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Perspective: The Glycemic Index Falls Short as a Carbohydrate Food Quality Indicator to Improve Diet Quality

Jill Nicholls


This perspective examines the utility of the glycemic index (GI) as a carbohydrate quality indicator to improve Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) adherence and diet quality. Achieving affordable, high-quality dietary patterns can address multiple nutrition and health priorities. Carbohydrate-containing foods make important energy, macronutrient, micronutrient, phytochemical, and bioactive contributions to dietary patterns, thus improving carbohydrate food quality may improve diet quality. Following DGA guidance helps meet nutrient needs, achieve good health, and reduce risk for diet-related non-communicable diseases in healthy people, yet adherence by Americans is low. A simple indicator that identifies high-quality carbohydrate foods and improves food choice may improve DGA adherence, but there is no consensus on a definition. The GI is a measure of the ability of the available carbohydrate in a food to increase blood glucose. The GI is well established in research literature and popular resources, and some have called for including the GI on food labels and in food-based dietary guidelines. The GI has increased understanding about physiological responses to carbohydrate-containing foods, yet its role in food-based dietary guidance and diet quality is unresolved. A one-dimensional indicator like the GI runs the risk of being interpreted to mean foods are “good” or “bad,” and it does not characterize the multiple contributions of carbohydrate-containing foods to diet quality, including nutrient density, a core concept in the DGA. New ways to define and communicate carbohydrate food quality shown to help improve adherence to high-quality dietary patterns such as described in the DGA would benefit public health.

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  1. Nicholls J (2022) Perspective: The Glycemic Index Falls Short as a Carbohydrate Food Quality Indicator to Improve Diet Quality. Front. Nutr. 9:896333. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.896333
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