Low Glycemic Diet Explained (+ Weekly Meal Plan)

Our low-glycemic diet plan helps you navigate nutrient-dense, tasty, real-food eating with a free 1-week meal plan

Overhead show of a low-glycemic diet plan meal of salmon, green beans, tomatoes, and cous cous
by
Sabrina Tillman
— Signos
Health & Fitness Writer
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Reviewed by

Sabrina Tillman
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 16, 2024
September 20, 2021
— Updated:
April 12, 2022

Table of Contents

What should I eat? All of us have asked ourselves this question, sometimes a few times a day while standing in front of an open refrigerator or, possibly worse, while at the cash register at a fast-casual restaurant without a decisive response.

The best science-supported answer to this question: a low-glycemic meal.

What is the Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index (GI) assigns a number to a food based on how quickly it can raise your blood glucose levels. These carbohydrate-containing foods are ranked on a scale of 0 to 100 and divided into low, medium, and high-glycemic categories:

  • High-glycemic index foods = GI score of 70–100
  • Medium-glycemic index foods = GI score of 50–69
  • Low-glycemic index foods = GI score of 20-49

While a food’s glycemic index is primarily predetermined by its carbohydrate content, it can also be affected by processing and cooking methods. For example, minimally processed whole grains typically have lower GI values than refined grains. If a carbohydrate requires cooking, the temperature, duration of cooking, and cooling and reheating can all affect its GI score.

Foods with a high glycemic index digest rapidly and can cause dramatic fluctuations in blood glucose or glucose spikes.

When you eat a food with a high-glycemic score by itself (without eating any fat, fiber, or protein along with it), you can see your glucose spike in the Signos app. The bigger the area under the curve of the glucose spike, the faster that food raises your blood sugar levels.

The glycemic index of foods can be helpful in discerning simple carbs (one or two sugars linked together; digests quickly and releases sugar into the blood rapidly) from complex carbs (three or more sugars linked together; contains fiber, vitamins, and minerals that make them slower to release sugar into the bloodstream).

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Benefits of Low-Glycemic Diets

Low-glycemic diet (i.e., a low GI diet) is composed of nutrient-dense foods and is associated with a reduced risk of death.1 Low-glycemic diets can help with weight loss by helping you maintain stable blood sugar levels. Low glycemic diets can also help maintain weight loss and prevent weight gain. 

Studies have also shown that a low-GI diet can have additional health benefits, including:

Improved cholesterol levels

One study showed that low-GI diets reduced participants' total cholesterol by 9.6% and LDL cholesterol by 8.6%.5,6 High LDL cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks. 

May reduce the risk of cancer

There is some evidence to suggest that consuming high GI foods are associated with developing certain types of cancer, including colorectal and breast cancer, compared with people who emphasize low GI diets and food choices.7,8

May help you lose weight

More evidence is needed to support the claim that low-GI diets are effective as a long-term weight loss tool; however, there is some evidence that suggests that low-GI diets can promote fat loss.5,9

Could help manage diabetes

A low-GI diet may be helpful for people living with diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that people living with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can manage their carbohydrate intake by utilizing the glycemic index.10

May help with fertility and pregnancy

One small study, consisting of only 26 participants, found that a low-GI, low-calorie diet may benefit those going through in vitro fertilization (IVF).11 The specific diet studied was found to decrease participants’ body fat ranges and BMI, which improved pregnancy outcomes. However, more research is needed in this area. 

Downsides of a Low-Glycemic Diet

It is important to consider that a low-glycemic index diet may not be the best for you. Not all low-GI foods are considered healthy food choices and may cause an individual to eat foods that are higher in fat and salt. 

Additionally, the glycemic index does not take into account portion size. Indiviudals considering this eating style should incorporate it into their overall wellness plan, which should also include movement and prioritizing whole foods.

Low-Glycemic Foods to Eat on a Low-GI Diet

What can you eat on a low-glycemic diet? All low GI foods qualify, but try to pick whole foods versus processed ones.

The list of low GI foods that follows isn't exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of which carbohydrate and non-carbohydrate foods are low glycemic. Try to minimize medium GI foods and high GI foods as much as possible.

