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The glycemic index (GI) is a way of measuring the rate at which carbohydrates are broken down and appear in the blood as simple sugars. In general, the more refined and processed the food, the faster the food is broken down and the higher the GI.
High GI foods act rapidly to influence blood sugar, providing quick energy. However, this energy is usually short lived and hunger soon returns, potentially leading to overeating and weight gain.
Low GI foods effect blood sugar more slowly and steadily. These foods provide greater satiety and longer lasting, more consistent energy, making eating less (and maintaining weight) easier.
A number of websites provide free databases of glycemic index values. Here is one of the more established, comprehensive ones:
Another website - designed by the University of Sydney - provides a searchable database where you can search by food name, glycemic index, or glycemic load:
http://www.glycemicindex.com/ (Select the GI database link from the left-hand menu)
Glycemic load (GL)
To calculate glycemic load (GL) for a product, you first have to know the glycemic index (GI) and have the product's label available. The label should list the total carbohydrates, fiber, and sugar in the product.
First, take the GI and divide it by 100. We'll refer to this answer as "A."
Next, subtract the amount of fiber (in grams) from the amount of total carbohydrates (also in grams). Fiber is not digested, so it does not contribute to blood glucose. We'll refer to this number as "B."
Last, multiply "A" times "B" to find GI load. For example:
* The Dutch Chocolate Nutrimeal has a GI of 23. 23/100 = 0.23, so A = 0.23.
* Total carbohydrates minus fiber is 24 (total carbs = 32 grams, fiber = 8 grams, 32 - 8 = 24), so B = 24.
* Thus, the glycemic load is A x B, or 0.23 x 24 = 5.52.
This formula can be used on any product with a complete nutrition label and a known GI.