The glycaemic index (GI) essentially measures how fast a food is likely to raise blood sugar. The faster it raises blood sugar, the higher its number.
If you have are having weight issues, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, knowing the glycaemic index (GI) of foods can help you better manage your diet and health.
If you practise reading labels on food packaging, you must have noticed that some foods today claim to have low GI.
You would probably guess that this makes the particular food healthier in some way. But are you aware of what the GI is?
Basically, GI measures how fast a type of carbohydrate or sugar metabolises in the body when compared against glucose. The faster the metabolism levels, the higher its GI levels. Refined white sugar, for instance, has a GI of 100.
Knowing the GI levels of common foods is important, particularly for diabetics and those who would like to prevent diabetes.
Food with high GI causes a sudden and drastic increase of sugar levels in the blood, usually followed by a “sugar crash” later when you will feel extremely tired.
Going on a low GI diet has many health benefits, such as better physical endurance, increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin and reduces blood cholesterol levels.
Low GI foods also reduce hunger and keeps you feeling full for a longer time, which in turn will help you lose or maintain weight.
This results in a healthier body weight, which reduces the risk of heart disease.
Recent studies also show that having a low GI diet has an effect on mood swings and mild depression.
The brain needs a slow and steady release of energy to function well. A low GI diet helps prevent glucose levels from fluctuating, maintaining a stable release of energy and making you less likely to snap, both mentally and emotionally.
Knowing the numbers
The GI is generally divided into three categories:
Low: 55 or less
High: 70 and above
It is easy to assume that high GI foods would only consist of refined, sugary foods. Surprisingly, many healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables, also have high GI scores, such as pumpkin and watermelon.
Even seemingly harmless foods such as potatoes and rice crackers have a GI of 100, meaning they have the same GI level as sugar.
Using GI levels wisely
The GI only provides one guideline on dietary habits which will impact your metabolism. It is not a comprehensive guide to food choices, as a variety is necessary to ensure you get a balanced diet with sufficient vitamins, minerals and micronutrients.
Other factors also influence GI levels, such as cooking methods, eating methods, other components within the food such as proteins or fats and the amount consumed.
As such, the GI levels of foods produced in different countries and by different manufacturers may also differ.
The best way to have a healthy balance is to ensure there is more low GI foods in your daily diet. Foods with medium GI levels, such as bananas, mangoes or ice cream, should be taken in moderation, as bigger portions will upset your diet, making you put on weight or lose control over your glucose levels.
Reduce consumption of high GI foods as much as possible, but you are allowed some when you have engaged in strenuous physical activity for a few hours.
It is believed that consuming vinegar, dairy products, sesame seeds and bean products together with rice, whether before or after a meal, can also reduce the GI of rice.
For a start, trade high GI foods such as white rice or bread with lower GI alternatives such as sweet potato, yam or vermicelli (rice noodles).
Studies in Thailand and Australia show that low GI foods can improve diabetic management and control.
With diabetes, metabolic syndrome, overweight and other chronic diseases on the rise, especially as you age, taking note of the GI may no longer be an option, but a necessity.
¦ Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. For further information, visit primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.
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