Glycemia and the Glucose in Your Blood

blood glucose test
Testing blood glucose to find out how food affects blood sugar. Mark Hatfield/E+/Getty Images

Glycemic literally means "causing glucose (sugar) in the blood." Blood glucose levels are closely related to the amount and type of carbohydrates consumed. Glycemia is the related noun meaning glucose or sugar in the blood. High-glycemic foods can cause a rise in blood glucose, which can last for a longer time in the blood. Low-glycemic foods can cause a small blood sugar increase that usually does not last as long.

Glycemic Control and Diabetes

For those who have diabetes, glycemic control is a primary goal. People who are predisposed to getting diabetes, those with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance or reactive hypoglycemia also have health improvements if blood sugar is more or less stable.

Appetite Control

Another good reason to keep blood sugar stable is appetite control. It has been shown in research studies that people are hungrier when eating high-glycemic carbohydrates compared to eating the same amount of carbs that are less glycemic.

Glycemic Index

Foods with a lot of sugar tend to be very glycemic. Also, starches in foods such as potatoes, bread, and grain products are made of long strings of glucose, so these foods can be as much or even more glycemic than sugary foods. The more processed a food is, the more glycemic it will be. For example, instant oatmeal in packets is more glycemic than quick-cooking oats, which in turn are more glycemic than steel-cut oats.

The glycemic index can give us ideas about which foods will raise blood sugar more. This measure can give us hints about how much a food will raise blood sugar, but there are a lot of variables and are not pinpoint accurate.

Concerns with the glycemic index:

  • Single food items, rather than combinations of foods, can impact blood sugar differently
  • Does not take into account other variables that affect blood sugar, such as how food is prepared or how much is eaten
  • Only includes foods that contain carbohydrates
  • Does not rank foods based on nutrient content, such as foods low on the index may be high in calories, sugar or saturated fat.

It can be difficult to follow the glycemic index. For one thing, there is no standard for what is considered low-, moderate- and high-glycemic foods. Packaged foods do not list their glycemic ranking on the label, and it can be hard to estimate what it might be.

Basic principles of healthy eating, portion control, and counting carbohydrates are all ways to help you better manage and control your blood sugar. 

Foods That Rank High and Low on the Glycemic Index

There are glycemic index food lists that can help you learn more about the glycemic index of various foods and discern which foods might be better choices for you. The following table has examples of foods that rank high and low on the glycemic index.

High Glycemic Foods Low Glycemic Foods



Rice cakes

Most commercial cereals


Sugar-sweetened drinks




Ripe bananas

Baked goods and other products made with flour



Soy foods

Foods high in fats such as nuts, avocados, and oils



Steel-cut oats

Other grains cooked whole

Non-starchy vegetables



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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Kirpitch AR, Maryniuk MD. The 3 Rs of Glycemic Index: Recommendations, Research, and the Real WorldClinical Diabetes. 2011;29(4):155-159. doi:10.2337/diaclin.29.4.155

  4. Al Dhaheri, A.S., Al Ma’awali, A.K., Laleye, L.C. The effect of nutritional composition on the glycemic index and glycemic load values of selected Emirati foodsBMC Nutr 1, 4 (2015) doi:10.1186/2055-0928-1-4

  5. Grant SM, Wolever TM. Perceived barriers to application of glycaemic index: valid concerns or lost in translation?Nutrients. 2011;3(3):330–340. doi:10.3390/nu3030330

Additional Reading
  • Mayo Clinic. Glycemic Index: What's Behind the Claims.
  • Mayo Clinic. Is the glycemic index useful for controlling blood sugar if you have diabetes? M. Regina Castro, M.D.
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