1 November 2006

Feedback—Your FAQs Answered

Is there any way I can change a bad carb like potatoes into a good carb? Or mellow a bad carb’s effects?
We tend not to talk good carbs bad carbs. We think it is more a question of balance. While you’ll benefit from eating healthy low GI carbs at each meal or for snacks, this doesn’t have to be at the exclusion of all others. High GI, carb-rich foods such as potatoes, wholemeal bread and brown rice make a valuable nutritional contribution to your diet. And when you combine them in a meal with low GI carbs such as lentils or beans or protein foods such as a piece of steak or fillet of fish, the overall GI value of the meal will probably be medium. See our tips for reducing the GI of your diet in Food for Thought this month. And if you love potatoes as so many people do, start by cutting back on the quantity. Either have one or two tiny chat potatoes with a small cob of corn, or make a cannellini bean and potato mash replacing half the potato with cannellini beans, or enjoy a small portion of potato salad with a vinaigrette dressing.


Should I use the GI or GL when planning meals?

We are often asked this. We recommend you use the GI, rather than GL, to identify your best carbohydrate choices. Emphasis on GL (ie GI x the amount of carbohydrate in the food) could easily lead to an unhealthy diet based on too few carbs. Some health professionals have unwittingly recommended the use of GL in place of GI on the basis that GL gives the best impression of a food’s overall effect on blood glucose levels. A few foods, for example, have a high GI but a normal serving of the food has a low GL (eg watermelon). That might well be true but it’s not a good reason to concentrate exclusively on the GL. Here’s why.

Carbohydrates with a low GI have a lot more going for them than simply keeping blood glucose levels on an even keel. Slow carbs, as we call them, are digested and absorbed slowly throughout the length of the small intestine. This makes them more likely to be filling and to stimulate the brain-gut peptides that spell ‘satiety’. Low GI carbs are also far more likely to be healthy foods such as legumes, fruits and dairy products that make a positive contribution to health in many ways (not just lowering blood glucose levels).


If you concentrate on foods/meals with a low GL, you could well end up eating a diet that is too low in carbs and too high in saturated fat. Fatty meats like salami and bacon and cheese after all have a low GL. Although the GL concept is useful in scientific research, it’s the GI that’s proven to be most helpful to people day-to-day, say our dietitians. If you choose healthy low GI foods – at least one at each meal – chances are you’re eating a diet that not only keeps blood glucose within the healthy range, but contains balanced amounts of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

I recently became a diabetic and was given a very brief course in nutrition to help me manage my glucose levels – without much success. Which of your books would help me?
Many people with diabetes struggle to keep their blood glucose on an even keel and lose weight – and not just when they are first diagnosed. It’s ongoing. That’s why it’s really important to see a registered dietitian who specialises in helping people with diabetes. It can really make a real difference long term. Your family doctor should be able to recommend one. As for books, we usually suggest Low GI Eating Made Easy for starters. It’s very practical and an easy read. It covers making the change to low GI eating in easy steps and lists the top 100 low GI foods and ways to include them in your diet. There’s also a week of low GI eating – breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert ideas and the GI tables. If you want a bit more of the science behind the GI, check out The New Glucose Revolution Low GI Guide to Diabetes. You can get these books from Amazon and major booksellers.

Can I estimate a food’s GI by looking at the ingredient listing or nutrition label?
We are often asked this question. And the simple answer is that you can’t ‘work it out’. A packaged food’s Nutrition Facts panel will tell you the carbohydrate content, but it won’t indicate the GI of that food. If it contains at least 10 grams of carbohydrates per serving, you can be sure it will have at least some effect on your blood glucose concentration – but there’s no way of telling whether it will be a little or a lot. Similarly, you can’t estimate the GI of a food by looking at its ingredient list, because it won’t tell you the final state of the starches in the food – which ultimately determine GI value.


However, you can make some generalisations about the GI of different foods that you can keep in mind when shopping. Legumes, for example, have some of the lowest GI values whether you buy them dried or canned, it doesn’t matter about the brand. Most pasta and noodle products tend to be low GI foods too as are most fresh fruits and dairy foods like milk, yogurt, ice cream, and custards. In contrast, most bread, bakery products, rice and breakfast cereals are high GI, although those that are less processed may be lower GI. Protein-rich foods—cheese, meat, eggs, and poultry – don’t have measurable GI values, because they contain little if any carbohydrates. The same is true for salad vegetables. Check out the database at www.glycemicindex.com for the most comprehensive list of GI values available. If you want something portable, you might like to pick up The New Glucose Revolution Shopper’s Guide to GI Values. It is updated each year, so look for the 2007 edition which should be published around November/December. And hound the manufacturers of your favourite foods to have them glycemic index tested ‘in vivo’ (that means what happens in real people not in a glass test tube) following the standard international procedure.

