Dr Alan Barclay
Low GI and low carb are NOT the same
There are a growing number of foods and beverages on supermarket shelves with packaging claims which are designed to encourage us to believe they will have a minimal impact on our blood glucose levels. Typical claims include ‘low carb’, ‘low glycemic’ and of course ‘low GI’. Catherine Saxelby’s Foodwatch website has just posted a report on ‘Sumo Salad Low GI Chicken Salad’ which hasn’t actually been GI tested and is in fact low in carbs. You can check it out HERE.
While these products may look like a good choice if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, that’s not always the case. Undeniably, the immediate effect of what you eat or drink on your blood glucose levels is an important factor in deciding what to put in your shopping trolley. But it’s not the only one. There are many other aspects to good nutrition you need to consider including the amount of protein, the amount and type of fat and the amount of sodium … Here’s why these on-pack and point of sale claims may not be as healthy as they seem.
Low carb is far and away the most popular claim. When manufacturers reduce the carb content of a product they usually have to increase one of the other macronutrients – protein or fat – or alcohol in the case of low carb beers. While this may not be a problem if you like to buy a particular low carb product, it can become a problem if the bulk of what you eat and drink are low carb products. Here’s why.
- It is generally advisable for people with diabetes to avoid high protein diets (more than 25% of kilojoules/calories from protein) because of possible harmful effects on your kidney function (a common complication of diabetes).
- We don’t need to tell you that high fat diets (that’s more than 35% of kilojoules/calories from fat) tend to lead to weight gain (fat provides more than double the kilojoules/calories per gram than carbs or protein). And the problem with weight gain (apart from the obvious one) is that it can decrease your insulin sensitivity. In addition, if too much of the fat is saturated or trans fat (more than 10% of kilojoules/calories), it will have an adverse affect on cholesterol levels, leading to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. And once you’ve put it on, it’s really hard to get it off for good.
Moderate carbohydrate diets (45–60% of kilojoules/calories) on the other hand, tend to be lower in calories/kilojoules and higher in fibre than high fat or protein diets which is why they are widely recommended for people with diabetes.
Low carb or low glycemic on labels does not necessarily mean a food or drink is low GI at all. The carbs in products with packages proclaiming they are ‘low carb’ or ‘low glycemic’ can and often do have a high GI, and again, if you over-consume them it can have detrimental effects on your beta cell function, blood triglyceride and free fatty acid levels. It also affects satiety (feeling full).
To help make healthy low GI choices easier, we developed the GI Symbol Program. It was our response to the raft of false claims and it’s your guarantee that the food is an all-round healthy choice and that it also has been tested and really is low GI.
Help us get the GI Symbol on more foodsTo help bring more healthy low GI foods to your local supermarket:
1. Buy products that carry the Certified Low GI symbol. They are delicious and healthy, and their sales support us.
2. Write a thank you email to the manufacturers’ of healthy low GI foods customer care departments to help ensure that they continue to bring healthy products to market.
3. Call or email manufacturers encouraging them to join the GI Symbol Program.
For more information about the GI Symbol Program
Dr Alan W Barclay, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer
Glycemic Index Foundation (Ltd)
Phone: +61 (0)2 9785 1037
Mob: +61 (0)416 111 046
Fax: +61 (0)2 9785 1037