A Glycemic Index Refresher


If you’ve ever done any research into a good “diet” for PCOS, you may have heard the term “low glycemic index.” But just because you’ve heard of it, doesn’t mean you understand what it means! In essence, the glycemic index of a food indicates how much that food will raise a person’s blood sugar. So the higher the glycemic index, the higher and faster it will raise your blood sugar. That is why it is recommended that women with PCOS, who have insulin sensitivity, eat low glycemic index foods.

Sounds easy, right? Well… it’s a little bit more complicated than it sounds. Several factors go into the glycemic index of a food such as fiber content, cooking method, processing style, and combination of foods consumed. If you were choosing between two foods to eat completely on their own, you could pretty easily use it as a tool, such as: a piece of white bread or a piece of whole wheat bread. The whole wheat bread will be higher in fiber (so lower glycemic index) and will therefore not raise your blood sugar as high or as quickly. However, if you were to put some peanut butter and banana on those pieces of bread, things change and the glycemic index of the bread doesn’t matter as much. This is because you would now be eating the carbohydrate (bread) with some fat (peanut butter) and additional fiber (banana). Fat and fiber help to slow digestion, therefore the carbohydrates eaten with them are absorbed more slowly.

Another reason that the glycemic index can be a confusing tool is that some foods that are generally part of a healthy diet, such as sweet potato or watermelon, are considered high glycemic index. And some foods that are high in fat but low in carbohydrate but would generally be considered less healthy, such as alfredo sauce, are low glycemic index. Clearly it is not a tool to determine which foods are healthy and which are not!

So, when making food choices appropriate for PCOS, it is easier to stick to the following suggestions rather than any specific “diet” or tool:

Reduce refined or processed carbohydrates such as soda, juice, candy, and foods made in large part with white flour and sugar, such as baked goods.

Increase foods high in fiber such as beans, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.

Balance each meal and snack with a variety of nutrients. For meals think of the MyPlate model (half of the plate= fruits and vegetables, half protein and carbohydrate). For snacks try to always pair a protein (cheese stick, peanut butter, nuts, yogurt, egg) with fiber (popcorn, carrot sticks, whole grain crackers, apple).

Healthy eating doesn’t need to be confusing if you follow your body’s hunger and fullness cues and make healthy choices most of the time, but also allow yourself to have treats once in a while!

– Dietitian Katrina