Dr Alan Barclay
Lowering the GI of fast food and convenience meals
Food companies around the globe have made concerted efforts to reduce sodium/salt, saturated and trans fats in the food supply. In Australia, for example, the Heart Foundation’s Tick program estimates it has helped remove 235 tonnes of salt from the Australian food supply, and Australian margarine manufacturers almost completely removed trans fatty acids from table margarine over a decade ago. But what about the carbohydrates (the sugars and starches) in fast food and convenience meals?
There has been some effort to reduce the amount of added sugars in fast food and convenience meals. For example, diet and no-added sugar versions of soft drinks are readily available at fast food outlets and in convenience stores throughout the nation, potentially helping us to decrease our total kilojoule intake – although the evidence for this is by no means conclusive.
Some Australian food companies have, or are pledging to, reduce the amount of added sugars in their bread rolls – a move that you could reasonable argue is more hype than substance as it is unlikely to have a significant impact on the kilojoules in the bread rolls as sugars actually provide slightly less kilojoules than the starches that will replace them. Look at the numbers and see for yourself – 15.7 kJ/g (3.75 calories/g) in sugars against 17.5 kJ/g (4.2 calories/g) in starches. Bread rolls are not a major source of added sugars in Australia anyway, with an average 90 gram roll containing around 5 grams of sugar and the picture in the USA is essentially the same. Some fast food outlets are now offering wholemeal or wholegrain bread options. While these are more nutritious in many ways than regular white bread, containing more dietary fibre and a number of important vitamins and minerals, most still have a relatively high GI.
Indeed, the main sources of carbohydrate in fast food and convenience meals with very few exceptions (see our table in Food for Thought) have a high or medium GI. Unfortunately the most commonly consumed forms of bread, potato and rice have, on average, high GI values, and these form the basis of most fast food and convenience meals like the buns for burgers and hot dogs, potato chips/French fries, and rice. The notable exceptions to the rule are pasta – and some noodle-based dishes and some sushi. It wouldn’t be too hard to make the switch to low GI options in popular fast food and convenience meals as low GI breads, potatoes and rices are around and could be used instead of the current high GI varieties if the will was there.
Healthy low GI sushi from keepin it fresh..
A more concerted effort needs to be made by the fast and convenience food industry to ensure that when they do replace saturated fat, trans fat and/or added sugars in their products, they use healthier alternatives. In particular, when it comes to carbohydrates, they should ensure that they use healthy low GI alternatives, otherwise it is highly unlikely that the new improved formulations with all their accompanying nutrition and health claims, health marks and endorsements will provide any real health benefits.
For more information on why it is highly unlikely that the new improved formulations with all their accompanying nutrition and health claims, health marks and endorsements will provide any real health benefits if they don't use healthy low GI carbs too, please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
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