Bread

  • Sprouted bread/grains
  • Whole wheat tortilla
  • Almond flour

Fruit

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Avocado
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries (whole)
  • Coconut
  • Cucumber
  • Grapefruit
  • Passion fruit
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Prunes
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Tangerines
  • Tomatoes

Vegetables

  • Asparagus
  • Artichoke
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots (raw have the lowest glycemic index)
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Greens
  • Leeks
  • Peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini
Close up shot of artichokes, a low-glycemic vegetable, with long green stems and purple and green leaves

Legumes

  • Black-eyed peas, a low-glycemic legume, in a clear spoon with some scattered underneath
  • Beans and legumes are low glycemic foods and an excellent source of fiber and protein
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Black beans
  • Butter beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Green beans
  • Hummus
  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima beans
  • Navy beans
  • Peanuts
  • Snap peas
  • Snow peas

<p class="pro-tip">Read more: Health Benefits of Beans and Legumes</p>

Pasta and noodles

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Hearts of palm noodles
  • Shirataki noodles
  • Lentil pasta
  • Chickpea pasta

Rice

  • Black rice

Grains

  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Farro
  • Quinoa
  • Rolled oats
  • Steel-cut oats

Dairy and dairy replacements

  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Plain cottage cheese
  • Plain kefir
  • Plain yogurt
  • Unsweetened almond, coconut, soy milks (look for simple ingredient lists)

Fats

  • Olives are a source of healthy fat and low glycemic
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Olives
  • Avocado, coconut, olive oils
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sunflower seeds

Fish

  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Tuna
  • Sardines

Other meats

  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Pork
  • Red meat
  • Shellfish
  • Soy
  • Tempeh

Nuts

  • Almonds
  • Hazelnuts
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts

Herbs and Spices

  • All-spice
  • Cardamom
  • Cinnamon
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Cumin
  • Paprika
  • Allulose
  • Monk fruit
  • Stevia

Foods Not Included in a Low Glycemic Diet

Bread

  • White bread
  • Bagels
  • Naan

Breakfast Cereals

  • Instant oats
  • Processed cereals such as corn flakes, froot loops, etc.

Vegetables

  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Red Pontiac potatoes

Fruits

  • Watermelon

Rice

  • Jasmine rice
  • Arborio rice
  • White rice and brown rice: however, the GI score depends on many factors including cook time, grain size, and preparation methods.

Snacks

  • Doughnuts
  • Cupcakes
  • Cookies
  • Waffles
  • Pretzels
  • Corn chips
  • Fruit juice with added sugars

Dairy products

  • Rice milk
  • Oat milk

7-Day Low Glycemic Diet Meal Plan

Let's turn these bulleted lists into an action plan. Now that you know about popular low-GI foods, you can start putting together an eating strategy. Let our low-glycemic eating plan below inspire you to build a template of your favorite low-glycemic recipes to make each week.

General daily calorie guidelines are 1,800–2,000 for women and 2,300–2,500 for men, depending on age, activity level, metabolism, etc. For those who would like to lose weight, general calorie guidelines are 1,500 per day for women and 1,800 per day for men. 

This meal plan is based on about 1,500 calories per day because it gives you an idea of all you can eat in the lowest calorie bracket. Adjust the servings, calories, macros, and foods to suit your preferences or needs.


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References

References

  1. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/article-abstract/2783625
  2. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/13/4/1086
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8019730/
  4. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cob.12188
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22841185/
  6. De Rougemont, A., Normand, S., Nazare, J., Skilton, M., Sothier, M., Vinoy, S., & Laville, M. (2007). Beneficial effects of a 5-week low-glycaemic index regimen on weight control and cardiovascular risk factors in overweight non-diabetic subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, 98(6), 1288-1298. doi:10.1017/S0007114507778674
  7. Sieri, S., Agnoli, C., Pala, V. et al. Dietary glycemic index, glycemic load, and cancer risk: results from the EPIC-Italy study. Sci Rep 7, 9757 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-09498-2
  8. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/87/3/627/4633329
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7019781/
  10. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/meal-plan-method.html
  11. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/102/6/1365/4555192?itm_medium=sidebar&itm_content=ajcn&itm_source=trendmd-widget&itm_campaign=trendmd-pilot

About the author

Sabrina has more than 20 years of experience writing, editing, and leading content teams in health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness. She is the former managing editor at MyFitnessPal.

View Author Bio

Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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