Glycemic Index: Your guide to healthy food

By bappaditya paul

Gone are the days when mothers used to tell children to eat more vegetables and fresh fruits!

New-age parents themselves are into consuming more of junk foods: chips, cold drinks, pizzas, French-fries et al. And, of course, the wise say, you cannot preach what you don’t practice!No wonder, lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular ailments are rising at an alarming rate in India, both among minors and adults.

“We’ve forgotten our own traditions and ancient teachings on what one should eat for a healthy living. Written ages ago, our scriptures tell us to follow a swattik aahar, which, in effect, means consuming food that are fresh and low in carbohydrates.”

“But with globalisation we are increasingly consuming junk foods, leading to a spurt in lifestyle diseases,” said Dr Shashank R Joshi at a recent workshop in Bangalore on “Food and Fitness: Placing Glycemic Index at the Centre of Healthy Food”. Dr Joshi is a leading endocrinologist attached to Mumbai’s Lilavati Hospital.

What is Glycemic Index?

Glycemic Index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates in food items according to the extent they raise blood sugar levels after eating. GI is measured on a scale of 0 to 100.

As per the GI scale, food is divided in three categories ~ Low having GI value £ 55, Medium having GI value 56-69 and High having GI value ³ 70.

High GI Food ~  Chips, French fries, popcorn, cold drinks, white bread, rosogolla, lychee, watermelon, jowar, broad beans, pumpkin, parsnips, over-cooked food, pizzas

Foods having high GI value get rapidly digested resulting in a sharp rise in blood sugar levels. Low GI foods, on the other hand, are digested and absorbed slowly resulting in gradual rise in blood sugar and insulin levels.

Low GI Food ~ Brown bread, long grain rice, wheat, lentils, mung beans, chickpeas, soya-beans, green peas, carrots, apples, oranges, strawberries, plums, banana, cherries, lemon juice

Low GI foods have proven benefits for health as they improve both glucose and lipid levels in people with diabetes. They also have benefits in weight control as slow digestion helps contain appetite and delays hunger.

How to choose low GI foods?

While interested parties, both from the trade and the medical fraternity, are lobbying to make GI certification for foods mandatory in India; for a layperson, it is not a difficult task to pick healthy low GI foods for his/her daily consumption.

“Simply eat what your grandparents ate,” said Dr Joshi, who also happens to be the president of Research Society for the Study of Diabetes in India.

To be specific, green vegetables, fresh fruits, lentils and long grain rice have low GI value and they can make up for a healthy diet beating diabetes and obesity. However, not all vegetables and fruits have low GI. For example, the GI value of watermelon and pumpkin is ranked high at 72 and 75, respectively.

Again, over-cooking and style of processing can turn a low GI food into high GI one and thus making it less suitable for consumption. For example, fresh oranges have a GI value of 42, whereas orange juice comes with a higher GI value of 52.

“Without going into the nitty-gritty, what we Indians should do is reduce the intake of rice or rotis. Instead, we should double the consumption of vegetables and fruits. This should be the thumb rule,” said Mumbai-based nutritionist Ms Naini Setalvad.

Unfortunately, Rosogolla ~ the undisputed national dessert of the Bengalis ~ is labelled as a high GI food and is a no-no for those wanting to avert diabetes. Dietician Dr Priyanka Rohatgi of Apollo Hospital, Bangalore, however, has a healthy option for the sweet-loving Bengalis. “At the end of every meal, eat fresh fruits such as apples or banana instead,” she said.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece first appeared in The Statesman on 8 May 2012.)

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