Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes

Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Jul;76(1):274S-80S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/76/1.274S.


The possibility that high, long-term intake of carbohydrates that are rapidly absorbed as glucose may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes has been a long-standing controversy. Two main mechanisms have been hypothesized, one mediated by increases in insulin resistance and the other by pancreatic exhaustion as a result of the increased demand for insulin. During the past decade, several lines of evidence have collectively provided strong support for a relation between such diets and diabetes incidence. In animals and in short-term human studies, a high intake of carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (a relative measure of the incremental glucose response per gram of carbohydrate) produced greater insulin resistance than did the intake of low-glycemic-index carbohydrates. In large prospective epidemiologic studies, both the glycemic index and the glycemic load (the glycemic index multiplied by the amount of carbohydrate) of the overall diet have been associated with a greater risk of type 2 diabetes in both men and women. Conversely, a higher intake of cereal fiber has been consistently associated with lower diabetes risk. In diabetic patients, evidence from medium-term studies suggests that replacing high-glycemic-index carbohydrates with a low-glycemic-index forms will improve glycemic control and, among persons treated with insulin, will reduce hypoglycemic episodes. These dietary changes, which can be made by replacing products made with white flour and potatoes with whole-grain, minimally refined cereal products, have also been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and can be an appropriate component of recommendations for an overall healthy diet.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / diet therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diet therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / classification
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Food / classification*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Risk Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Carbohydrates