Food for Thought

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The lowdown on reducing the GI of your diet
GI critics tend to say that understanding the glycemic index and putting it into practice is too complicated for the average person. It makes you wonder if they’ve ever tried, if they actually know what they are talking about, if they have another agenda, if they are being mischievous or all four? Earlier this year (March GI News) US dietitian Johanna Burani reported the results of a small study of people with diabetes who, simply given the basics, found it well within their grasp to incorporate low GI carbs into their diet to help keep their blood glucose on an even keel. So, this month we share the practical tips our GI Group dietitians give their clients to make the switch to low GI eating. There’s no specific order. Essentially, they suggest that you attack the changes that you think you’ll find easiest first – nothing is quite so inspiring as success. And that you make changes gradually – it can take 6 weeks for a new behaviour to become a habit. Here’s how you can get started.


  1. Pile half your dinner plate high with green or salad vegetables. Aim to eat at least five serves of vegetables (this doesn’t include starchy the ones like potato and sweet potato) every day, preferably of three or more colours.
  2. If you are a big potato eater and can’t bear the thought of giving them up, you don’t have to. Just cut back on the quantity (right back). Either have one or two tiny chat potatoes with a small cob of corn or make a cannellini bean (they are white beans) and potato mash replacing half the potato with cannellini beans. And try other starchy vegetables occasionally like sweet potato, yams or taro – steamed, roasted or mashed.
  3. Swap your bread. Instead of high GI packaged white and wholemeal breads, choose a really grainy bread where you can actually see the grains, granary bread, stone-ground wholemeal bread, real sourdough bread, soy and linseed bread, pumpernickel, fruit loaf or bread made from chickpea or other legume based flours.
  4. Replace those high GI crunchy breakfast flakes that spike your blood glucose and insulin levels with smart carbs like natural muesli or traditional (not instant) porridge oats or one of the lower GI processed breakfast cereals that will trickle fuel into your engine.
  5. Make your starchy staples the low GI ones. Look for the lower GI rices, serve your pasta al dente, choose less processed foods such as large flake or rolled oats for porridge or muesli and intact grains such as barley, buckwheat, bulgur, quinoa, whole kernel rye, or whole wheat kernels and opt for lower GI starchy vegetables.
  6. Learn to love legumes – home-cooked or canned. Add chickpeas to a stir-fry, red kidney beans to a chilli, a 4-bean salad to that barbecue menu, and beans or lentils to a casserole or soup.
  7. Develop the easy art of combining. No need to cut out all high GI carbs. The trick is to combine them with those low GI tricklers to achieve a moderate overall GI. How? Lentils with rice (think of the classic Italian soup), rice with beans and chilli (go Mexican), tabbouli tucked into pita bread (with felafel of course and a dash of hummous), baked beans on toast or piled on a jacket-baked potato for classic comfort food.
  8. Incorporate a lean protein source with every meal – lean meat, skinless chicken, eggs, fish and seafood, or legumes and tofu if you are vegetarian. Your protein portion should make up around a quarter of your dinner plate.
  9. Tickle those tastebuds – try vinaigrette (using vinegar or lemon juice) with salads, yoghurt with cereal, lemon juice on vegetables like asparagus, sourdough bread. These foods contain acids, which slow stomach emptying and lower your blood glucose response to the carbs in the meal.
  10. Go low when snacking – low GI that is. Grab fresh fruit, dried fruit and nut mix, low fat milk and yoghurt (or soy alternatives), fruit bread etc. Limit (this means don’t buy them every week) high GI refined flour products whether home baked or from the supermarket such as cookies, cakes, pastries, crumpets, crackers, biscuits, irrespective of their fat and sugar content. These really are the ‘keep for the occasional treat’ foods.

And remember portion caution with carb-rich foods such as rice, al dente pasta and noodles, potatoes etc. Eating a huge amount of these foods, even of the low GI ones, will have a marked effect on your blood glucose. A cup of cooked noodles or al dente pasta or rice plus plenty of mixed vegetables and a little lean protein can turn into 3 cups of a very satisfying meal.

It’s really not hard. Be encouraged. Many people who write to us after making the switch to a low GI diet tell us how easy and enjoyable they find it. They love the fact that meals have gotten a whole lot more interesting because they are eating a wider variety of food and they are over the moon about having more energy, keeping their blood glucose on an even keel and feeling well. Our ‘success story’ this month is a great example.