Is the glycemic index a better tool than carbohydrate counting?

Amy Campbell
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

The glycemic index is a tool used to help fine-tune blood glucose control. It's generally used in conjunction with a meal planning approach, such as carb counting. The glycemic index is a ranking of carbohydrate foods based on how fast and how much they raise blood glucose. But you still need to control the amount of carb that you eat, so that's where carb counting comes in. Just because a food has a low glycemic index doesn't mean you can eat as much of it as you want - remember, the total amount of carb that you eat still counts!

There is no one diet or meal plan that works for everyone with diabetes. The important thing is to follow a meal plan that is tailored to personal preferences and lifestyle and helps achieve goals for blood glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides levels, blood pressure, and weight management.
Research shows that both the amount and the type of carbohydrate in food affect blood glucose levels. Studies also show that the total amount of carbohydrate in food, in general, is a stronger predictor of blood glucose response than the glycemic index (GI).
Based on the research, for most people with diabetes, the first tool for managing blood glucose is some type of carbohydrate counting. Balancing total carbohydrate intake with physical activity and diabetes pills or insulin (if needed) is vital to managing blood glucose levels.
Because the type of carbohydrate does have an effect on blood glucose, using the GI may be helpful in "fine-tuning" blood glucose management. In other words, combined with carbohydrate counting, it may provide an additional benefit for achieving blood glucose goals for individuals who can and want to put extra effort into monitoring their food choices.

Continue Learning about Diabetes


Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.