This week, we're looking at the Glycaemic Index. We've talked about the GI before - but there are new members in the group since then, and this is one of those topics we need to revisit regularly, if we want to get healthy and stay healthy.
The things I learned about carbohydrates as a teenager and young adult were basically: sugars=simple starches=bad; grains=complex starches=good.
It turns out that theory was wrong. Once scientists actually started testing on real people what happens to their blood sugar levels after eating different carbohydrates, they discovered that sugar didn't really have a serious impact. The carbohydrate that was actually by far the worst was white flour.
For most of us, we can't just look at a food and predict what its GI will be. Most fruit and veges are low - but the humble spud is high. (You can now get some white potatoes that are grown to be lower carb or lower GI. They are, of course, more expensive.)
White flour is definitely not good, but when it's turned into pasta it is OK - that's related to the geletanisation of the starch. (No, I don't understand that any more than you do, but it does make me sound smart, doesn't it?)
Mostly, grains are best the way God made them - with that coating of fibre on the outside. The fibre in whole grains means it takes longer to digest them - which means they don't have a sudden impact on our blood sugar.
The good news is that we don't need all our carbohydrate foods to be low-GI. We just need to include some low-GI carbs in each meal - they reduce the overall impact of the meal on our blood sugar.
Let's focus on how to have some of our favourite meals, and still improve the GI.
- Pasta: is great - the carbohydrate is already low GI. Of course, the issue with pasta is the company it keeps. Think about what's in your sauces, and what you're having as side dishes. (A salad with your lasagne is so much better than chips.)
- Meat and veges: yes, you can have your potato, but have it with a low-GI vegetable to balance it out. So, white potato and sweet potato together is fine. Most of your other vegetables are just fine as they are.
- Toast for breakfast: is fine, but have whole grains. The more grains you can see the better. Extra nutritional value if you top it with sliced tomato or a boiled egg instead of jam.
- Rice dishes: where possible substitute basmati rice for other white rices. Basmati, and doongara (if you can find it) are lower GI than other rices. If your recipe calls for brown rice, that's a higher GI, but has other good nutritional values, so include a low-GI carb in the same meal with it.
- Breakfast cereals: the ones labelled low GI are helpful. Otherwise go for the stuff with the most whole grains. The more refining and processing, the less likely it is to have anything your body actually wants or needs.
- Sandwich or salad roll for lunch? Great, just make sure your bread, roll, or wrap has lots of visible whole grains. It gives you more fibre, and lowers the GI. As a bonus it has a lot more flavour than anaemic white bread.
So that's the GI. You don't have to avoid carbs - in fact avoiding carbs can be a very dangerous thing to do. You don't have to obsessively eat only low GI carbs. Just try to make sure that at each meal, you have at least one low-GI carb to moderate the overall effect the meal has on your body's blood sugar and insulin levels.