Understand the different types of carbohydrates and improve  your energy, weight and long term health



The Glycaemic Index of foods was discovered in 1981 by Professor David Jenkins of the University of Toronto who was researching which foods were more suitable for people suffering from diabetes. At the time, the dietary programs for diabetics were based on a system of “Carbohydrates Exchanges” which meant that each exchange (or portion) contained the same amount of carbohydrate, assuming that different types of sugar produced the same effects on blood glucose levels. Dr Jenkins challenged this approach and conducted extensive research on the effect that different foods had on blood glucose and  insulin secretions. After giving his subjects some of the most common carbohydrate rich foods, he recorded their blood glucose levels after a specific period of time. His findings were very surprising and challenged the established  dogma on carbohydrates metabolism! He found that, for example, in equal quantities, white bread caused a higher spike in blood glucose levels than ice cream!

Carbohydrates (CHOs), one of the main macronutrients in our diet together with proteins and fats, are found in fruits, vegetables, grains and derived products.

Chemically, for those of you so inclined  🙂 , they are organic molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Plants “fix” atmospheric carbons by photosynthesis and form ring structures called sugars or saccharides. These sugars are then joined together to form larger molecules such as starch and fiber.

Let’s see the different types of carbohydrates and their role in blood sugar balance

Natural Carbohydrates

What exactly are  the Glycaemic Index and the Glycaemic Load ?

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a value given to carbohydrate rich foods which reflects how these types of food affect your blood glucose levels. Foods with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised and cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and, therefore usually, insulin levels.

The GI only takes in consideration the quality of the sugar in a certain type of food.

Low GI=                     55 or <

Medium GI=             56 – 69

High GI=                    70 or >

The Glycemic Load (GL) is a measure of both, the quality (the GI value) and quantity (grams per serve) of  carbohydrates in a meal. It is a more complete and useful picture of how a particular food, in a specific quantity, will affect our blood sugar level. The GL is calculated by multiplying the GI of a type of food by the amount of carbohydrate that the food contains in a given portion and dividing by 100.

LOW GL=                  10 or <

Medium GI=             11 -19

High GL=                   20 or >



The difference between Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load


If you consider only the GI of a food you are not taking in consideration how much sugar there is, in that particular portion of food. Look at the example above. The GI for a Mars Bar is 62 (medium) whilst the GI for watermelon is 80 (high)…you may therefore think that having a Mars Bar will be kinder on your blood sugar level!

And you would be very misguided!

When you take in consideration the actual amount of sugar in both (1 Mars Bar and 1 watermelon slice) the difference is huge: 40g vs 6g respectively! The way your blood sugar level will be affected after each of those will therefore be very, very different.



Balanced blood glucose is the corner stone to optimal energy levels, weightloss, a  healthy body and an healthy brain!

The maintenance of blood glucose level is needed to provide a constant energy source to the brain and the red blood cells, which can only utilize glucose as their source of energy.

The normal level of blood glucose of healthy individuals is:

– between 4.0 to 6.0 mmol/L (72 to 108 mg/dL) when fasting

– up to 7.8 mmol/L (140 mg/dL) 2 hours after eating

Let me just put those numbers into prospective : 72 to 108mg/DL means that, all we need is one  teaspoon of sugar in our five liters of circulating  blood!

The distribution of glucose into the cells of the body is indispensable for life because glucose is the main source of energy for the cells. When in excess of the energy requirements and of the amount necessary to maintain blood glucose balance, glucose will be converted into glycogen. Glycogen is  a form of glucose storage in the liver and skeletal muscle which  is  used, if necessary, to maintain blood glucose balance when there is a scarcity of sugars from food intake. Once the glycogen storage is replenished, any excess glucose in the blood is converted to fat and stored in fat cells under the skin (subcutaneous fat) and around our organs (visceral fat).

A diet constantly   high in GL is a real challenge to our body because it causes our blood sugar level to be  above the safe range and the pancreas will  work hard at normalising it again! High  insulin secretions will lead to energy imbalances, weight increase and in the long term to more serious health concerns such as insulin resistance, diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease and other chronic degenerative conditions. Not to mention that an imbalance in insulin will  mess up your overall hormonal balance.

Elevated  insulin secretions  are   followed by  sharp drops in blood glucose level leading to feelings of tiredness, low moods, low concentration, decreased focus, cravings for sugar rich foods and irritability. When you are in a state of hypoglycaemia ( low blood glucose)  there is no will power that can stop you from reaching out for carbohydrate rich foods …your brain is screaming at you: I want sugar and I want it now!   So you reach for your fix and the cycle is  self – perpetuating …


You can start  keeping  the  GL value of your meals   low to medium  ( up to 20 GL)  by following the simple steps below:

  1. Always have proteins together with your carbs – even when snacking
  2. Choose only one starch rich food per meal (either one type of grain or one type of starchy veg)
  3. Avoid all refined sugars ( found in takeaways, fast foods, ready cooked meals, industrially produced sauces and salad dressing, “white foods” such as breads, pasta and rice )

If you keep your meal GL  at <20 you will have balanced blood sugar which in turns means more energy, less cravings, better moods, less irritability, more mental sharpness.

And… if you need to loose some extra weight, by decreasing it further you will encourage a healthy weightloss, in fact a healthy fat loss !

Wishing you vibrant vitality,

Monica Durigan

Click on the link below and visit Monica’s ‘Everyday Nutrition’ It’s well worth it!




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