The glycemic value of a food predicts its effects on blood sugar metabolism. Typically, foods high in carbohydrates are also high glycemic and raise blood sugar levels significantly. Foods low in carbohydrates are usually low glycemic and have a lesser effect on blood sugar. And then there’s pumpkin – a botanical fruit and culinary vegetable that smells of sweet honeydew melon and can be low and high glycemic, sometimes exhibiting both properties simultaneously.
On the one hand, pumpkin only has 6.5 g of carbohydrates per 100 g, of which 2.76 g are simple sugars. The low carbohydrate content makes it a low glycemic food since eating moderate amounts does not bring too much of a contribution to carbohydrate intake per meal or per day so it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels very much. But it doesn’t have a low glycemic index, only a low glycemic load.
What is the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load? The glycemic index (GI) measures how fast the carbohydrates in a food raise blood sugar levels. The glycemic load (GL) measures how fast the carbohydrates in a serving of food raise blood sugar levels.
GI values: Below 55 is a low GI, between 55-69 is a moderate GI and between 70-100 is a high GI.
GL values: Below 10 is a low GL, between 11-19 a moderate GL and over 20 a high GL.
Pumpkin glycemic index is estimated at 65-75 which is moderate to high. Pumpkin glycemic load is 3-4 which is low. The high GI values can be explained by the fact that the carbohydrates in pumpkin are readily digestible, meaning they are processed fast and so they raise blood sugar levels fast. But a serving has overall few carbohydrates: 6.5 g of carbs for a serving of 100 g, 7.5 g of carbs for a cup of 1 inch cubes – weight estimated at 116 g or 13 g of carbs for a serving of 200 g. In other words, a serving of pumpkin isn’t likely to raise blood sugar levels too much, despite the carbohydrates being digested relatively fast – hence the low GL values.
Not to mention you can slow down the digestion of carbohydrates and the rate of absorption of sugar from those carbohydrates by eating animal protein or fat with your pumpkin or having more fiber. As well as the fact that moderation is advised when it comes to eating anything really. So despite making blood sugar go up fast (if you eat it separate from other foods), pumpkin won’t make it go up too much (provided your intake is moderate and servings determined according to your individual nutritional requirements and the restrictions of potential medical conditions such as diabetes).
In addition to this, studies show pumpkin contains various elements with biological properties that reinforce its low glycemic food status and even recommend it for diabetic diets and the diabetic patient’s nutrition, in moderate amounts of course. First of all, protein-bound polysaccharides in the culinary vegetable exhibit blood sugar-lowering effects which both offer a certain level of protection against type 2 diabetes and advocate for its inclusion in diabetic diets.
Secondly, research has discovered that a special compound called D-chiro-Inositol acts as a messenger for insulin production and may hold benefits such as improving insulin sensitivity for better glucose use in insulin-resistant diabetics and pre-diabetics. Moreover, the same compound has been found to increase insulin serum levels.
Thirdly, the hypoglycemic effects and insulin-regulating activity of pumpkin-specific compounds (polysaccharides, nicotinic acid, trigonelline, beta-carotene antioxidants, fiber etc.) contribute towards better glucose tolerance which has important implications for diabetics in particular. Better glucose tolerance means better tolerance to carbohydrates in food and better diabetes control. The cumulative effects of special protein-bound polysaccharides and other compounds in pumpkin are believed to be conducive to a slower progression of diabetes.
However, eating too much pumpkin cancels out its blood sugar-lowering benefits and positive effects on insulin metabolism. The more you eat, the more carbohydrates will accumulate and cause a quick and significant rise in blood sugar levels, an undesirable outcome for diabetics in particular. Because a higher intake of a food causes a higher glycemic response, the more pumpkin you have at once, the higher its glycemic value. The reverse is also true: the smaller the serving, the lower the glycemic value.
In other words, if you eat too much pumpkin, it becomes a high glycemic food. But if you eat small amounts at once, it becomes a low glycemic food. In order to further reduce effects on blood sugar, you may combine the fall culinary vegetable with sources of animal protein, plant protein or fat which help temper the rise in blood sugar. It helps to exercise after and limit intake to one serving a day – which also allows for variety, especially in a diabetic diet.