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Your PCOS Diet: Glycemic Index vs Glycemic Load

Every week I put together meal plans specifically designed for women with PCOS. I’ve also already mentioned in previous articles that I think we need a PCOS diet that aims to manage our insulin levels as this will help us to keep our testosterone levels in check.

One of the ways we can keep our insulin levels more stable is by looking at the Glycemic Load of the foods we’re eating. I can hear you asking already, “What about Glycemic Index?” We’ll get into the nuts and bolts of both and I’ll give you some helpful hints on how you can use the glycemic load to help you keep your PCOS under control.

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The Glycemic Index

The Glycemic Index (GI) measures how quickly your blood sugars will rise after eating a specific food (1). So, the lower GI foods will cause a lower rise in blood sugar. If your blood sugars rise slowly, your insulin levels will also rise slowly. If your insulin levels rise slowly and don’t spike, your testosterone levels will be better controlled.

This is why the GI Diet is often recommended for women with PCOS. There is just one problem. GI doesn’t take into account how many carbohydrates you eat. So, you could eat something like Fettucine pasta which has a GI value of 36 (2) (considered to be low GI) but you may eat 100g of the pasta. That will cause your blood sugars and insulin to rise quite high, even though you’re eating a low GI food.

This is where the Glycemic Load (GL) comes in…

The Glycemic Load

GL vs GI pastaThe GL not only looks at the Glycemic Index of a food, but also how much of that food you are actually eating. I think it gives you a better measure of what food is likely to do to your blood sugars and therefore your insulin levels.

Let’s have another look at the Fettucine example. Bear with me because we are going get mathematical. Here is a recipe for Fettucine Alfredo (we’re going to ignore all of the dairy content we shouldn’t have anyway). The GI of fettucine is 36, but in the recipe, you’ll eat 71g of carbohydrates. So, here is the formula for working out the GL value:

(GI x g of carbs) / 100 = GL (3)

So the GL of the fettucine alfredo is (36 x 71) / 100 = 25.6 (not to mention the carbs from all of the other ingredients).

That’s going to cause a huge rise is your blood sugar levels and testosterone, even though fettucine technically has a low GI.

Anything with a GL of 20 or above is considered high, 11-19 is medium and 1-10 is low. So, we’re aiming to keep the Glycemic load of our meals under 20, at least.

Using the Glycemic Load as part of your PCOS Diet

So, hopefully you can see now why I think the glycemic load is an important tool to use as part of your PCOS Diet plan. Interestingly, a recent study also found that overweight women with PCOS who followed a lower calorie diet with a low glycemic load had better insulin sensitivity than those who followed a lower calorie diet alone (4). Sounds all good and well but how the heck do you work out the Glycemic load of your meals?

GL vs GI heartUnfortunately, there isn’t a super easy way as yet. Here is quite a comprehensive table of the GI value and GL

value of a lot of food items. This could prove a really useful resource that you could print out and put on your fridge as a quick reference guide.

If, however, you’re using a recipe and eating more than one type of food containing carbs (eg: a roast with sweet potatoes, brown rice and peas), you may need something a little more sophisticated. There is a great resource at www.nutritiondata.com that allows you to enter all of the ingredients in your recipe as well as quantity and it will automatically work out the GL of your meal. I must just warn you of two things:

  • It’s a tedious task but provides invaluable information.
  • The site is very buggy at the moment and doesn’t work as it should, so you have to keep refreshing the page to get the information you need.

With that being said, it is still the best site that I have come across and gives you the most thorough nutritional information.

And finally, without giving you a huge sales pitch, all of the meal plans that I design on a weekly basis look at the carbohydrate content and glycemic load of every recipe, making sure that they are in fact PCOS friendly and have a reasonable GL value. You can check out the Monthly Membership and meal plans here.

Summing it Up

So, to sum it all up, then, the GL value of a meal or food takes the GI and quantity of carbs into account and is a better indicator of the effect food will have on your blood sugars than the GI on it’s own. That’s why I think it’s an essential tool to use as part of your PCOS Diet plan.

If you know of any other way of measuring the GL of meals or if you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear from you! Leave me a comment below!

