Balanced Diet Wheel

Low-glycemic index foods and diabetes.. Posted by Wellbeing People on 13 June, 2018

Current statistics show that there are around 4.6 million Type 1 Diabetics and an estimated 12.3 million people with potential Type 2 Diabetes. (Awareness Days UK 2018).  This is not good news for us or the NHS.  The charity, Diabetes UK says that the NHS is already spending one-tenth of its budget on the condition. People with pre-diabetes have no symptoms, but their blood sugar levels are at the very high end of the normal range.  Between 5% and 10% of people with pre-diabetes go on to develop Type 2 Diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes occurs when the body either stops producing enough insulin for its needs or becomes resistant to the effect of insulin produced.  The body produces insulin to regulate glucose – the simplest form of sugar that the body and brain uses as fuel for energy.

There is a close association between obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.  There is a seven times greater risk of diabetes in obese people and a threefold increase in risk for overweight people compared to those of a healthy weight.  Age, lifestyle (unhealthy diet and physical inactivity), ethnicity and deprivation are all associated risk factors too.

With diabetes, an individual’s blood glucose level rises above the normal level as the production of insulin is not working properly. Altering the diet to maintain lower blood glucose is therefore fundamental in controlling the condition.  Eating low-glycemic index foods enables the blood sugar level to be controlled and helps in the long term management of diabetes.

So, what are low-glycemic index foods?

Glycemic index is a measure of how slowly or how quickly carbohydrates in the food we eat break down to glucose (sugar) in the body.  High GI foods break down quickly in the body, causing a rapid release of glucose into the bloodstream.  High GI foods include processed foods, white breads, refined breakfast cereals and any food with added sugars, such as chocolate or cakes.  Low GI foods, by contrast break down slowly causing a steady and sustained release of glucose into the bloodstream. Low GI foods include all green and salad vegetables, most fruits, wholewheat breads and pastas, oats, brown rice, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, eggs, beans, dairy foods, fats and oils.

Eating high GI foods can be harmful to you because the body has to produce high amounts of insulin to regulate the greater amount of glucose. The effect can be that you experience sugar highs and sugar lows (mood swings, sugar cravings, energy dips).  If your diet mainly consists of these high GI foods, in time, insulin resistance and diabetes can develop.  Eating a diet of mainly low GI foods avoids all these pitfalls and has the added benefit of usually being more nutritious providing the body with fibre and a good variety of minerals and vitamins.

Ways to achieve eating a low GI diet include:

  • Reduce highly processed foods such as white bread products, breakfast cereals, sugary foods, cakes, pastries, biscuits, sugary drinks.
  • Substitute lower GI equivalent for high GI staples, for example, multi-grain bread for white bread or high-sugar cereal for home-made muesli.
  • If you eat high GI foods, eat them in smaller amounts.
  • If you eat a high GI food, combine them with a low GI food– for example crackers with cream cheese or hummus.
  • Include protein, vegetables, fruit, salad, pulses, nuts and seeds with every meal and snack so there are always low GI foods included.
  • Choose natural or Greek yogurt with fresh fruit as opposed to yogurts that have added sugars.
  • Cook your pasta al dente as overcooking it increases the GI value.
  • Choose baby potatoes or sweet potatoes as these have a lower GI value. Avoid mashing potatoes and root vegetables as this increases the GI value.
  • Add lentils, butter beans or bulgur wheat to soups and stews to reduce the GI value.

Muesli is a great way to start the day, yet so many supermarket mueslis contain added sugar or have tons of dried fruit in there. It is well worth taking the time to make your own – you can add in the ingredients you like and is probably cheaper too!

 Muesli Mix

Serves:  10 


  • 250g porridge oats
  • 100g bran flakes
  • 25g sunflower seeds
  • 25g pumpkin seeds
  • 50g hazelnuts or brazil nuts, roughly chopped
  • 100g dried fruits, chopped (such as raisins, sultanas, dried apricots)

Preparation Instructions: 

  1. Combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight container
  2. Serve with milk and fresh fruit


Written by Katie Bennett, Nutritionist