Glycemic index, glycemic load & insulin index: why the difference matters?

Glycemic index, glycemic load & insulin index: why the difference matters?

In the modern world, if you are seeking health, longevity, avoid unwanted weight gain as well as chronic diseases, you need to give primary importance in maintaining healthy blood sugar or insulin level. These indexes indicate ranking numbers assigned to foods. These indexes actually attempt to find out how quickly a food can raise your blood sugar level after breaking down to simple form in the intestine. High blood sugar or diabetes is one of the major risk factors in the development of many chronic diseases including heart disease. But the ranking system differs in all the three types for the same food. We will find here the Glycemic index, glycemic load & insulin index: why the difference matters? These factors really matter a lot. You will be wondered how simple carbohydrates can kill your health.

Glycemic index, glycemic load & insulin index: why the difference matters?

Glycemic Index

It is the oldest ranking system of foods. Glycemic Index indicates how quickly a carbohydrate is digested, broken down to sugar and release to the bloodstream. It compares the potential of foods containing the same amount of carbohydrates to raise blood glucose levels. Accordingly, the ranking number is allocated to the foods. The lower glycemic index of a food indicates better glucose control. Carbohydrate-containing foods i.e. Glycemic Index can be classified as high- (≥70), moderate- GI (56-69), or low-GI (≤55) compared to pure glucose with GI=100. (1)

Apart from glucose control, a diet with a low glycemic index may favor cognitive function. (2)

Also, read how more fructose sugar consumption can harm your health including early aging.

Glycemic load

But the Glycemic Index has some drawbacks. It doesn’t count the number of carbohydrates of food in a typical serving. On the other hand Glycemic load also counts the quality and quantity of carbohydrates in food. It calculates the actual impact of food that contains carbohydrates on blood glucose levels. For example, both watermelon and a doughnut have a glycemic index of 76, but one serving (1 cup) of watermelon provides 11 g of available carbohydrates whereas one medium doughnut offers 23 g of carbohydrates. This is because a cup of watermelon contains largely of water and also some fiber. Based on such finding glycemic load of watermelon is 8 whereas doughnut has 17.

Overall glycemic load provides a better picture than the glycemic index. For a typical serving of a food, GL would be considered high with GL≥20, intermediate with GL of 11-19, and low with GL≤10. You can check the glycemic index as well as the glycemic load of some foods with this link of Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. (1)

A diet with a high glycemic load negatively affect the health

A diet with a high glycemic load increases the risk of obesity, blood sugar, and many more health complications. The lower glycemic index or glycemic load indicates less effect on blood sugar or insulin. In thumb rules, processed foods with refined carbohydrates have higher glycemic load as such foods mainly contain carbohydrates without fiber. Usually such may also contain fructose and unhealthy fat. Vegetables generally have a low glycemic load apart from foods like potatoes.

High blood glucose promotes inflammation in blood vessels. And uncontrolled inflammation causes oxidation of cholesterol that further leads to heart or cardiovascular diseases and organ failure if not addressed.

Also, read about 8 lesser-known foods and factors that cause inflammation in your body

 13 powerful but lesser-known anti-inflammatory foods to protect your health.

Foods that reduce high blood pressure naturally.

Insulin Index

Your pancreas releases insulin the main anabolic hormone in response to the consumption of some foods. It regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and protein by promoting the absorption of carbohydrates, more especially glucose from the blood into the liver, fat tissues, and skeletal muscle cells. (3) Preventing excessive insulin secretion in the present urban world helps for overall health, recycle the body and longevity. (4) That also reduces the load on the pancreas as well as the risk of insulin resistance and further develops type 2 diabetes. We need insulin sensitivity, not insulin resistance.

We know glucose stimulates insulin secretion. But apart from glucose or carbohydrates some protein-containing foods also stimulate insulin secretion to a more or lesser extent. Some protein-containing foods like beef, cottage cheese showed stimulation of insulin to a higher extent. And when protein combines with glucose it stimulates insulin to an even higher level. (5,6)

So, even the insulin index closely relates to the glycemic load, it differs in some way. While glycemic load counts the elevation of blood glucose level the insulin index counts elevation of insulin in relation to the consumption of food. It also depends on other factors like how you respond to insulin such as degree of insulin resistance or insulin sensitiveness etc.  An insulin index of foods compared relative to white bread, whose insulin index is considered as 100. Choosing food with low insulin index helps to reduce the risk of insulin resistance and other complicacy. You can check the insulin index of some foods here. (7)

Glycemic index, glycemic load & insulin index: why the difference matters?
Image by Mohamed Hassan & OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay


In conclusion, the Glycemic load provides a better picture than the glycemic index. The Insulin Index can be more useful than either the glycemic index or the glycemic load because it counts overall caloric content rather than relying only on glucose. As some foods cause an insulin response despite there being no or fewer carbohydrates present.

Also, read 7 steps towards perfect health.

Disclaimer: Information provided here are generalized information for  
informational and entertainment purpose only,  not intended to provide one  
to one health consultation or replace practice of a qualified practitioner.  
Different people may have different health condition and may have different  
reaction to the same food. Hence it has been advised to consult with health  
care provider before application of any of above information 
Source and references:
2. Philippou E, Constantinou M. The influence of glycemic index on 
cognitive functioning: a systematic review of the evidence. Adv Nutr. 
2014;5(2):119–130. Published 2014 Mar 1. doi:10.3945/an.113.004960 
4. Akintola AA, van Heemst D. Insulin, aging, and the brain: mechanisms and 
implications. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2015;6:13. Published 2015 Feb 6. 
5. Gannon MC, Nuttall  FQ, Neil BJ, Westphal SA. The insulin and glucose 
responses to meals of  glucose plus various proteins in type II diabetic 
subjects. Metabolism. 1988;37(11):1081–1088. doi:10.1016/0026-
6. Gannon MC, Nuttall  FQ, Lane JT, Burmeister LA. Metabolic response to 
cottage cheese or egg  white protein, with or without glucose, in type II 
diabetic subjects. Metabolism. 1992;41(10):1137–1145. doi:10.1016/0026-
Bikramjit Konwar

Author: Bikramjit Konwar


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