Food for Thought

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Reduce your risk of a heart disease with a low GI diet
The statistics for heart disease are pretty much the same everywhere in the developed world. It’s the biggest killer. Often the cause is atherosclerosis or ‘hardening of the arteries’ which develops slowly and quietly for years until bingo, it suddenly produces the stabbing pain of angina or a heart attack. Today, it’s affecting younger and younger people and the beginnings of blood vessel damage are even being seen in children.

Most people are aware of the key diet and lifestyle messages to reduce the likelihood of becoming a heart disease statistic: stopping smoking, getting more exercise and eating a healthy diet – especially cutting back on saturated fats, avoiding trans fats, and choosing the good fats. Fewer appreciate that high blood glucose levels are a red flag risk factor for heart disease, too. Here’s why. A high level of glucose in the blood means:

  • Excess glucose moves into cells lining the arteries, causing inflammation, thickening and stiffening – the making of ‘hardened arteries’
  • Highly reactive, charged particles called ‘free radicals’ are formed which destroy the machinery inside the cell, eventually causing the cell death
  • Glucose adheres to cholesterol in the blood which promotes the formation of fatty plaque and prevents the body from breaking down excess cholesterol
  • Higher levels of insulin raise blood pressure and blood fats, while suppressing ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol levels

Artery with plaque formation

The results of a Harvard University study of over 100 000 people over 10 years (Nurses’ Health Study) found that those who ate more high GI foods had nearly twice the risk of heart attack compared with those eating low GI diets. The increased risk associated with high GI diets was largely seen in those with a BMI over 23 – which takes in the great majority of adults (remember, a BMI of 20 to 25 is considered normal weight). This suggests that the insulin resistance that comes with increasing weight is an integral part of the problem. By lowering your blood glucose after meals and reducing high insulin levels, you’ll have:

  • More potential for weight loss and for maintaining weight loss and therefore less pressure on the heart
  • Healthier blood vessels that are more elastic, making dilation easier, improving blood flow and reducing inflammation
  • Better blood fats – more of the good HDL cholesterol and less of the bad LDL.