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Diabetes Update: Glycemic Index

Number 13; May 15, 2001

By David Mendosa

This mailing list keeps you up-to-date with new articles, columns, and Web pages that I have written. I list and link most of these on my Diabetes Directory at

From time to time Diabetes Update may also include links to other Web pages of special interest.

Updates include:

  1. Glycemic Index
    There's nothing on my Web site that draws more visitors (and more e-mail questions) than my articles on the glycemic index. Ever since I reviewed the first Australian edition of The G.I. Factor by Jennie Brand-Miller and her associates at the University of Sydney for Diabetes Interview in August 1996 (online at, Jennie and I have maintained a close albeit long-distance relationship.

    A few days ago I brought to her attention an article in The Washington Post that was critical of the glycemic index concept. That article, by Lawrence Lindner, executive editor of the Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, appeared as "What's Your Number, Sweetie? The Glycemic Index Is Science-Based—and Nearly Impossible to Follow," The Washington Post, May 1, 2001, is online at

    Jennie wrote a brilliant and short—and caustic rebuttal. Too trenchant for the Post, the newspaper has not yet published it and probably never will. It is, however, too good to go unread, and yesterday Jennie authorized me to reproduce her letter here:

    Imagine setting up a system of rating the energy content of foods and assigning a number—let's call them calories, the higher the number, the more energy they contain and the greater their likelihood of causing weight gain. We could use this system to guide food choices to lower energy intake.

    Unfortunately, it's not that simple! The number would not tell us anything about the vitamin, mineral or fiber content. The numbers could be misleading—some highly nutritious foods like nuts and legumes have terribly high numbers (calories), while some nutritionally worthless foods have very low numbers (e.g. diet soda). What's more the numbers are not set in stone—they vary from time to time and just a slight change in the recipe would alter the number drastically. Let's dump the concept—it's way too difficult to follow.

    The worth of any food cannot be measured by a single number, but a single number can tell you a great deal about how the carbohydrate in that food affects blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels are a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dozens of studies have shown improvements in a variety of clinical outcomes with free-living subjects consuming self-selected low glycemic index diets.

    Like the calorie content of food, the glycemic index deserves some consideration. The foods that provide the most carbohydrate in the diet are the ones that need close attention (potatoes, breakfast cereals, breads, soft drinks), not carrots, honey or over-ripe bananas.


    Jennie Brand-Miller PhD
    Associate Professor of Human Nutrition
    University of Sydney, Australia
    Author of The Glucose Revolution, Marlowe and Co., 1999

  2. Poll: iControlDiabetes
    My "About the Internet" column on the American Diabetes Association's Web site for April 15 featured the new iControlDiabetes Web site. At the end of the column is a special bonus for those who make it all the way through: a free membership to iControlDiabetes without having to go through a doctor or HMO. I mentioned the bonus in the column and in the April 16 issue of this newsletter—and nowhere else.

    Yesterday CEO Barry Sender of iControlDiabetes told me that 800 people had accepted this offer—far more than from any other source. Since many of you were among those who tried out the service, I wonder what you thought of it. Is it easy? Valuable? Do you continue to use it?

    Just write me in any form you like at [email protected].

    I send out Diabetes Update e-mail in HTML format, which all Web browsers and most modern e-mail programs can display. HTML has live links to all the sites named in the text so that with a simple click of a mouse you can connect to the site you have just been reading about.

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