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10. Understanding your food – Glycaemic index and what it means

I have been reading in newspapers and magazines about low GI and high GI foods. Can you explain what it means?

GIstands for glycaemic index, and is a calculation of how quickly a food is broken down into its constituent parts, specifically looking at glucose, by the digestive system. A high GI food is broken down quickly and a low GI food is broken down more slowly.

Why is GI measured?

Measuring GI helps you understand more about the food you eat. Foods that are low GI tend to be healthier because they contain starch as well as sugar and are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Low GI foods tend to leave you feeling fuller, so you are less likely to snack between meals; because they are broken down more slowly, they tend to keep your sugar levels more even. Understanding GI is not just about specific foods but also about what happens when those foods come together on your plate.

What sorts of foods are low GI?

Low GI foods are those that are rated below 55. They include cereals such as oatmeal, bran and bran flakes, fresh pasta, basmati rice and all types of fresh fruit, including oranges, apples and grapefruit as well as pure fruit juices.

What foods is high GI?

Sugar is rated as 100, and other foods that are high GI are certain breads such as baguettes, white bread and bagels; cereals such as cornflakes, frosted flakes, sugar puffs and honey and nut cornflakes as well as Healthy Living Sultana bran.

Are there any foods that come in the middle when it comes to GI?

Yes, there are: cereals such as fruit muesli, fruit and fibre breakfast cereal and whole wheat muesli; breads such as pitta bread, multi-grain loaf and multi-grain batch bread; also new potatoes and sweet potatoes.

How can I find out more about GI foods and diets?

There are many books available now that give lots of information on GI diets and preparing food the GI way. All you need is a good bookshop or library.

How can I plan a healthy meal?

This is about getting the right balance of the different food groups on your plate. You need about 50–55% carbohydrate, 15% protein and 35% fat to give you what you need to keep your body healthy. Remember that it needs to be ‘good’ fats not ‘bad’ fats to keep you healthy.

How you prepare and cook food is also important; for example, mashed potatoes and jacket potatoes are higher GI than new potatoes. Always undercook vegetables, pasta and rice, as cooking starts to break down foods and speeds up the digestive process – making the food higher in its GI value. Home-made soups are much lower GI than tinned or prepared soups.

Is there anything I can do to make my meal more low GI?

Yes, you can. Protein, fats and fibre all slow down the digestive process, so a meal that has a mix of all the food groups tends to produce a slower release of sugar into the blood stream and hence a lower GI meal. You need healthy fats, not fats that could raise your cholesterol; remember that a lot of ‘healthy eating, low fat’ prepared foods are often high in sugar, so read the packaging and see what the sugar levels are like.



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