What’s GI Got to do With it?
Gone are the days when the mention of GI got a girl’s heart racing. Now, most of us are aware that GI has more to do with diets than handsome American soldiers.
If GI is something you’ve heard of, but are not quite sure about, then check out our 10-Point Guide to help you understand what it is and how it may help you and your health.
- GI stands for Glycaemic Index. This is a scale from 0 to 100, and represents a measure of the speed with which a carbohydrate food is digested and raises the levels of glucose (sugar) in your blood.
- Once eaten, some carbohydrates are digested very rapidly, and then quickly increase levels of blood sugar. These are known as ‘high GI’ carbohydrates and have a GI number of 70 plus. Good examples of these include croissants, cakes and biscuits. Most high GI foods, like these examples, are made from refined carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar and are may not be especially good for vitamins and minerals.
- Other carbohydrates are digested slowly once eaten. These raise blood sugar levels gradually and steadily after eating, giving a slow release of energy to your body. Low GI foods have a GI index of less than 55 and include porridge oats, pasta, sourdough bread and sweet potatoes.
- Unlike many contemporary diets, which appear on best-seller lists, the effects of eating in a low GI way has been well researched by scientists and they have discovered several potential benefits.
- Because low GI ‘carbs’ give us a steady supply of energy, they seem to help to keep us feeling fuller for longer. Having a bowl of muesli made with oats or a bowl of porridge at breakfast for example is likely to prevent mid-morning hunger pangs, whereas a breakfast of a croissant with jam is quite likely to leave you feeling peckish an hour or so later. Over time, including low GI carbs at each meal could then help you to eat fewer calories without consciously ‘going on a diet’.
- The slow release of sugar into the blood caused by low GI carbs seems to give better overall blood sugar control, and puts less strain on the pancreas, the organ that releases insulin into the blood. Low GI carbs are therefore recommended for people with Type-2 diabetes because they assist in blood sugar control and help to reduce the risk of developing complications with the kidneys, circulation and eyesight that go with the condition.
- Many low GI carbohydrates are unrefined like wholegrain pasta and granary bread. These have the advantage of giving us extra minerals like zinc which is essential for a strong immune system, selenium which is vital for antioxidant enzymes in our bodies, and iron which is crucial for energy.
- Unrefined carbs like oats and barley and other low GI foods like pulses are also both great for soluble fibre, which helps to lower bad cholesterol in our blood. This is turn is good for heart health. Others like wholegrain pasta, buckwheat, bulgur wheat and pumpernickel give us insoluble fibre or roughage, which is well-known to be good for helping to prevent constipation and may even play a role in reducing the risk of bowel cancer.
- Not all high GI foods are ‘bad’. For example although white bread does have a high GI index, most of us don’t eat it on its own. When you eat a high GI food like white toast with a protein-rich food like some poached eggs or a low GI carb such as some baked beans, the speed with which the white bread is digested is slowed down. This means that a bit of careful planning means that you can still enjoy some high GI foods at mealtimes.
- Not all low GI foods are ‘good’. Ice cream and chocolate are good examples of low GI foods. They don’t, as is often assumed, give you a big sugar-rush after eating, the reason being that the amount of fat present slows the speed with which their sugar is being digested. The high fat content of these foods means that while they qualify as low GI, you need to go carefully with them because they are still high in calories and if you want to lose weight, too many will blow your plans.