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.
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
The 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:
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?
Unfortunately, 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 a sample meal plan 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!