Low Glycemic Index Foods at Breakfast Help Control Blood Sugar

Eating foods at breakfast that have a low glycemic index may help prevent a spike in blood sugar throughout the morning and after the next meal of the day, researchers said at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Wellness 12 meeting.

These breakfast foods also can increase feelings of satiety and fullness and may make people less likely to overeat throughout the day, acdcording to presentations Wednesday by Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., principal, Corvus Blue LLC, and Richard Mattes, M.P.H., R.D., distinguished professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University.

The glycemic index ranks foods on the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high index are rapidly digested and result in high fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Foods with a low glycemic index produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels and are considered healthier, especially for people with diabetes.

Mattes’ research specifically focused on the advantages of having almonds, a low glycemic index food, with the morning meal. In his study, published last year in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, participants who ate a breakfast containing whole almonds experienced longer feelings of fullness and had lower blood glucose concentrations after breakfast and lunch, compared to those who did not have a low-glycemic breakfast.

When a low glycemic food is added to the diet, people spontaneously choose to eat less at other times throughout the day. Mattes added that while the calories need to be taken into consideration as part of a person’s overall diet, almonds can be incorporated in moderate amounts without an effect on body weight.

Both Mattes and Shelke stressed the importance of eating a healthy, low-glycemic breakfast in maintaining a healthy weight and blood sugar levels. A 2009 study found that about 30 percent of people skip breakfast one to three times per week. Among those who eat breakfast, cold cereal is the most popular (83 percent), followed by eggs (71 percent). In addition to low glycemic index, Dr. Shelke said the ideal breakfast for consumers has these attributes:

  • Savory
  • Portable
  • Pleasing texture
  • Fills you up for extended periods of time
  • Satiates quickly so less is consumed
  • Affordable for the whole family to eat every day
  • Non-fried
  • Delicious without making you feeling guilty

“This is a very tall order for food product manufacturers,” Shelke said. “It takes a lot of skill and understanding.”

While it may present challenges for food manufacturers, it is well worth it to develop these products because of the prevalence of diabetes and pre-diabetes in the United States and beyond. It is estimated that by 2030, more than 16 percent of the global population will have a blood sugar problem.

“Most of the risk factors are things that can be managed and modified,” Shelke said. “We can reverse pre-diabetes and prevent it from becoming diabetes. Food has become the reason for what’s ailing us, but it can actually be a solution in a number of different ways.”

Low- and Non-Glycemic Foods that Promote Satiety

  • Rolled oats and groats (hulled and crushed grain, usually oats)
  • Pulses
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Sweet potato
  • Barley B-glucan
  • Yam flour
  • Glucomannan
  • Durum pasta
  • Vegetable flours
  • Chia / flax seed
  • Resistant starch

Source: Institute of Food Technologists

Glycemic Index 101

GI measures a carbohydrate’s effect on blood glucose compared to a reference food of either glucose or white bread. Foods that are digested and absorbed rapidly, resulting in a sharp spike in blood glucose after consumption, such as potatoes and watermelon, are given a high GI (70 to 99). Foods that are digested slowly, resulting in a slow release of glucose into the bloodstream, such as vegetables, are given a low GI (55 or less). Foods with a moderate GI, including whole-wheat products and brown rice, fall within a GI range of 56 to 69 (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1981; 34:362-366).

The GI has sometimes been confused with the glycemic load (GL). GL is defined as the GI of a food (divided by 100) multiplied by the grams of carbohydrate from one serving of the food. GI and GL do not go hand-in-hand; a food with a high GI will not necessarily have a high GL (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002; 76(1):5-56).

Many factors affect a food’s GI. Fat, fiber and protein slow the digestion of carbohydrates and release of sugar into the bloodstream. In addition, cooking and processing methods also affect GI by altering the structure of starch and subsequently speeding up the release of sugar into the bloodstream. For example, raw carrots have a GI of 16, whereas cooked carrots have a GI of 92. And finally, ripeness, storage time, cooking method and type of carbohydrate affect the GI (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002; 76(1):5-56).

GI can be incredibly confusing and misleading for consumers. First, published GI values for the same foods vary based on testing methods and the physical and chemical characteristics of the food. In addition, a GI given for a particular food, a slice of whole-wheat bread for instance, may vary from brand to brand of whole-wheat bread based on ingredients and processing. And, GI values for commercially prepared foods may change over time based on ingredient changes. Plus, there may be differences in products, say a nutrition bar, depending on the SKU (an apple-cinnamon bar versus an almond-flavored bar, for example). Additionally, GI may vary depending on where the food is grown. Rice, for instance, varies based on botanical differences. And finally, GI values may also differ because some labs use white bread as the reference, whereas others use glucose (dextrose).

Making matters more confusing, the GI of a food does not correlate to the GI of a meal that contains that food, and many people eat mixed meals versus single foods. So, for instance, white bread consumed as part of a sandwich loaded with fiber-rich vegetables, cheese and meat will elicit a different glycemic response than plain white bread.


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