It's a term often seen in women's magazines, talked about by slimming celebrities and plastered on the packaging of many supermarket foods. It seems the glycemic index is not just a fleeting fad, but rather that it's here to stay.
Originally designed for diabetics in order to stabilise blood sugar levels, the glycemic index, or GI, is now called on the world over to improve energy levels and to aid weight loss. So what's it all about?
Well, in a nutshell, the GI is a measure of how quickly carb-rich foods are digested and subsequently how quickly blood sugar levels are raised. Foods that are quickly digested are said to have a high GI (not a good choice for those wanting to shed a few quick kilos as they won't keep you full for long), those digested at a moderate rate are said to have a medium GI, while those digested slowly have a low GI.
Low-GI foods are the ones creating all the hoo-ha. Why? Because eating low-GI food encourages blood glucose levels to rise and fall gradually, providing a slow release of energy that keeps us fuller for longer. And if weight loss and improved energy levels isn't enough of a drawcard, low-GI foods have also been shown to provide health benefits for diabetics, provide improved heart health and even enhance sports performance.
Simple ways to add low-GI foods into your diet.
Replace white bread with a mixed-grain variety. Grainy bread is a 'slow carb' that will help to shed unwanted weight and stabilise blood sugar levels. It will also take longer to digest than the starchy white variety, which in turn means you will be left feeling fuller for longer.
Boost your morning energy levels by starting the day with a high-fibre fruit bread. Not only is the bread and fruit packed with slow-digesting fibre, making you feel full for longer, but fruit is also said to reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
For a filling, low-GI meal pasta is a great choice. Why? Because pasta takes a long time to digest, therefore delaying the return of hunger. But even though pasta has a low-GI it's not advisable for diabetics or people with glucose intolerance to have large servings. So the general rule of thumb is to keep portion sizes small. This means the total amount of carbohydrates and kilojoules will be smaller, and the GI level will be lower.
If you're still craving that potato fix, why not try substituting the traditional desiree for a low-GI sweet potato? The sweet potato is low-GI compared to its high-GI cousin, but if you still can't go past the traditional spud try lowering the GI by leaving the skin on.
Most fruits are low-GI, including apples, blackberries, cherries, grapefruit, grapes, lemons, oranges, peaches, pears, raspberries and strawberries. As well as the slow digesting advantages, eating more fruit has also been associated with improved insulin sensitivity, better glycemic control and a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Wholegrain cereals and coarsely milled grains such as rolled oats and muesli are both good low-GI breakfast choices. Quick-cooking oats on the other hand have a higher GI as they have a smaller particle size. In other words, the oats have been rolled and are more refined than traditional oats, meaning the individual size of the particles is smaller and therefore the GI is higher.
Corn and sweet corn are packed with fibre, which means slower digestion and therefore a low GI. But remember, cooked food has a higher GI than uncooked or food that has been cooked and then allowed to cool, so leaving your corn to cool after cooking will lower the GI and therefore the rate of digestion.
Either home-cooked or canned beans, chickpeas and lentils are all low GI. Another plus is that they're cheap, versatile, filling, nutritious and low in kilojoules. Baked beans anyone?
When choosing dairy products opt for ones that are low in overall fat, and particularly products that are low in saturated fats (trans-fats). Low-fat yoghurt and skimmed milk are good choices, while margarine and cheeses, which contain a higher fat content, should be eaten sparingly.