The secret to lasting weight control lies in foods that give you sustained energy and keep you feeling satisfied. HFG dietitian Brooke Longfield has the low-down on GI.
Quantity plus quality
Practising portion control is an effective way to keep your belt buckle from nudging the next notch — but it’s not the only way. The quality of the food we eat is just as important as its quantity. Eating the right carbohydrates can help shrink not only your waistline, but also your risk of some lifestyle-related diseases. It’s all about their GI.
Breaking it down
The glycaemic index, or GI, is a measure — on a scale of 0 to 100 — of how fast carbs break down during digestion. Low-GI foods, which rate below 55 on this scale, break down slowly, gradually releasing glucose into the bloodstream. This steady delivery of sugar provides you with sustained energy, thereby delaying the onset of hunger. In contrast, high-GI foods break down quickly, sending glucose shooting into the bloodstream and triggering a spike in your blood-sugar levels. In other words, you’ll feel a sudden surge of energy, but this sugar rush rapidly fades, leaving you hungrily seeking the next energy fix.
Refined starchy foods, such as white bread, chips, biscuits and other sugary treats, all have a high GI, which is why we often feel hungry soon after eating them. Think of the GI as a clue to the quality of the carbs you eat — some are better for your health than others.
The health rewards of low-GI eating
Low-GI carbs are a boon to your health for several reasons. Their ability to keep hunger pangs at bay makes it easier to lose weight, but more important, a low-GI diet can help maintain that weight loss. Low-GI foods create only small fluctuations in your levels of blood glucose (thereby lowering your insulin levels), so they also help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.
A simple swap
The best thing about switching to low-GI foods? It’s so easy! You don’t need to count numbers or obsess over GI values; you simply replace high-GI foods with their better-quality low-GI alternatives.
Breakfast: Choose cereals made from oats, bran or wholegrains.
Lunch: Look for bread, wraps and rolls that have visible grains and seeds. You can also add small cans of beans and chickpeas to leafy vegie-packed salads.
Dinner: Fill a quarter of your plate with low-GI carbs, such as basmati rice or sweet potato.
Snacks: Munch on raw nuts and seeds, and choose wholegrain crackers over those made from rice and corn.
“How do I know which foods have a low GI?”
You won’t find GI ratings on food labels, and the amount of carbohydrates won’t give it away either. Look for the low-GI symbol (left): It indicates that a food meets the nutrition criteria that make it a healthy choice for its food group. You can also look up the GI of many everyday foods at the University of Sydney website glycemicindex.com.
Did you know? You can lower the GI of a meal with a splash of vinegar; its acidity slows digestion.