Glycemic Education

Chances are, you’ve heard of the glycemic index. This system of food classification — which assigns each food a value based on how much, and how quickly, it raises the blood glucose level — is mentioned frequently in the diabetes media as a way to improve blood glucose control. But is the glycemic index described in a way that makes it easy for people to incorporate into their lives? And what exactly will using it accomplish? Not knowing how to use the glycemic index to guide meal choices, or what benefits these choices will have, can make the glycemic index more of an abstract concept than a useful tool to many people with diabetes.

This may help explain why a recent study sought to explore the effects of glycemic index education on people with Type 2 diabetes. As described in an article on, the study randomly assigned some participants to take nine weekly sessions of education on the glycemic index; the other participants attended no sessions during these weeks. After this period, participants who attended the sessions were found to have adopted a lower-glycemic-index diet, and to have better blood glucose control as well as a lower body weight and a smaller waist size. They had lost, on average, 5.1 pounds and had an average after-meal blood glucose level 18 mg/dl lower than before. Nine weeks after finishing the education sessions, the first group maintained these benefits.


Diabetes and nutrition experts have often expressed conflicting opinions regarding how practical it is to teach about the glycemic index, given the complexity of the subject and the lack of research showing significant benefits from such education. This study suggests that the benefits can, in fact, be important — although it is still unclear whether this is the best use, in terms of proven benefits, of nine weeks of diabetes education.

Do you feel you received enough information about the glycemic index in your diabetes education? Have you had success using the glycemic index to improve blood glucose control or to lose weight? Is the glycemic index too confusing or frustrating, in your experience, to use effectively, or are these concerns unwarranted? Leave a comment below!

  • Steve Parker, M.D.

    For anyone who want to read the actual research article, I’ll save you 5 minutes by giving you the reference details:

    The journal is Public Health Nutrition (2009), 12:1846-1854

    “A randomized behavioural trial targeting glycaemic index improves dietary, weight and metabolic outcomes in patients with type 2 diabetes”

    By Melissa Davis Gutschall, Carla K Miller, Diane C Mitcheland Frank R Lawrence

    I don’t think it’s too confusing for most people to understand.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that the glycemic index for a given food can be more variable than you think. Example: two different sources for glycemic index list brown rice at 76 and 50 – quite different. Which is more accurate?

    Glycemic index is determined when a food is eatin on an empty stomach by itself. Not many people eat brown rice by itself. Foods eaten at the same time will alter your blood sugar response.

    But the study above suggests that glycemic index is nevertheless a valid concept. I bet there’s a way to simplify it other than 12-18 hours of educational effort.


  • J Lindberg

    I find the Glycemic Index very useful in managing blood sugar levels. Also, the concept is not too complex for most people to understand; what makes it confusing are “myths” such as an often promoted view that all carbohydrates have the same impact on blood sugar.

    For me, I believe it is not helpful that the ADA instructs to count every carb the same, from simple sugars to qunioa! I know my body digests these differently, and the blood sugar response is clearly different between high GI and low GI.

    I’d love to see a study specifically conducted to measure the impact of various GI education points.

    Dr. Parker makes a great point that its not easy to find accurate and reliable GI info regarding specific GI values. But, it is possible to know the generally Low GI foods, and tips to lower overall Gi for meals (add lemon juice, vinegar, etc.) Thanks for a great topic!

  • Donna C

    I use the glycemic index. I’ve selected some high index foods to avoid and some low index foods to incorporate into my diet. However, I have found some inconsistencies in the various sources of information.