The Benefits of Low GI Foods
Simon Gilmour, one of Fonterra’s Research Scientist in Nutrition, explains how the Glycaemic Index (GI) helps individuals make the right food choices to support their lifestyle.
21 April 2020
The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a system designed to rank carbohydrate-containing foods
Foods are classified as being High, Mid or Low GI according to their effects on blood glucose (sugar) levels over time.
Research shows that if we eat too many high GI foods and not enough low GI, we may increase the risk of health problems. Similarly, there is evidence to suggest that following a healthy and varied diet including low GI products has the potential to deliver health benefits to a range of different people.
To read more about how GI values are determined, download our GI whitepaper.
Q. What is a low GI food?
Low GI foods cause a slow, steady rise in blood sugar levels followed by a slow, steady decline. High GI foods, on the other hand, cause your blood sugar levels to rise quickly in a sharp "spike", this is odten followed by a "crash" which can result in feelings of sluggishness and fatigue.
Q. Is low GI the same as saying low sugar?
In short, no. Low sugar claims refer to the amount of sugar a food contains, typically per 100g, and can be checked by reviewing the Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) on the packaging. Whereas the GI system ranks foods by their effect on an individual's blood sugar over time. A food must be tested and certified to claim that it is low GI (there are helpful tools online to check the GI ratings of foods, such as glycemicindex.com).
Q. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that 1 in 10 adults in the world could have diabetes by the year 2030. Do diets play a role in preventing the onset of diabetes?
What you eat plays an important role in ensuring all individuals consume enough nutrients that their body needs to perform. For most people, making healthy food choices and staying active are adequate preventative measures. A diet containing a lot of high GI foods is particularly harmful to individuals who are pre-diabetic, or at risk of developing type II diabetes, as this can increase the chances of developing type II diabetes significantly.
Those at risk should make healthy food choices, which may include opting for low GI products, and stay active.
Q. If consuming low GI foods can help prevent the onset of type II diabetes, is it also helpful for those already suffering?
The nature of diabetes means individuals have a reduced ability to control blood sugar levels effectively, leading to prolonged periods of elevated blood sugars. This can lead to serious health consequences for the individual, meaning diabetics must consider the management of their blood sugar levels carefully.
Following a low GI diet can improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity in people with type II diabetes. Similarly, people with type I diabetes tend to have better blood glucose control on low GI diets.
Q. What if you are just interested in maintaining your general health, can consuming low GI foods help?
We all have our own health and wellness goals. Whether your goals are to unlock your absolute best or to maintain your current level, your food choices will often be an important consideration. In particular, low GI products deliver health benefits that are beneficial to a range of different people.
The slow rise in blood sugar levels from consuming low GI foods are considered to create greater feelings of fullness, this can help decrease food consumption at each meal or between meals supporting those who are looking to manage their weight more effectively.
Similarly, foods with a low GI act as fuel for active bodies by helping your body maintain a steady rise in blood sugar levels, providing you with the energy to help you perform at your best.
Low GI products deliver health benefits that are beneficial to a range of different people.
Simon Gilmour | Research Scientist in Nutrition
Q. Should I always avoid high GI foods, or are they ok sometimes?
Choosing between a low or a high GI food can depend on each individual’s personal needs. While those looking to lower their risk of diabetes, hoping to make managing their weight easier or just looking to avoid the afternoon slump will benefit from choosing low GI, this doesn’t mean that high GI foods are always “bad”. For example, for an athlete who is participating in a prolonged bout of intense exercise, a high GI food can help to provide them with a quick hit of energy. Or in medical emergency involving very low blood sugars, a high GI food could help save a life. But, for most people following a varied diet consisting of mostly low GI foods and partaking in regular exercise will help them live a healthier and happier life.
Research Scientist, Nutrition
Simon is a Research Scientist in Nutrition at the Fonterra Research and Development Centre in New Zealand.
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