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Tipping the Scales: Eat the Right Carbs with the GI Diet

Dr E Suneetha

First things first, before you get started on the Glycemic Index (GI) diet, throw out your calorie-meters, stop obsessing about weighing food portions, and prepare to enjoy your everyday repast.

In the early 1980s, Dr David Jenkins, a professor of nutrition in the West, when looking at how different carbohydrate-rich foods affected blood sugar levels in diabetics, discovered that, contrary to popular belief, many starchy foods affected blood sugar levels quite dramatically, while some sugary foods had little effect. From his research, he developed a scale called the Glycaemic Index, which quite simply ranked foods based on the immediate effect they have on blood sugar levels.

Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion have the highest glycemic indexes, while carbs that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream, have low GIs.
So for instance, if your blood sugar is low and continues to drop during exercise, you would prefer to eat a carb that will raise your blood sugar quickly. On the other hand, if you would like to keep your blood sugar from dropping during a few hours of mild activity, you may prefer to eat a carb that has a lower GI and longer action time. If your blood sugar tends to spike after breakfast, you may want to select a cereal that has a lower GI.

How to Benefit from GI Diets
At last, here’s a diet that’s popular with the media but still follows basic healthy eating guidelines! The GI food list is divided into low, moderate and high categories. Diets based on GI index simply encourage you to eat plenty of foods with a low GI value and avoid those with a high GI value. This helps to prevent swings in blood sugar, helping you feel fuller for longer. Following a diet that includes plenty of foods with a low GI index may have a role in helping prevent or reduce the risk of getting Type 2 or maturity-onset diabetes, according to experts at Diabetes UK, the largest diabetes organization in the UK.

The GI list is divided into low, moderate and high categories
  • Low Glycemic Foods (GI ≤ 55)
  • Moderate Glycemic Foods (GI ≤ 56-69)
  • High Glycemic Foods (GI ≥ 70)

Research has also shown that lower GI diets can help improve levels of ‘good’ cholesterol and so may reduce the risk of heart disease. More recently, evidence has been accumulating that a low-GI diet might also protect against the development of obesity, colon cancer, and breast cancer.
The concept of GI of various foods has emerged as a boon to dietary therapy of diabetes. Anyone with diabetes should always check first with their doctor before making changes to their diet. Most diabetes experts agree that including foods with low GI value in meals can help to maintain even blood sugar levels. They, however, also agree that eating to control diabetes isn’t just about looking at the GI value of foods. One should also focus on eating a balanced, healthy diet you can stick with for life.

One striking feature was that the high carbohydrate foods with the lowest glycemic index were those eaten commonly by the poor in Western countries or the inhabitants of large parts of Africa and Asia. They included oatmeal porridge, spaghetti, buckwheat, yam, sweet potato and dried leguminous seeds. Throughout most of history, the only carbohydrate foods that were available were wild roots, tubers, fruits, vegetables, and nuts that people foraged for. These foods were loaded with fibre and nutrients, and they were slowly digested and absorbed to provide a slow release, sustained form of energy. Take a clue from this and make a positive selection of low GI foods packed with high nutritive values.

Meanwhile, if you want to give the diet a go, always remember to apply the general principles of healthy eating - a healthy diet wouldn’t recommend including huge amounts of chocolate or whole milk and neither should a GI diet.  


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