Manage Your Blood Sugar Better with the Insulin Index

Patient Expert

The Insulin Index is broader than the Glycemic Index, which shows the effect of carbohydrates in our blood sugar. The newer Insulin Index takes into account not just carbohydrate but also of all the dietary factors and their interactions that influence insulin demand.

Most of the current research on the Glycemic Index and essentially all of it on the Insulin Index comes from Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller and her laboratories in Australia. Among her other titles, she is a professor of molecular biosciences and director of the Sydney University Glycemic Index Research Service. I’ve known her for more than 20 years, and we wrote my first book, What Makes My Blood Glucose Go Up…and Down? together."¨

The original article that I published back in 2003 on the Insulin Index included only 38 foods that Dr. Brand-Miller and her colleagues studied then. Yet few of my older articles generated more interest than this limited study.

The most interesting finding of that early study, published in a 1997 issue of  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was that foods rich in protein and baked foods rich in fat and refined carbohydrates elicited “insulin responses that were disproportionately higher than their glycemic responses.”

Now 18 years later, the Insulin Index includes 120 foods in 1000 kJ servings. This study confirms that the Insulin Index of these foods eaten alone and in mixed meals better predicts the insulin demand than either the Glycemic Index or the Glycemic Load (which measures the effect of the glycemic index of a food multiplied by its available carbohydrate content in grams in a standard serving).

You Can See the Entire List Here

This greatly expanded list of foods tested for their Insulin Index is freely available online. The Glycemic Index, the Glycemic Load, and the Insulin Index for these 120 foods are in Table 1. I found it to be too difficult to read online, but printed it out and studied it on paper.

The five foods highest in their Insulin Index are:

  • Jellybeans, 117
  • The Aunt Jemima Original Pancake & Waffle Mix, 110
  • Honeydew melon, 93
  • Boiled russet potatoes, 88
  • Baked beans, 88

No big surprises, except for the baked beans, which has an Insulin Index exactly twice as high as its Glycemic Index. But all of these foods are high in carbohydrates.

Foods that Are Much Higher in Their Insulin Index

Several foods in addition to baked beans have an Insulin Index that is at least twice as high as their Glycemic Index. I exclude here a few foods that have quite low indexes:

  • Low-fat strawberry yogurt, Insulin Index 84, Glycemic Index 31
  • Skim milk, 60, 29
  • Kraft low-fat processed cheese, 42, 10
  • Low-fat cottage cheese, 52, 10
  • Reduced fat cottage cheese, 40, 10
  • 93% fat-free cheddar cheese, 20, 0

Each of these foods are high in protein. Previously we have known that protein has a moderate influence on the glycemic index, while fat has no influence.

Dairy is the Difference

The conclusion that I draw from the expanded Insulin Index reinforces part of the findings from the original 1997 study: we need to take into account the protein in dairy products.

Cheese, milk, and yogurt stimulate a rise in our blood sugar that is considerably more than predicted by the glycemic index alone.

See more of my articles about how to manage diabetes:

The Insulin Index

Comparing the Insulin and Glycemic Indexes_

The Glycemic Index Still Matters for Diabetes_