by Diana Rodriguez for

“Carbohydrates are controversial when it comes to diet these days. But what separates the good from the bad is a food’s glycemic load, which has a big impact on blood sugar levels.

Every food you eat affects your body differently, and not just in terms of your long-range health, but also in the way it is processed and the effect it has on your energy level and blood sugar.

Glycemic Load and Diet: The Basics

The glycemic load is a classification of different carbohydrates that measures their impact on the body and blood sugar. The glycemic load details the amount of carbohydrates a food contains and its glycemic index, a measurement of its impact on blood sugar. “The glycemic index ranks foods based on how quickly they’re digested and get into the bloodstream,” says Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, a nutritionist and owner of Nutrition Works in Louisville, Ky. “Its glycemic load takes into consideration every component of the food as a whole, so it’s a different number. It changes everything.”

Because the glycemic load of a food looks at both components, the same food can have a high glycemic index, but an overall low glycemic load, making it better for you than it originally might have appeared.


Foods with a low glycemic load keep blood sugar levels consistent, meaning that you avoid experiencing the highs and lows that can be caused by blood sugar that jumps too high and quickly drops — the candy bar effect.

Watching the glycemic load of the foods you eat can have a big impact on your health in many ways. A diet focused on foods with a low glycemic load can:

  • Make it easier to lose weight and avoid the dreaded diet plateau
  • Keep blood sugar levels more consistent
  • Burn more calories
  • Help prevent insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Lower heart disease risk

“It makes more sense to use the glycemic load because when you eat a food you don’t just eat one food by itself — you eat a whole bunch of foods together,” says Meyerowitz. Looking at the total picture of foods you eat, rather than just the individual pieces, gives you a clearer and more accurate picture of the foods that make up your diet.

bunch of beans on white ceramic plate
Photo by Pixabay on

Glycemic Load and Diet…Favorite Foods

It’s tough to figure out on your own if a food has a high or a low glycemic load, but as a general guideline, the more fiber a food has the better. Here is a glycemic load reference list with many common foods to let you know which are low, medium, and high.

Foods with a low glycemic load of 10 or less:

  • Kidney, garbanzo, pinto, soy, and black beans
  • Fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, like carrots, green peas, apples, grapefruit, and watermelon
  • Cereals made with 100 percent bran
  • Lentils
  • Cashews and peanuts
  • Whole-grain breads like barley, pumpernickel, and whole wheat
  • Whole-wheat tortillas
  • Tomato juice
  • Milk

Foods with a medium glycemic load of 11 to 19:

  • Whole-wheat pasta and some breads
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice cakes
  • Barley and bulgur
  • Fruit juices without extra sugar
  • Brown rice
  • Sweet potato
  • Graham crackers

Foods with a high glycemic load of 20 or more:

  • High-sugar beverages
  • Candy
  • Sweetened fruit juices
  • Couscous
  • White rice
  • White pasta
  • French fries and baked potatoes
  • Low-fiber cereals (high in added sugar)
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Pizza
  • Raisins and dates

Focusing on the glycemic load of foods is particularly important for people with diabetes to help maintain a steady blood sugar, but everyone can benefit from understanding and monitoring the glycemic load in their diet.”

Medically Reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD

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