Health benefits of low GI eating for diabetics

India will soon be the diabetes capital of the world. A lot of emphasis is being laid on right nutrition, exercise and a stress-free lifestyle to prevent diabetes.

On World Diabetes Day, we take a look at the benefits of eating a low glycemic index diet. Low GI foods can reduce the average blood glucose levels of diabetics. This is important in reducing the risk of developing diabetes-related complications.

Healthy low GI diets
• Help to fill you up and keep you feeling satisfied for longer — thereby avoiding over-eating or too much snacking.
• Lower your insulin levels — which makes fat easier to burn and less likely to be stored.
• Help you lose body fat and maintain lean muscle tissue.
• Reduce your triglycerides, total and ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol.
• Increase your levels of ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol.
• Reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
• Help to manage your blood glucose levels and reduce your risk of developing diabetes complications.
• Reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
• Reduce your risk of developing certain eye diseases.
• Improve your skin
• Sustain your energy levels longer, — which improves both mental and physical performance.

Using the GI is easy

It’s all about balance. To achieve any of the health benefits of low GI eating, you need to make sure that you include plenty of low GI ‘smart’ carbohydrates as part of a healthy balanced diet.

How does one do that?

Step 1. Replace high GI foods with low GI ones from the same food group. The foods you choose should also be low in saturated fat, moderate in sodium (salt) and high in fibre. Foods that meet all of these requirements carry the GI symbol.

Step 2. Consume at least one serving of a low GI carbohydrate food at each meal and choose low GI carbohydrate foods for your snacks.

Step 3. Regulate the serving size. Be conscious of the quantity of carbohydrates you eat.

ALSO… Make sure you include at least 30 minutes of planned exercise like walking, swimming or riding a bike in your daily routine, plus 30 minutes of incidental exercise like using the stairs instead of the lift or going over to talk to a colleague instead of sending an email.

Some things to keep in mind about the GI

The GI only applies to carbohydrate-rich foods It is not possible to obtain a GI value for foods which contain almost no carbohydrate. These foods include meats, fish, chicken, eggs, cheese, most nuts, oils, cream, butter and most vegetables.

The GI of a food does not make it good or bad for you

High GI foods such as most potatoes and wholemeal breads still make valuable nutritional contributions to the diet. Low GI foods such as pastry that are high in saturated fat are no better for you because of their low GI. Different foods have a variety of nutrients. Choose a wide variety of foods that are low in salt and saturated fat, high in fibre and have a low GI.

Don’t avoid all high GI foods
There is no need to eat only low GI foods. While you will benefit from eating low GI carbs at each meal, this doesn’t have to mean excluding all others. A meal that includes a high GI food such as a typical potato and a low GI food such as sweet corn will result in a lower GI overall.

It’s not necessary to add up the GI each day The GI value of a food can be changed by the way it is processed or cooked, so it is not possible to calculate a precise GI value for recipes or to predict the GI of a menu for the whole day. That is why foods are categorised as low, medium or high GI. Just substitute low GI foods for high GI foods in everyday meals and snacks. This will make it easier for you to plan your diet.

Are foods containing sugar excluded?

Not all sugars are the same. Many foods naturally high in sugars like fruit, milk and yoghurt are very nutritious.

It’s more useful to focus on a food’s overall GI and total carbohydrate content rather than on the sugars.

Tips for reducing the GI of your diet

1. Fill half your dinner plate with vegetables or salad

Try to eat at least five servings of vegetables every day.

This doesn’t include the starchy ones like potatoes, sweet potatoes or sweet corn. Choose from three or more different colours of vegetables.

2. Be wise with your potatoes

If you are a big potato eater and can’t bear the thought of giving them up, you don’t have to. Just choose wisely, and be careful with the quantity. Choose one or two medium-sized  boiled.

3. Change to more nourishing bread

Instead of high GI white and wholemeal breads, choose a grainy bread where you can actually see the grains, or multi grain bread.

4. Make your starchy staples the low GI ones

Use more of whole grains, such as oats for porridge or muesli and broken wheat and opt for lower GI starchy vegetables.

5. Eat more legumes (pulses)

Include beans, lentils and chickpeas in your meals two or three times a week, more often if you are vegetarian. Use chickpeas, red kidney beans or any other variety of beans or lentils in the form of salad, soup or accompaniments.

6. Develop the art of combining

Combining high GI with low GI foods, results in a moderate overall GI. For example, lentils with rice, rice with beans, tabbouli in pita bread with falafel and a dash of hummous; baked beans on toast or with jacket-baked potato. This makes meals more interesting too.

7. Have a lean protein source with every meal

Eat lean meat, skinless chicken, fish and seafood, eggs, milk, yoghurt or cheese; or legumes and tofu if you are vegetarian.

8. Tickle your taste buds

Try using vinegar or lemon juice with a dash of extra virgin olive oil with salads; yoghurt with cereal; lemon juice on vegetables or dhals. These foods contain acids, which slow stomach emptying and lower the blood glucose response to carbohydrates in the meal.

9. Use low GI when snacking

Keep foods that are healthy and have low GI in the house. Have fresh fruit, dried fruit, or fruit and nut mix, low fat milk and yoghurt (or soya alternatives), for snacks. Limit the use of high GI refined flour products such as cookies, cakes, pastries, crumpets, crackers, biscuits – whether
home baked or bought – regardless of their fat and sugar content.

Source: M. Malini. The author is Dietician, Department of Diet, M.V.Hospital for Diabetes & Prof. M.Viswanathan Diabetes Research Centre

Image: Nandini Sivakumar

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