Estimating the reliability of glycemic index values and potential sources of methodological and biological variability

Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Oct;104(4):1004-1013. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.137208. Epub 2016 Sep 7.


Background: The utility of glycemic index (GI) values for chronic disease risk management remains controversial. Although absolute GI value determinations for individual foods have been shown to vary significantly in individuals with diabetes, there is a dearth of data on the reliability of GI value determinations and potential sources of variability among healthy adults.

Objective: We examined the intra- and inter-individual variability in glycemic response to a single food challenge and methodologic and biological factors that potentially mediate this response.

Design: The GI value for white bread was determined by using standardized methodology in 63 volunteers free from chronic disease and recruited to differ by sex, age (18-85 y), and body mass index [BMI (in kg/m2): 20-35]. Volunteers randomly underwent 3 sets of food challenges involving glucose (reference) and white bread (test food), both providing 50 g available carbohydrates. Serum glucose and insulin were monitored for 5 h postingestion, and GI values were calculated by using different area under the curve (AUC) methods. Biochemical variables were measured by using standard assays and body composition by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry.

Results: The mean ± SD GI value for white bread was 62 ± 15 when calculated by using the recommended method. Mean intra- and interindividual CVs were 20% and 25%, respectively. Increasing sample size, replication of reference and test foods, and length of blood sampling, as well as AUC calculation method, did not improve the CVs. Among the biological factors assessed, insulin index and glycated hemoglobin values explained 15% and 16% of the variability in mean GI value for white bread, respectively.

Conclusions: These data indicate that there is substantial variability in individual responses to GI value determinations, demonstrating that it is unlikely to be a good approach to guiding food choices. Additionally, even in healthy individuals, glycemic status significantly contributes to the variability in GI value estimates. This trial was registered at as NCT01023646.

Keywords: glycated hemoglobin; glycemic index; healthy volunteers; insulin index; variability.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Area Under Curve
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism*
  • Bread
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A / metabolism
  • Glycemic Index*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phenotype
  • Reference Values
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design*


  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Glycated Hemoglobin A
  • Insulin

Associated data