The Key to a Healthy Blood Sugar Range? Understanding Glycemic Index

Diabetes Care|Jun.28, 2018


Name an impressive multitasker. Is it an office colleague? A parent? A friend? Well, don't look too far: The answer is each one of us. Yes, the human body is the perfect example of multitasking ability. Still, like our minds, our bodies can sometimes find it tough to multitask and keep all systems running perfectly.

However, we can help by making healthy choices. One such opportunity arises when your body needs to maintain a normal blood sugar range. If you have type 1 and type 2 diabetes, paying attention to the GI, or the glycemic index, of foods can help you control variations in your blood sugar levels.

Healthy Blood Sugar Ranges and Diabetes

A consistently high blood sugar range indicates diabetes. Here are important fasting blood sugar ranges you need to know, according to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Normal: below 100 mg/dL
  • Prediabetic: 100 to 125 mg/dL
  • Diabetic: greater than 125 mg/dL

These ranges typically apply to most people. Talk to your doctor about what a normal range is for you to ensure you're measuring it at the right times.

The Glycemic Index of Foods: Nothing Short of a Magic Formula

Contrary to popular opinion, diabetes management isn't just about the sugar. A diet designed for diabetes management involves rationing of food items other than sweets and fruits like potatoes and rice. But have you ever wondered why? Your nutritionist asks you to avoid slices of cake, aromatic pastas and starchy potato dishes because these carbohydrate-rich foods have a high glycemic index.

So what exactly is a glycemic index? Simply speaking, it's the measure of a food's ability to raise blood sugar levels. High glycemic index foods can quickly raise your blood sugar, while low glycemic index foods keep your blood sugar levels steady. The composition, degree of processing, stage of ripening and preparation are factors that influence the glycemic index of a food.

  • Fibre and Fat Content
    Foods with a higher fat and fibre content have a lower glycemic index. Examples of fibrous low-GI foods are oatmeal, bran, nonstarchy vegetables, carrots, barley, bulgar, peas and legumes. The rule of thumb for a diabetic diet is to eat fresh, natural, wholesome, fibrous food. This doesn't mean, however, that all natural foods have a similar glycemic index. You'd be surprised to know a sweet potato has more fibre, and therefore a lower glycemic index, than a white potato!
  • Processing
    Food processing lowers the fibre content and makes food more palatable. It significantly raises the glycemic index score too. Refined flour, white rice and juice then all have higher GI scores than whole flour, brown rice and fruit (their less-processed counterparts).
  • Cooking and Stage of Ripening
    Ripening also increases the glycemic index of a food, mainly by raising its carbohydrate content. This is why ripe fruit tastes sweeter. So, an under-ripe mango has a lower glycemic index than a ripe mango because its sugar content hasn't developed. The humble cooking stove is also implicated in increasing the glycemic index. For example, al dente pasta has a lower glycemic index than well-done pasta.
  • Meat
    For the nonvegetarians, there's good news: Meat has no glycemic index score because it has no carbohydrates. You can safely plan a menu with a regular low-fat (because calories matter!) meat option without worrying about a sugar spike.

It's Not Just What You Eat, But How

Half the battle is won by sticking to low glycemic index foods; for complete victory, learn food-pairing. The trick is to use glycemic index to your advantage. For example, carbohydrates excel at raising blood sugar, but you can dilute their effect by pairing them with low GI foods high in fibre, proteins and fats, which tend to be digested and absorbed at a leisurely pace. This slows your glucose absorption and prevents sudden spikes in sugar levels.

Winning Combinations

Now let's consider traditional Indian recipes.

Look at the humble khichdi, a delicious preparation that combines carbohydrate-rich rice with protein-rich lentils. Add generous portions of vegetables, such as French beans, beans and tomatoes, and it becomes rich in fibre too! The conventional low-fat vegetable curry or curd that we eat with khichdi provides supplemental protein and fibre for a balanced glycemic effect.

Other rice preparations, such as vegetable pulao, idli and dosa are great examples when paired with aromatic curd-based kadhi and vegetable-dense sambhar instead of rice.

You also don't have to give up your fruits — they're rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Just eat smaller quantities paired with meals instead of a stand-alone bowlful. If you prefer juices, you'll love healthy smoothies. When made with yogurt, berries and nuts, these have healthy proteins and fats to balance the fruit carbohydrates.

These are suggestions to get you started. With so many scrumptious options, you can get creative with diabetic food-pairing recipes and keep your blood sugar range in check!


Disclaimer: This content is meant for awareness and educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any products. Please consult your doctor or healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.