One of my writerly pastimes involves pulling apart interesting sentences. I like to think about the meaning of sentences, and the choices that writers make.

Here’s a sentence from a box of Kellogg’s breakfast cereal:
‘The GI or Glycemic Index is a classification based on how quickly or slowly a carbohydrate is absorbed as glucose into the bloodstream.’
It’s a single sentence that sits alone on the box, under a GI logo.
Surely there must be a simpler way to communicate something useful to cereal eaters?

Here’s my attempt to understand it:

  • The GI or Glycemic Index …’ – readers are being asked to understand that ‘or’ in this sentence indicates that ‘Glycemic Index’ is an explanation of ‘GI’ – ‘or’ is taking a coordinating role, rather that a comparing role. Maybe it would be easier to use the standard business approach (‘The Glycemic Index (GI) is …’). Or maybe GI is such a common concept that it doesn’t need to be spelled out.
  • ‘… is a classification based on …’ – it seems a pity to use the heavy noun ‘classification’ when simple words would be easier to understand; perhaps ‘GI measures’ could be used.
  • ‘.. how quickly or slowly …’ – I wonder why the writer has included ‘or slowly’ here; simply saying that GI is a measure of ‘how quickly’ would be enough.

Of course, the real problem with this sentence is that it doesn’t communicate much. Does it help cereal eaters to know that GI measures the speed of glucose absorption? Does the information help people to make their breakfast cereal choices?


I wonder whether something like this might work better:

The GI measures how quickly carbohydrate is absorbed into the bloodstream. It ranks foods on a scale from 1 to 100. Breakfast cereals that are low GI (below xx) are absorbed slowly and provide long-lasting energy.

I’m interested that Kellogg’s uses the American spelling ‘glycemic’ on their Australian cereals (instead of the British convention of ‘glycaemic’). Australians can’t seem to figure out how to spell this word!