rice noodles
  • Jasmine, sticky, or instant white rice
  • Millet
Other starches
  • Peas, sweet potato, winter squash
  • Popcorn
  • Beets*, corn, parsnip, potato (red, white, cooled)
  • Rye crisp (Ryvita™), Stoned Wheat Thins™ crackers
  • Carrots*
  • Potato (instant mashed; red, white, hot)
  • Pretzels, rice cakes, soda crackers
  • Apple, apricot (fresh, dried), banana (green, unripe), berries, cantaloupe, grapefruit, honeydew melon, mango, orange, peach, pear, plum, pomegranate, prunes
  • Banana (ripe, yellow), cherries, cranberries (dried), figs (fresh, dried), grapes, kiwi, lychee, pineapple, raisins
  • Banana (brown, overripe), watermelon
  • Milk (almond; cow – skim, 1%, 2%, whole; soy)
  • Yogurt (skim, 1%, 2%, whole)
  • Rice milk
  • Baked beans, chickpeas; kidney, mung, romano beans; lentils, soybeans/edamame, split peas
  • Lentil, split pea soup (ready-made) 

*Most starchy/sweet vegetables (e.g. peas, parsnip, winter squash) provide 15 g or more carbohydrate per 1 cup serving. Beets and carrots often provide less than 15 g carbohydrate per serving (marked above with *).

For more information, see this resource.

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