Is Sugar Bad For You? Part 2: Glycemically Balanced Eating

Is Sugar Bad For You? Part 2: Glycemically Balanced Eating

Posted on: November 19, 2018


In my last post,  Is Sugar Bad For You?, I basically investigated whether sugar was bad for you: and the short answer was YESSSSS! 

To see the reasons why, and what the health dangers of eating too many sweet foods were, (and there were so, so many), click on the link above to check out that post.

So let’s just move forward with the idea that sugary foods, especially processed/packaged foods, are not great for overall health.

Given that knowledge:

  • Does it really matter what type of sugar we eat?
  • Does it matter what type of fruits and vegetables we eat?
  • Does it matter if we eat grains?

If you’re trying to lose weight, or if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetes, it actually might matter what types of fruits, veggies, and grains you consume. (Notice I didn’t say which type of sweetener; that’s a different topic, which I’ll cover in my next post.)

If I had to make a blanket statement about grains, I’d say:

  • Avoid white, processed grains (such as white flour products and white rice).
  •  Stick to whole grains, such as whole wheat, spelt, buckwheat, oats, barley, brown rice and quinoa (which is a seed and a grain).

The aforementioned whole grains are all lower in sugar and higher in fibre than refined grains.  Whole grains are sometimes referred to as “slow burning carbs.Why? The fibre in whole grains means they don’t digest as quickly as simple carbs, so they keep you feeling full longer. Feeling full = less snacking! 

If you haven’t been eating whole grains over refined grains, and start now, you’ll see a difference in your weight, energy levels, and maybe even mood. Trust me on this one!

(I know some of you avoid grains completely, and I personally do not choose to go that route, but we can have that whopper of a discussion another day.)

What about fruits and vegetables?

Are all fruits and veggies equal?

Some foods, even healthy fruits and vegetables, are higher in sugar than others, and if you’re trying to lose weight or reduce your overall sugars, you may want to pay attention to how much sugar the foods you are eating contain.  


This is a numerical scale that measures how a carbohydrate affects your blood sugar. The higher a particular food is on the index, the faster that food causes an increase in your blood sugar levels.

Foods that are lower on the glycemic index release sugars into the bloodstream slowly, while foods that are higher on the index release sugars faster and can cause insulin spikes (see Part 1 of this post for why this is not a good thing!).

The scale works like this:

  • foods with a GI of >70 are considered high;
  • foods with a GI of 56-69 are moderate;
  • foods that are <55 are low on the scale.

Here are some examples:

  • White bread has a GI of 71
  • White rice is 66
  • Table Sugar is 63
  • Honey is 58
  • Oats are 55
  • Maple Syrup is 54
  • An Apple is 39
  • Spinach is 15

So, this is all fine.

Except, some nutrition experts think that the Glycemic Index does not offer the whole picture, and it may lead people to avoid certain foods unnecessarily, because they think those foods will cause a dramatic blood sugar/insulin spike  – when they actually won’t – because they have a low glycemic load.

Some foods are high on the glycemic index BUT do not have a high glycemic load.  

What does this mean? And also, what’s Glycemic Load?

Well, the Glycemic Index tells you how quickly food will digest and turn to sugar in your bloodstream, but the Glycemic LOAD tells you how much sugar (or carbohydrate) is actually in that food.

This can be an important distinction!

The Glycemic Load of a food MAY be a better indicator of the way that food will affect your blood sugar levels.

The GL scale runs like this:

  • <10 is low
  • 10-20 is moderate
  • >20 is high

If you were trying to lower your sugars, you would want to eat more foods on the lower end of the Glycemic Load scale.

Let’s look at some examples to break this down: 

Watermelon has a high Glycemic Index of 72. That sounds high.

But wait! Watermelon actually isn’t made up of that much carbohydrate, as its Glycemic Load is only around 7, because watermelon is mostly water!  Thus, it will not really cause a drastic sugar spike when consumed. Yay for watermelon! 

Carrots are another great example of a food people will avoid because of its high GI (71); but the GL of a carrot is only 6! So munch away, little bunnies!

OK. So given this glycemic load info, what should you eat?

You can avoid most of the confusion by just eating a variety of different coloured vegetables, some fresh fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains. Done!

Cutting out processed and packaged foods will eliminate a ton of your sugar woes.

But if you WANT to get detailed and specific about it, here’s some more complex advice:

In terms of veggies, in general, go to town! Some veggies do have higher nutritional content than others, (think superfoods, like, yep, you guessed it, kale, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts).

It’s a good idea, however, if you are concerned about sugars and weight loss, not to have a ton of high Glycemic Load foods at one meal.

A potato has a GL of 20, while kale has a GL of 2. I’m trying not to go overboard pushing the kale on you right now, but it really advertises itself here. 

Root vegetables tend to contain more sugars than greens, so be careful not to over consume root veggies (1 serving a day is fine).

*IF you’re trying to lose weight, a good idea might be to have a tuber/starchy/root veg INSTEAD of a grain rather than in addition to a grain with your meal.*

I’m not saying don’t eat grains. I’m saying IF you’re having brown rice with dinner, rather than have a potato with that rice, have a spinach salad and broccoli (GL of 3) …and a lean protein!

In terms of fruits, eat them! With a caveat.

If you’re trying lose weight,  you still probably don’t want to exceed 2-4 servings of fruits a day (one serving would be a ½ a cup of berries, or one banana, or 1 medium apple, or 1 medium peach, or ½ cup of pineapple).  

Berries and citrus fruits are lower in sugar and higher in fibre than some other fruits, so they are good options to choose more often. Don’t avoid all the other fruits, though. They all have their star qualities and deserve some love.

Take pineapple.  Pineapple, despite it’s higher sugar content, is a superstar because it has important enzymes that aid in digestion. Aaaaand it’s high in vitamin C, thiamin, and manganese. Superstar!

The bottom line: if you’re trying to lose weight, do your research. Find out which foods have a lower Glycemic Load and eat these foods more often.

Sweet Potatoes have a glycemic load of 22…but they are high in carotenoids and fibre!

Now, there are times when we just want a sweet treat and fruit is not going to cut it. I get it. That’s why dessert was invented. Some of you may be like me.  I love to bake, and I HAVE A SWEET TOOTH!

I’m yelling that last part because it’s really important to me that I don’t deprive myself of these small pleasures. 

Are there forms of sugar/sweeteners to bake with that are better for us than others?

I’m going to delve into this one in my next post, and share some baking secrets AND my fave granola bar recipe that is much lower in sugar than store bought!