The Difference Between Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load

Every carbohydrate you place is your body is ranked on the glycemic index.  Carbohydrates are essential to our daily performance because they provide our primary source of energy.  However, each carbohydrate provides different levels of energy at different rates. That is where the glycemic index comes it, and, consequently, your glycemic load. When hearing these 2 terms, it may sound like the same thing. They are both tools to help determine your blood glucose response to certain foods, but are used in different ways.

Glycemic Index

Over 30 years ago, the University of Toronto developed the glycemic index as a way to help diabetics control their blood glucose levels. Now, this tool aids all sorts of individuals in aspects of weight management, sports performance, and overall health.

The glycemic index is a ranking system based on the ability of carbohydrate-based foods to raise the blood glucose level as well as levels of insulin. High glycemic carbohydrates tend to rapidly elevate the blood glucose and insulin levels in individuals. The lower the glycemic index number, the slower the absorption rate, making a spike in blood glucose and insulin less likely.

Measured portions of 50 grams of carbohydrates determine Glycemic index. This could be 2 medium apples, 1¼ cups of rice, or any number of variants. The level of blood glucose rise is compared to the rise when eating 50 grams of table sugar. The difference between the two levels determines the glycemic index.

For example, oatmeal has a glycemic index of 49. This means oatmeal produces 49% blood glucose increase when compared to straight glucose. Foods that rate above 70 on the glycemic index are considered high glycemic, whereas foods that rate lower than 55 on the glycemic index are considered low glycemic.

Glycemic Load

Glycemic load is another tool used to determine your blood glucose response. However, it is more efficient because it factors in the glycemic index as well as the actual amount of carbohydrate being consumed. The glycemic index is not always practical because you will not necessarily consume 50 grams of carbohydrates in a given sitting.

The glycemic load is calculated by multiplying the number of carbohydrates in your food by the glycemic index, then that number is divided by 100. Thus, a boiled potato might sit high in the glycemic index, but it has a lower glycemic load than a candy bar. Glycemic loads of less than 20 are considered high, and loads of less than 10 are low.


Though both tools provided great information relating to how carbohydrates affect your blood glucose levels, glycemic load is more practical for everyday use. Remember that both glycemic load and glycemic index tools only refer to each carbohydrate on an individual basis. Thus, glucose levels vary depending upon how many other carbohydrates factor into the equation. Add in proteins and fats to your meal, and your glucose levels fluctuate tremendously.  arbohydrates are a very important factor in your exercise training as well as your diet. Consider using glycemic load when planning your meals to help regulate your blood glucose and insulin levels. 


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