The nutrients in carbohydrates are an important source of energy for your dog. But not all carbs are created equal. The glycemic index (GI) is a way of ranking carbohydrates on how they affect blood sugar levels. Foods with a high GI raise blood sugar levels quickly, while those with a low GI raise blood sugar levels more slowly.
What is a glycemic index?
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose. Foods are ranked based on how much they raise blood sugar in the two or three hours after eating.
The glycemic index can range from 0 to 100. A food with a high GI score (70 or above) raises blood sugar more than a food with a medium GI score (56 to 69). A food with a low GI score (55 or below) raises blood sugar less.
The glycemic index was developed in the 1980s as a way to rank how human food based on the effect it had on blood glucose levels. The glycemic load is calculated by multiplying the glycemic index of a food by its carbohydrate content.
So it is relevant to pets?
The humanization of pets has led to an increased interest in the way that different foods affect our pets. The glycemic index is one tool that is being used to evaluate the effect of food on pets.
What is Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is a condition that occurs when blood sugar levels drop too low. Low blood sugar can be caused by a number of things, including skipping meals, fasting, or strenuous exercise. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include confusion, anxiety, sweating, and tremors. Hypoglycemia can be dangerous if it is not treated quickly.
How Glycemic index is determined:
There are a few different methods that can be used to determine the glycemic index of a food. The most common method is the glucose tolerance test. In this test, a person eats food and then has their blood sugar levels checked at regular intervals over the next two to three hours.
The results of these tests are then used to create a curve that shows how the food affects blood sugar levels over time. From this curve, the glycemic index can be determined.
The other methods used to determine the glycemic index are the insulin response test and the glycemic load test. These tests are not as common as the glucose tolerance test, but they can provide additional information about how a food affects blood sugar levels.
What is the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load?
The glycemic index is a measure of how much a food raises blood sugar levels in the two or three hours after eating. The glycemic load is a measure of how much food raises blood sugar levels over the course of a day.
The glycemic load takes into account the amount of carbohydrates in a food and the glycemic index of those carbohydrates. For example, a food with a high glycemic index but a low carbohydrate content would have a low glycemic load.
What are the benefits of low glycemic index foods?
-Are slowly digested and absorbed, so they don’t cause sudden spikes in blood sugar levels.
-May help control diabetes by keeping blood sugar levels from rising too high after a meal. One study found that obese dogs that received the pea-based diet with a GI score of 29 had improved insulin response, suggesting improved management of blood glucose levels.
-May help you lose weight by making you feel fuller longer and preventing overeating.
-May reduce the risk of heart disease by helping to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Glycemic Index in Humans and Dogs:
Diabetes usually found in dogs is Type 1 Diabetes which is caused by genetic and auto-immune diseases and not obesity. This explains why a low-GI diet for dogs may not be as effective in preventing diabetes as it is in humans. In a study done with 10 beagle dogs, it was shown that there was no difference in peak post-prandial glucose and insulin levels between high and low-GI diets. The study concluded that the glycemic index may not be as relevant in dogs as it is in humans when managing diabetes.
In fact a lot of the low-glycemic pet foods available are laden with low-glycemic carbohydrates in amounts that vastly outweigh the total amounts of protein or fat that they contain. The result is often a very carbohydrate-rich pet food but is still labeled as “low glycemic” or even “grain-free”. In addition to this the type of carbohydrates (oligosaccharides) used in these hefty amounts decreases the overall digestibility of the diet because just like they are advertised – they digest slowly (or incompletely).
Be careful with ‘low-glycemic index labels in pet food:
When evaluating dog food brands with a low-glycemic index, it is also important to understand the carbs used in the recipe. Some brands have low-glycemic carbs in amounts that vastly outweigh the total amounts of protein or fat. Others have carbs that are low-glycemic but not very digestible.
When the carbs amounts are high and the carb source is not very digestible (or has a low bioavailability), the food can actually cause blood sugar spikes – even though it may be advertised as “low-glycemic.”
Low glycemic index dog recipes are not always the best:
If the GI is low, but the food quality is poor, it’s essential not to solely rely on the “low glycemic index” label when selecting a pet food. Instead, seek dog meals that have a healthy mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates and that are made with high-quality ingredients.
There are many different types of dog food that have a low glycemic index. Some examples include:
-Foods made with slowly digestible carbs like oats, barley, and sweet potatoes.
When it comes to raw and home-cooked diets, it is important to make sure that the ingredients are high quality and properly balanced. Raw diets should be made with muscle meat, organs, bones, and a small amount of fruits and vegetables. Home-cooked diets should be made with lean meats, healthy fats, and slow-cooking carbs like sweet potatoes or oats.