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

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18 Responses

18 Responses

  1. I really just don’t understand the GI and GL = how do I determine these things on a daily basis? Is there something on the labels to look for or just a general rule to go by?

  2. I was diagnosed with PCOS about a month ago. I am still learning about it and find things very confusing. I am on Metformin and I am not exactly a fan. Can I start trying this diet plan while on Metformin? I find if I don’t eat a heavier breakfast the Metformin hurts more. Also I have GERD and am unable to digest a lot of nuts or lettuce so salads are out of the question. Will I still be able to do this with the diet restrictions I already have? I also have low thyroid. I have also found that my hear races what seems to be randomly and I have recently read somewhere that there is a connection with PCOS and a racing heart/palpitations. Has anyone else experienced this too? I apologize for all the questions I am very new to all of this. Thank you!

    1. I am on 500mg of Metformin for PCOS, and I agree that it is not ideal. I also have a racing heart at times, I have never heard of it being related to PCOS but interesting that you are experiencing that as well.

      1. Hey there! I have had PCOS for 8 years. I also have issues with a racing heart but have never found anyone that experiences this also!

  3. Hi Tarryn,
    I don’t know how else to contact you so I thought I’d just leave a comment here, I would like to know on whether coconut oil is good for pcos patient or not as I’m a big believer in coconut oil, I have done some research on it and it says that is good for pcos patient but I thought I’d ask you since it is high in saturated fat, please let me know, thank you

    1. In all my research coconut oil is just fine for women with PCOS. I’ve even read things like eating up to 1/4 C. a day to help with hormone balancing. In my opinion its NOT a problem at all!!

  4. Hi Taryn,
    I’m part of your support group and I’ve gone to buy your meal plan several times.
    The things holding me back is:
    I do not eat red meat or tofu. The only part of the chicken I eat is chicken breast and I also eat seafood.
    I am aiming to eat Low GI (load!), gluten and dairy free.
    Thank you – I hope you continue to grow and expand your site and I would consider buying meal plans or maybe even an “e-book” recipe book (i.e. one on chicken, one on meat – or all combined?) with GI loads listed, dairy and gluten free etc. A lot of work I know – just an idea
    Mel

  5. Is there a calculator or diet app that will help us to figure this all out? I am already having enough trouble going gluten and dairy free. Trying to know if this is edible or I am getting things right seems even more complicated now.

  6. Thank you so so much. Excellent breakdown and explanation. Since I’m the only one in my family on this diet it is often hard to explain why I’m doing what I’m doing and why – This really cleared thing up for me and gives me a better understanding.

    Michelle

  7. Tarryn, So How many carbs should we be taking in a day? And also is there a specific number our GL should be per meal?
    Thanks,
    Nancy

    1. Hi Nancy,

      I try to stay as close to 100g per day as possible and any meal with a GL over 20 is too high. The lower GL, the better. I hope that helps!

      Tarryn

  8. Hi all
    i need to know that have any of u any problem with the digestion along the pcos?
    bcoz i am experiencing a lot of burping after eating any thing even if it is a salad and especially after a meal?
    DEAR TARRYN
    can you please answer that why is it (is it because of pcos? i m diagnosed of pcos a month before )? what i can do to solve this burping problem actually it is very embarrassing and hard to control burping.
    thanks

  9. Hi Claire,

    Thanks so much for your enthusiasm for the site. I love getting positive feedback like this, it helps me move forward 

    To answer your question. I’m busy re-looking at how meal plans are distributed in the package for this very reason (serving both southern and northern hemispheres). At the moment, the best I can do is send you what I have in the way of previous meal plans if you had to sign up. Not sure if this works for you?

    Have a lovely weekend!

    Tarryn

  10. Hi Tarryn,

    Thanks for providing this site Tarryn, it really is so useful. I belong to a support group and I have provided the details of your site to them because it really is the best resource I have seen.

    My question is, if we sign up to your meal plans, can we choose what “season” we start with? I say this because I am reading your blogs from New Zealand and obviously what fruit and vege are in season for you are NOT for me. If there is an option to pick up your meal plans at a 6 month delay – I would be much more inclined to sign up to the full shebang of your site. 🙂

    thanks
    Claire

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