Not so long ago, the media reported that we should reduce our fat intake for health reasons. Consequently, carbohydrates came under the spotlight and a new trend developed: eat less fat and fill up on carbs.
Carbohydrates may be low in fat, but eat too many and the excess calories is readily and easily converted by your body into fat. Given that most people think only of carbohydrates as starchy foods such as bread and pasta, the new trend resulted in rapidly expanding waistbands! Fortunately, fruit and vegetables are also carbohydrates – commonly known as ‘complex’ carbohydrates.
These re the ‘good guys’ because they are slowly digested and help to reduce hunger and keep blood sugar levels on an even keel. This is ever so important for people trying to maintain or control their weight. Whenever blood sugar levels drop too low, this very often is a powerful trigger sending you into the cupboard in search for sugar or starchy carbohydrates.
Good carbohydrates are easy to spot. They are the vividly coloured fresh fruit and vegetables such as peppers, carrots, tomatoes and spinach.
The Glycemic Index, otherwise known as GI, is a measurement that can help us differentiate between carbohydrates and choose those that have the most hunger control and the greatest potential to maintain blood sugar levels.
The GI is a system that indicates how fast a particular food will trigger a rise in blood sugar levels. A food with a high GI will cause a rapid rise in blood sugar while a food with a low GI will create a slower rise.
The GI runs from 0 to 100 and uses pure glucose as a reference point, with the maximum value of 100. For example, a banana has a GI score of 62, foods between 55-70 are mid-GI and foods over 70 are considered high GI.
Low GI Apples (39), oranges (40), pears (38), soy beans (15), kidney beans (29), lentils (29), porridge (49), wholegrain rye bread (41), corn on the cob (35), peanuts (15).
High GI White bread (70), French bread (95), white rice (70), baked potatoes (85), mashed potatoes (90), cooked carrots (85)
Glycemic Index Facts Foods only appear on the GI if they contain carbohydrates. Meat, chicken, eggs, fish and cheese are not given a GI value as these are sources of protein. However, processed meats such as sausages may be included because they contain flour which is a carbohydrate. Low GI foods can help control your appetite by creating a fuller feeling for longer after eating which is good news for weight management.
Fats and protein slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, whilst the GI of foods can be further affected by cooking, processing, ripeness and variety. This makes it difficult to accurately rate the GI of a typical meal.
Low GI foods can be high in calories. For example, a cup of kidney beans is approximately 215 calories, yet 1/2 cup of peanuts is approximately 450 calories!
High GI foods are useful after exercise when muscle stores of sugar need to be quickly restored.
A typical balanced meal should provide a mixture of foods including fats, proteins and carbohydrates. By including low GI foods with each meal, the body takes longer to absorb the carbohydrates, which helps to slow overall absorption and keep blood sugar levels steadier between meals.