‘Are there guidelines covering manufacturers making the claim on food labels and in advertising that their product has a low glycemic load (GL)?’
Yes there are guidelines for cut-offs. Back in 2003, Prof Jennie Brand-Miller and colleagues suggested that the following cut-offs be used to describe the glycemic load (GL) of individual foods:
- Low GL ≤ 10
- Medium GL 11-19
- High GL ≥ 20
But as far as I have been able to ascertain, manufacturers aren’t necessarily using these specific cut-offs as the basis for making their low GL claims on food labels at this point in time. There are in fact no government regulations about making GL claims anywhere in the world. Yet.
Nutrition claims are regulated by Food Standards Codes and so far no country has a code that defines GL, how to measure it, and what the cuts-offs should be. There are a number of likely reasons why this is so but this is where the story can get very technical. Perhaps the key reason is that when it comes to low GL diets, you aren’t just looking at carbs or GI. You are looking at a mixed bag.
This is because low GL diets can be protein- and fat-rich, and contain high or moderate GI foods, but with little carbohydrate in them such as the original Atkins Diet. Or they may be higher in low GI carbohydrate, and lower in fat and protein, like the Low GI Diet.
If you look at specific food examples, high fat, higher GI foods with relatively little carbohydrate per serve such as many savoury snack foods, can have a low GL, as can carb-rich foods with a low GI such as most fruits and legumes, and then there are those foods that come somewhere in between such as most cereal based foods. As I said earlier, it’s inherently a mixed bag.
‘Are low GL claims more useful than low GI ones?’
In our experience most people find the GI is a much simpler tool to use than the GL day to day in the supermarket. And the evidence published to date in scientific journals suggests that low GI diets are generally healthier than low GL diets – for most of us. In addition, if you use the GI as it was intended – to select the food with the lowest GI within each food group or category – then in most cases, you get the product with the lowest GL anyway, as foods are grouped according to their macronutrient content (amongst other things), so they generally have a very similar carbohydrate content anyway.
This is why the GI Symbol program focuses on the GI of healthy foods within specific food groups/categories to help people make healthy choices easy choices in the supermarket.
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Dr Alan W Barclay, PhD
CEO, Glycemic Index Ltd
Phone: +61 2 9785 1037
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Fax: +61 2 9785 1037