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July 2, 2004 - Carbohydrate Nutrition News

Glycaemic Index: Relevance for health, recommendations and food labelling


Ragnhild Arvidsson-lenner, Nils-georg Asp, Mette Axelsen, Susanne Bryngelsson, Eliina Haapa, Anette Järvi, Brita Karlström, Anne Raben, Annica Sohlström, Inga Thorsdottir, Bengt Vessby.

Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition, June 2004; 48(2):84-94

The glycaemic index (GI) concept is based on the difference in blood glucose response after ingestion of the same amount of carbohydrates from different foods, and possible implications of these differences for health, performance and well-being. GI is defined as the incremental blood glucose area (0-2 h) following ingestion of 50 g of available carbohydrates in the test product as a percentage of the corresponding area following an equivalent amount of carbohydrate from a reference product. A high GI is generally accompanied by a high insulin response.

The glycaemic load (GL) is the GI × the amount (g) of carbohydrate in the food/100. Many factors affect the GI of foods, and GI values in published tables are indicative only, and cannot be applied directly to individual foods. Properly determined GI values for individual foods have been used successfully to predict the glycaemic response of a meal, while table values have not. An internationally recognised method for GI determination is available, and work is in progress to improve inter- and intra-laboratory performance.

Some epidemiological studies and intervention studies indicate that low GI diets may favourably influence the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart disease, although further well-controlled studies are needed for more definite conclusions. Low GI diets have been demonstrated to improve the blood glucose control, LDL-cholesterol and a risk factor for thrombosis in intervention studies with diabetes patients, but the effect in free-living conditions remains to be shown. The impact of GI in weight reduction and maintenance as well as exercise performance also needs further investigation.

The GI concept should be applied only to foods providing at least 15 g and preferably 20 g of available carbohydrates per normal serving, and comparisons should be kept within the same food group. For healthy people, the significance of GI is still unclear and general labelling is therefore not recommended. If introduced, labelling should be product-specific and considered on a case-by-case basis.

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