Dr Alan Barclay
Making healthy choices, easy choices.
For our overall health and wellbeing, our bodies need a wide variety of essential nutrients including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, etc. Apart from breast milk, no one food or drink offers the lot. That’s why it’s important to consume a wide variety of foods and drinks to make sure we are getting all the nutrients our bodies need to grow and thrive. This is where overall dietary patterns come into the picture. And what history shows us is that it’s not about the latest fad, there are numerous ways to achieve good nutrition.
Over thousands of years, successful (and very different) dietary patterns that we now know are associated with a low risk of chronic disease have evolved in different parts of the world. For example, the traditional Mediterranean and Japanese diets are both associated with a long and healthy life, but the former is relatively high in fat whereas the latter, like most Asian diets, is very high in carbohydrate and low in fat. This suggests that our modern tendency to focus on a particular nutrient may not be a useful way to describe a “good diet” – a low fat diet is not necessarily ideal for everyone, and neither is a high carbohydrate diet. When choosing foods, drinks and overall dietary patterns, personal, cultural and genetic factors need to be taken into account.
Today’s challenge is that our food environment is very different from anything humans have had to deal with in the past. Tradition doesn’t help us make good choices in supermarkets packed with processed, packaged foods. We didn’t have to read labels in the past. Enter nutrient profiling models. “Nutrient profilers” are increasingly used worldwide to help consumers choose all-round healthy foods and drinks. Food Standards Australia New Zealand has developed one for health claims; and a more sophisticated model is being developed for front-of-pack labelling. These Australian models do incorporate a wide range of essential nutrients; but they do not take GI into account, so don’t necessarily help people with diabetes for example, make the best carbohydrate choices.
That’s why the GI Symbol Program developed its own nutrient profiler based on key nutrients such as energy (kilojoules/Calories), total and saturated fat (and their ratio), carbohydrate, sodium and dietary fibre and calcium where appropriate. In order to be eligible to carry the GI Symbol on pack, foods and drinks must meet category-specific requirements and be low GI, ensuring that that they are all-round healthy choices. The GI Symbol Program’s nutrient criteria are also consistent with FSANZ’s nutrient profiler.
If you use the “swap it” principle, you can choose a healthier low GI alternative within each food group or category. This approach allows you to enjoy a healthy diet that is consistent with your own personal and cultural food preferences, and it shouldn’t cost you anymore at the checkout either. Indeed, healthy low GI diets can be developed and enjoyed for a whole range of popular eating patterns including the Mediterranean, South East Asian, Indian, as well as “Western” diets. It is therefore easy to enjoy a healthy low GI diet and reap the long term health benefits, wherever you live in the world, and whatever your food and drink preferences.
For more information about the GI Symbol Program
Dr Alan W Barclay, PhD
Chief Scientific Officer
Glycemic Index Foundation (Ltd)
For more information about GI testing in Australia
Research Manager, Sydney University Glycemic Index Research Service (SUGiRS)