Have you done a GI study on winter squashes (pumpkins) such as hubbard, acorn, butternut etc?
There’s only been one published result for winter squash (it is listed as pumpkin) and it had a high GI (75). The actual variety tested isn’t given. But a typical serving of say 80 grams cooked winter squash is only going to have around 5–6 grams of carbohydrate, so the glycemic load will be quite low. That’s why we classify these healthy vegetables like winter squash and swedes etc. as ‘everyday caution with portion foods’ as we want people to eat plenty of vegetables (at least five servings a day) on a low GI diet. It’s only the starchy, carb-rich potato with a high GI that we suggest people cut back on.



Rita Shea said...

I am fairly new to the Glycemic Index, and I keep reading about the high GI count of whole grain breads. I have read for a long time that whole grains are necessary to a good diabetic (or almost any) diet. Is it just the breads that are bad, or are all whole grains bad on the glycemic diet? How do I know which are good and which are bad?

harleydog1 said...

Go to the home page, scroll down to the bottom there is a list. I just started in late July and have lost 20lbs. I stay away from white bread, I buy 100% wheat all whole grain bread, also sourdough bread. You can buy the books I have and they really help.
good luck,

harleydog1 said...

I also buy fat free yougurt and mix it with frozen strawberrys, blueberrys etc makes a great dessert. I eat turkey breast and chicken, I don't eat red meat much when I want a sandwich I cut a piece of the bread in half and have it that way instead of fat free mayo I put a little fat free thousand island dressing on it. the books really help out a lot!

Anonymous said...


I have a question for the FAQs (not sure if this is the right place to submit these). I am wondering whether it is more beneficial to eat three large meals a day (that have a balance of high and low GI foods), or about six smaller meals a day. It seems like, with the first option, the fact that you're combining high and low GI foods means that you avoid a spike in your blood sugar levels. But I also thought that it was smart (and more enjoyable for me) to have small meals throughout the day -- but with this option you might be eating smaller portions of higher GI foods. So which is a better option? (And please don't suggest six smaller meals with balanced high and low GI foods-- I don't want to become fanatic about planning out every meal to have a moderate GI index).

Any thoughts?

gi group said...

Three large meals or six smaller ones? We asked our GI Group dietitians to comment on this. The answer may not be what you want to hear - but this is still the answer to the question! Eating small regular meals and snacks across the day is a good idea for most people as it can help to manage blood glucose levels, prevent hunger and overeating at mealtimes and maintain energy levels across the day. But whether you eat three larger meals or three smaller meals and snacks, it is still best to focus on low GI carbs and to choose mostly low or moderate GI foods where possible. This doesn’t need to be difficult or take lots of planning or calculating - there are plenty of healthy low GI snacks available. A few ideas include fresh fruit, dried fruit & nut mix, low fat yoghurt, fruit smoothies (blend low fat or skim milk with fruit), wholegrain fruit loaf, hummus with carrot and celery sticks, roasted chickpeas, wholegrain toast or English muffins or a small can of baked beans.

gi group said...

Rita: Harleydog1 has given you some useful tips here. If you are new of low GI eating, then it's probably a good idea to buy a book that sets it all out clearly and simply for you, or have a chat to a dietitian. Here's what dietitian Kaye Foster-Powell says in her book Low GI Eating Made Easy. 'To get started you need to:
1) Eat a lot more fruit and vegetables, legumes and wholegrain products such as barley and traditional oats.
2) Pay attention to breads and breakfast cereals - these foods contribute most to the glycemic load of the average diet.
3) Minimise refined flour products and starches such as crumpets, crackers, biscuits, rolls, pastries etc irrespective of their fat and sugar content.
4) Avoid high GI snacks such as pretzels, rice cakes and crackers.

Mfana said...

How can I tell if foods advertised as low GI are genuinely low GI - could you please give us an article on "how to read food labels correctly"?

GI Group said...

Please check the FAQ section in our August issue of GI News where the GI and claims made on labels is discussed.

Susan said...

I am just feeling so discouraged-I hope you can help me.
I have been on the 12 week program from The Low GI Diet Revolution.I am supposed to go on the maintenance program now for the next 12 weeks.I have lost no weight(actually gained)and feel a little panicky to add more food.I don't want to give up.I'm trying to figure out why I was unable to lose inches or weight.I really enjoy this type of eating,but I may have to go out and buy new clothes(They're all getting a bit tight)Has anyone else gained at the start?I was following the chart on page 61 according to my weight.Will this eventually turn around?

Anonymous said...