Ranking of Different Dog Food Diets’ Glycemic Index:
Foods are ranked on a scale of 1 to 100, with Low GI Foods having a rating of 55 or less, and High GI Foods having one of 70 or more. A rating range of 56 to 60 is considered Medium GI foods.
One 2012 study comparing the glycemic index of barley, corn, peas and rice – four common pet food ingredients found peas to have the lowest glycemic index. Peas has a glycemic index of 13.3, followed by corn (54.5), rice (64.8) and barley (70.3).
This means that peas are slowly digested and absorbed, so they don’t cause sudden spikes in blood sugar levels. This is good for dogs with diabetes or who are overweight, as it helps to keep blood sugar levels from rising too high after a meal.
Peas, chickpeas, lentils, and beans all have oligosaccharides, which are starch types that digest more slowly than conventional starches and are thus not believed to cause blood sugar levels to rise.
Rice was found to have the highest glycemic index carbohydrates, which means that they are rapidly digested and absorbed. This can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, which can lead to overeating and weight gain. The study concurred with another study done in 2015 that found the following GI figures for peas, corn, barley and white rice.
What are some examples of low glycemic index foods?
Some examples of low glycemic index foods include:
-most fruits and vegetables.
Glycemic Research Institute(GRI)
Glycemic Research Institute(GRI) is a nonprofit organization that funds and conducts independent scientific research on the glycemic index and its health implications. It was founded in 1983.
Glycemic Research Institute has not set the maximum acceptable value for a pet food’s glycemic load but GRI offers certifications for pet foods that have low glycemic index. For a pet food brand to qualify to be certified as having low glycemic index, the absence of corn in the diet is required as it has a very negative glycemic response.
Read more about how pet food are evaluated by GRI, including their application process and their annual awards.
Hyperglycemia produces oxidative stress, which has been implicated in the development of diabetes and its complications. Low glycemic index diets have been shown to help control blood sugar levels and reduce oxidative stress.
The GRI certification is voluntary, and there is a fee for brands to apply for the certification. The Glycemic Research Institute does not test products itself, but relies on data from independently conducted clinical trials.
So far, three pet food brands have been certified by the Glycemic Research Institute as having low glycemic index:
-Zignature Kangaroo Formula
-Canidae Pure Meadow Senior Dog Food
The last time GRI updated its website in 2011-12, 8 pet food brands by Champion Petfoods under the Orijen brand were named as the Best Pet Food of the Year as shown in the snapshot below;
- Orijen Puppy Large
- Orijen All-Life Stages Fish Recipe
- Orijen All-Life Stages Red Meat Recipe
- Orijen Senior All Breed Recipe
12 Best Low Glycemic Index Dog Food:
I searched the internet and used our chewy products database to come up with a list of quality dog food with a low glycemic index ideal for preventing hypoglycemia. I also got a helpful list on the PetFlow site.
Below is a list of the best low-glycemic index dog food or the best dog food for hypoglycemia in the market today:
- Merrick Grain Free Grammy’s Pot Pie Canned Dog Food
- Nulo FreeStyle Grain Free Trout & Sweet Potato Senior Recipe Dry Dog Food
- Nulo Freestyle Cod & Lentils Recipe Grain-Free Adult Trim Dry Dog Food, 26-lb bag
- Nulo Freestyle Limited+ Alaska Pollock & Lentils Recipe Puppy & Adult Grain-Free Dry Dog Food, 24-lb bag
- Nulo Freestyle Salmon & Peas Recipe Grain-Free Dry Puppy Food, 26-lb bag
- Merrick Grain Free Cowboy Cookout Canned Dog Food
- ORIJEN Regional Red Freeze Dried Dog Food
- Farmina N&D Natural & Delicious Low Grain Medium & Maxi Puppy Lamb & Blueberry Dry Dog Food
- ORIJEN Adult Freeze-Dried Dog Food
- Merrick Grain Free Turducken Canned Dog Food
- Merrick Grain Free Thanksgiving Day Dinner Canned Dog Food
- ORIJEN Grain Free Tundra Adult Freeze Dried Dog Food
6 Low-Glycemic Index-Certified Dog Food Brands
According to the GRI website, the below brands have been certified as they met the requirements for the low GI certification;
- Merrick Before Grain Dog Food and Canned Canine Dog Food
- Nulo FreeStyle Dry Dog Food
- Orijen Grain-free and Freeze-dried diets
- Farmina Pet Foods
- Grandma Lucy’s
- Dave’s Pet Food – Dave’s 95% Premium Chicken & Chicken Liver Recipe Canned Dog Food
All individual products are listed by Pet Flow here.
Note that the site was last updated several years ago and this list could be long now. Read more about low-GI food here.
Oregon State University compiled over 100 different foods and listed them with their Glycemic Index and Load. I have used their tables in the next sections.
