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Sugar, watch that GI
If you are health conscious, you probably already count your calories, cut your carbs and pick good fats over bad fats. Now, doctors want you to consider the Glycemic Index (GI) of your food, too.
GI is a rating of carbohydrate-containing foods on a scale of 0 to 100 depending on the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. A low GI diet has been touted as a key to good health as it prevents diabetes, obesity, heart disease and even cancer.
Several medical and nutritionists' associations in India have called for mandatory GI labelling of all food products. They want the government to ensure foods come with a clear sign stating whether they are high, medium or low GI so consumers can make a healthy choice. Such labelling is already compulsory in South Africa and Australia. The American Diabetology Association, which had so far dismissed GI, is also reportedly planning to include it in its dietary guidelines.
Considering low GI foods help in maintaining steady insulin levels, doctors hope the move will help curb the diabetes epidemic - India is home to 51 million diabetics "An even bigger proportion of our population is pre-diabetic, " says endocrinologist Dr Shashank Joshi. "Since the traditional Indian diet is high in carbs, GI labels will help people make wise decisions. " Proponents believe that GI-consciousness will benefit not only diabetics, but also the general population as a GI diet helps in weight management, too. Studies have found that low GI foods take longer to digest and therefore keep one feeling fuller for longer. So, one tends to snack less. "Sports drinks contain glucose which has a very high GI. They give one an instant high but when the sugar level drops, one craves another sweet drink, " says Dr Priyanka Rohatgi, nutritionist with Apollo Hospital, Chennai, adding that a low GI diet prevents abdominal obesity which is very common among Indians. Unfortunately, there is little awareness about GI in India.
During a recent survey, 900 dieticians interviewed in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkatta said 45 per cent of their clients were aware of the GI system. But a majority of them only associated GI with diabetes management, not general fitness. Moreover, experts estimate that barely 10 per cent of the general population, unlike the section that consults dieticians, would have heard of the index. The Health Essayists and Authors League, which led the study, says it is important to place GI at the centre of healthy eating. But a section of nutritionists believe adding GI to the criteria for health food would make matters more confusing for the common man. They believe that deeming something healthy because it has low GI or unhealthy because of high GI would be too simplistic and misleading. "Different people react differently to the same food. If I eat a creamy pastry, my sugar levels may not rise dramatically because I am otherwise healthy as compared to someone who is older or obese, " says macrobiotic nutritionist Shonali Sabherwal. The way the body responds to a particular food depends on multiple factors including one's age, activity level, insulin level, the time of the day when it is consumed, the way it is cooked and what other food it is eaten in combination with, adds Sabherwal. A South Mumbai-based fitness trainer, who did not wish to be named, agrees. "The genetic make up also matters. Some people can eat high GI food all the time and not gain an ounce while others can be obese despite a low GI diet."
Besides, GI labels can be baffling. Consider this: A bar of Snickers has a GI of 30 whereas apple has a GI of 40. Does this mean we should eat more of the former? Of course not, say nutritionists, as apples provide fibre, iron and other nutrients that the chocolate does not have. Similarly, ice creams have low GI but they are not recommended as they are high in calories and fat.
Experts say we also need to consider the Glycemic Load (GL) of a food along with GI to determine its health quotient. GL takes into account both the quality of a given carbohydrate (GI) and the amount consumed, so more accurately predicting its effect on blood sugar. "If watermelons came with GI labelling, we would stop eating them because they have a very high GI of 74. But their GL is just four, so if you take that into account, you would know they do not raise blood sugar levels much at all, " says Sabherwal.
The fat, protein and fibre content in a food also affects its GI. Higher fat content reduces the GI since fat slows down the rate of emptying of the stomach and thus the digestion of any starch in the meal. This is why potato chips have a lower GI than baked potatoes though the latter would undoubtedly be a wiser option.
The trainer says that if GI labelling is passed, we would fall in the 1980's trap of 'low fat' and 'zero fat' again. "Hundreds of salad dressings claim they are low-fat, even though they are loaded with sugar. Similarly, potato chips makers would be able to put 'low GI' labels if they use animal lard, instead of vegetable fat, which has higher GI. "
Nutritionist Pooja Makhija says it is a bad idea to give numeric values to food, be it calories or GI. "There is already a fear factor about food these days. Associating food with yet another number will make people fear it more, " she says.
Experts also pointed out that those who blindly follow a low GI diet could end up having meals that are high on fat, calorie dense and low on fibre.
HIGH GI |
70 and up | White rice, white bread, baked potato
MEDIUM GI |
56 to 69 | Sweet corn, bananas, pineapple, raisins and certain types of ice cream
LOW GI |
55 and below | Carrots, apple, grapefruit, peas, peanuts, skim milk, kidney beans and lentils
LOWER THE BETTER
BREAKFAST BOOST |
Having a low GI breakfast can prevent glucose spikes for hours after. Pick wheat flakes or oats instead of the regular cornflakes and add some milk and fruits to it to bring down the GI
POWER PAIRS |
Don't have idlisjust with chutney. Add a bowl of sambhar. Protein takes time to get digested so the body will have to work on the entire package
RIGHT RICE |
Rice has a varied GI ranging from as low as 54 to as high as 121, so it is important to pick a good variety. Moolagiri rice has been found to have the lowest GI of 54. Long grain rice like basmati, brown rice and a new variety called ADT 43 are also low on GI
VEGGY GOOD |
Most vegetables have a low GI, so include more in your diet
NO REFINED |
Eat less refined sugars and processed foods
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