Proof that Some Carbs are Good for You

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Glycemic load is a measurement of how carbohydrates impact blood sugar, specifically post-meal sugar spikes. For example, pinto beans have a glycemic load that’s three times lower than white potatoes. This means that, gram for gram, pinto beans cause less of a sugar surge.

Glycemic load is important to consider when trying to manage and control sugar metabolism — which is the ultimate goal for diabetics. Why? Because with large sugar spikes there’s a greater risk for insulin resistance — the hallmark of type 2 diabetes.

But new research is showing additional benefits of a low glycemic-load diet. It turns out that carbohydrates with a low glycemic load can also lower inflammation and boost blood levels of adiponectin. Let’s take a look at each one.

Slowly Digested Carbs Reduce Inflammation

In a controlled, randomized feeding study involving 80 men and women — half of normal weight and half overweight or obese — a low glycemic diet in overweight and obese participants reduced levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, by 22%.1

Lead author and member of the Cancer Prevention Program in Seattle, Marian Neuhouser said, "This finding is important and clinically useful since C-reactive protein is associated with an increased risk for many cancers as well as cardiovascular disease. Showing that a low-glycemic-load diet can improve health is important for the millions of Americans who are overweight or obese."

This supports the research conducted at the University of Toronto. Dr. Masters and colleagues concluded that whole grains with low glycemic load — like quinoa, bulgur wheat, barley, oats, rye — lower CRP and are helpful in treating different types of inflammatory conditions like arthritis.2

So far, so good. But now it gets really interesting. Neuhouser’s team identified a key hormone affected by low glycemic carbs, which is called adiponectin.

Low Glycemic Carbs Increase Adiponectin

Neuhouser’s team also found that among overweight and obese participants, a low-glycemic-load diet increased the hormone adiponectin by 5%. Granted, this is a modest increase, but any increase in this powerful hormone will have positive effects.

We call adiponectin a command signal. It’s produced and released by fat cells and has profound effects on insulin sensitivity. It’s also been shown to have anti-atherosclerotic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic roles.3-6

Basically, as adiponectin levels increase, insulin sensitivity improves. The result is better sugar metabolism. All of this from complex carbs? Who knew!

The Type of Carb You Eat Makes a Huge Difference

Yes, you can eat carbs — just make sure they’re the right kind — those with a low glycemic load. In Neuhouser’s study, high-glycemic load carbohydrates were identified as:

  • Low in fiber
  • Highly processed
  • Canned syrups
  • White flour
Don’t eat carbs like this. Instead, eat low glycemic-load carbohydrates. Dr. Neuhouser describes such carbs as:

  • High in fiber
  • No to little processing
  • Whole grains and oats
  • Not white
By the way, this was a well-designed feeding study. All participants were given identical diets in terms of carbohydrate content, calories and macronutrients. All food was provided by the Hutchinson Center's Human Nutrition Laboratory, and study participants maintained weight and physical activity throughout the study. The diets only differed in glycemic load — high versus low.

Neuhouser is confident in saying, "Because the two diets differed only by glycemic load, we can infer that the changes we observed in important biomarkers were due to diet alone.”

The Right Carbs to Eat – Low Glycemic Load

Here’s a list of carbs with the lowest glycemic load. These are the carbs to eat and enjoy.

Carbohydrate Glycemic Load
Oat Bran 8
Bulgur 12
Rye 13
Buckwheat 14
Couscous 18
Quinoa 18
Barley 19
Spelt 21
Amaranth 21
Rolled Oats 25

Please note: The values shown are from Each number is based on one cooked serving. Most experts consider a low glycemic load to be less than 25.

Glycemic Load versus Glycemic Index

Remember, glycemic load is a measurement of immediate blood sugar impact — the higher the number, the greater the impact. This is different from glycemic index which is a measurement of sugar content.

A great example that clearly shows how the two are different is watermelon. Take a look at each measurement below:

  • Watermelon’s glycemic index = 71
  • Watermelon’s glycemic load = 3
You see, even though watermelon has a lot of sugar, as indicated by its high glycemic index, it’s immediate impact on blood sugar is low because each bite is still mostly water.

So eat away … well, at least eat within limits. As we know, overeating anything is never a good idea. However, since these low glycemic load carbs can help ease inflammation and improve sugar metabolism, they’re certainly worth working into your diet.


  1. J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):587-94.
  2. J Nutr. 2010 Mar;140(3):587-94.
  3. Atheroscler Suppl. 2005 May;6(2):7-14.
  4. Int J Cardiol. 2008 May 7;126(1):53-61.
  5. Clin Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):963-74.
  6. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2003 Sep;5(5):349-53.


Anonymous said...

This was a very informative article UNTIL I saw that you included couscous as a grain at which time all credibility comes into question...

LifeExtension said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

Post a Comment

All Contents Copyright © 2019 Life Extension® All rights reserved.
Privacy Notice | Terms of Use
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other health care professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. You should not use the information on this site for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem or for prescription of any medication or other treatment. You should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, exercise or supplementation program, before taking any medication, or if you have or suspect you might have a health problem. You should not stop taking any medication without first consulting your physician.