Glycemic Index for Vegetables Products
Potatoes have the highest GI score among vegetables. Some food with low glycemic index scores include carrots, Parsnips, and yams.
|VEGETABLES||Glycemic index (glucose = 100)||Serving size (grams)||Glycemic load per serving|
|Green peas, average||51||80||4|
|Baked russet potato, average||111||150||33|
|Boiled white potato, average||82||150||21|
|Instant mashed potato, average||87||150||17|
|Sweet potato, average||70||150||22|
Glycemic Index for Bean and Nuts
Most beans and nuts such as cashews, soybeans, peanuts, chickpeas, baked beans, and all other types of beans and nuts have a low glycemic index. In the list below, the highest GI is that of baked beans at just 40. Peanuts have the lowest GI score of 7.
|BEANS AND NUTS||Glycemic index (glucose = 100)||Serving size (grams)||Glycemic load per serving|
|Baked beans, average||40||150||6|
|Blackeye peas, average||33||150||10|
|Chickpeas, canned in brine||38||150||9|
|Navy beans, average||31||150||9|
|Kidney beans, average||29||150||7|
|Soy beans, average||15||150||1|
Glycemic Index for Fruits:
Watermelon has the highest GI of 72 with Raisin and Bananas following close by with a GI score of 64 and 62, respectively. Some low-glycemic index fruits include apples, prunes, pears, and peaches.
|FRUITS||Glycemic index (glucose = 100)||Serving size (grams)||Glycemic load per serving|
|Peach, canned in light syrup||40||120||5|
|Pear, canned in pear juice||43||120||5|
Glycemic Index for Grains in Dog Food:
Barley has the lowest glycemic index score of 28 with whole wheat kernels following closely with a score of 30. Some grains with high GI include white rice scoring 89, sweet corn scoring 60, quiona scoring 53. See the full table with score below;
|GRAINS||Glycemic index (glucose = 100)||Serving size (grams)||Glycemic load per serving|
|Pearled barley, average||28||150||12|
|Sweet corn on the cob, average||60||150||20|
|White rice, average||89||150||43|
|Quick cooking white basmati||67||150||28|
|Brown rice, average||50||150||16|
|Converted, white rice (Uncle Ben’s®)||38||150||14|
|Whole wheat kernels, average||30||50||11|
Glycemic Index for Bakery Products and Bevarages
|FOOD||Glycemic index (glucose = 100)||Serving size (grams)||Glycemic load per serving|
|BAKERY PRODUCTS AND BREADS|||||||
|Banana cake, made with sugar||47||60||14|
|Banana cake, made without sugar||55||60||12|
|Sponge cake, plain||46||63||17|
|Vanilla cake made from packet mix with vanilla frosting (Betty Crocker)||42||111||24|
|Apple, made with sugar||44||60||13|
|Apple, made without sugar||48||60||9|
|Waffles, Aunt Jemima (Quaker Oats)||76||35||10|
|Bagel, white, frozen||72||70||25|
|Baguette, white, plain||95||30||15|
|Coarse barley bread, 75-80% kernels, average||34||30||7|
|50% cracked wheat kernel bread||58||30||12|
|White wheat flour bread||71||30||10|
|Wonder™ bread, average||73||30||10|
|Whole wheat bread, average||71||30||9|
|100% Whole Grain™ bread (Natural Ovens)||51||30||7|
|Pita bread, white||68||30||10|
|Coca Cola®, average||63||250 mL||16|
|Fanta®, orange soft drink||68||250 mL||23|
|Lucozade®, original (sparkling glucose drink)||95±10||250 mL||40|
|Apple juice, unsweetened, average||44||250 mL||30|
|Cranberry juice cocktail (Ocean Spray®)||68||250 mL||24|
|Orange juice, unsweetened||50||250 mL||12|
|Tomato juice, canned||38||250 mL||4|
|BREAKFAST CEREALS AND RELATED PRODUCTS|||||||
|Coco Pops™, average||77||30||20|
|Cream of Wheat™ (Nabisco)||66||250||17|
|Cream of Wheat™, Instant (Nabisco)||74||250||22|
|Instant oatmeal, average||83||250||30|
|Puffed wheat, average||80||30||17|
|Raisin Bran™ (Kellogg’s)||61||30||12|
|Special K™ (Kellogg’s)||69||30||14|
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Hi there! My name is Ben Domb, an owner of two pets and I am one of the co-founders of OurPets HQ. I have several years of experience as a pet care professional in the New England region having spent time in various roles including a stint at a veterinary hospital in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I am a certified pet care professional and mostly spend my time researching pet nutrition and sharing my thoughts in various blogs and columns. With quarantine and COVID restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time a lot with my dogs and cat and loving it! I also run a small consulting business providing advice to parents on pet nutrition, and especially safe homemade options to try. You can reach me at email@example.com