I would like to know whether I really HAVE to use whole rolled oats instead of quick oats.I have made my own(untoasted,natural) muesli for years and cannot cope with all the chewing required with whole rolled oats.My 'recipe' does fill me up(I mix it with soy milk and low fat yoghurt) and contains a reasonably small amount of nuts,seeds and dried fruit.My BG reading 2 hours after eating it is only a little higher than the fasting BG.

hermin said...

hi Susan - just wondering:
1. did u often feel hungry when following the diet?
2. did u have juice/ soft drinks (if so, how often?) - although people might think that juice is healthy, it gives u sugar and is not satiating. so, although u get calories from it, ur body "doesnt realise it" and u still feel hungry. fruit would be more satiating, as it's got fibre to keep u feeling full).
also would u mind telling us, just in general, what u usually eat throughout the day. so it would be easier for us to suggest some ideas. thanks!

gi group said...

Susan: We have passed your question on to the authors for comment. Watch this space.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what caster sugar is?
I would also like to use stevia in place of sugar in baking recipes. Anyone know the exchange? Thanks for your help

GI Group said...

Granulated sugar comes in various crystal sizes — for home and industrial use — depending on the application:

1) Coarse-grained sugars, such as sanding sugar (nibbed sugar or sugar nibs) find favor for decorating cookies (biscuits) and other desserts.

2) Normal granulated sugars for table use: typically they have a grain size about 0.5 mm across

3) Finer grades such as caster sugar (0.35 mm and commonly used in baking) result from selectively sieving the granulated sugar:

Run a search for stevia in the Google search bar. We ran an article on this a few months ago.

Pam Alderson said...

Following poor recovery after an abscessed tooth in May, I found I had impaired glucose tolerance. My GP advised me to lose 5kg by October and to follow a low GI diet. To my surprise, and delight I lost 13kg and my glucose levels were perfect. I stick to it as closely as possible, but with some "treats". I find the biggest problem is that low GI foods are often expensive, e.g. low GI bread is around $4 per loaf with other multigrain around $1.49!!! No fat milk is nearly double the cost also. Cereal is difficult to find with GI symbol. If it does have it, is it astronomical in price. Diabetes Australia recommends Lowan Tropical Fruit Muesli and I have been using this as it is nearest to the one I prefer but I still do not know if it is low GI!!!!

hermin said...

hi Pamela, yes it's a bit hard isnt it when you have to eat special foods which tend to be costly. but i've got a good news for you (and hopefully it is really good news):

- multigrain bread like soy & linseed bread tends to be low in GI...
- oats are also low in GI... and pretty cheap.
- as far as i know, cereals containing bran + fruit + nut (like all bran tropical) are lower in GI than other cereals (e.g. rice bubbles)
- if you have time to prepare breakfast you can add some cut up apples to your cereal - i've tried that & it keeps me full until almost lunchtime!

hermin said...

oh and also if you live in Australia (i assume you do as you mention Diabetes Australia), you may find some no-fat milk prods quite cheap - especially home brands - look for woolworths home brand's long life skim milk, it costs around $1 (just the same as full cream).

Anonymous said...

I found this site on Google - this is the best site I have found to date regarding the GI topic. I was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and have been following my physicians advise of a low GI diet. I wish I had known about this years ago - I'm sure I could have minimized many of the health issues that I have today. Over the past two months, I have lost close to 20 pounds, and I am not starving by any stretch of the imagaination - just eating good, low GI foods that are good for me. I have been eating a balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, lean protein (beef, chicken, turkey, some eggs), and nuts combined with about 20 - 25 minutes of light aerobic exercise a day (walking) at least 5 days per week. My blood sugar is well under control, I sleep better, more refreshed in the morning and overall, I feel great. Overall, I feel like I'm on the right track - any suggestions about tweaking my current program to make it even more beneficial? Thanks!

gi group said...

Susan, here's what the authors say: You should definitely not be gaining weight and while fast weight loss is not the most desirable outcome, you should certainly be losing some weight. The bottom line is that if you haven’t lost weight you are eating too much and/or not doing enough exercise. Forget about the portions/servings for now – these are only a guide – and listen instead to your body and your appetite. Once you have the right foods in your diet it should get easier to ‘listen’ to your body and eat the right amount of food to be satisfied. There is no need to eat all of the food suggested, so long as you eat 3 meals with 1-2 snacks in between. Keep a food diary for a week and see if you can see where you may be eating more than you need, indulging in a few extras or perhaps drinking a kilojoule-containing drink? Finally make sure you are achieving the recommended exercise every day, making sure you are not rewarding yourself with food afterwards.

gi group said...

Pam, in August 2005 issue of GI News we answered a question very like yours: 'How can I feed a family with cost-effective, no hassle, low-GI foods?' You may like to check it out. Just click on that issue in the archive. The latest Shopper's Guide to GI Values has around 700 foods in it, many of them relatively inexpensive - take a look.