1 March 2019

GI News - March 2019

GI News

GI News is published online every month by the University of Sydney, School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the Charles Perkins Centre, and delivered to the mailboxes of our 97,000 subscribers. Our goal is to help people choose the high-quality carbs that are digested at a rate that our bodies can comfortably accommodate and to share the latest scientific findings on food and diet with a particular focus on carbohydrates, dietary fibres, blood glucose and the glycemic index.

Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, AM, PhD, FAIFST, FNSA
Editor: Philippa Sandall
Scientific Editor/Managing Editor: Alan Barclay, PhD, APD, AN
Contact GI News: glycemic.index@gmail.com

Sydney University Glycemic Index Research Service
Manager: Fiona Atkinson, PhD, APD, AN
Contact: sugirs.manager@sydney.edu.au

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Prof Jennie Brand-Miller and Dr Alan Barclay answer 5 of the most common questions we are asked about starch.

Starch structure
WHAT IS STARCH? Starch is found naturally in grains, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), potatoes and other starchy vegetables (e.g., parsnip, potato, pumpkin, squash), nuts and seeds. It’s the plant’s reserve energy supply that it stores in seeds and tubers. In fact, there are two types of starches which are part of the large group of polysaccharides – chains of glucose joined together by chemical bonds. 

  • Amylose is a straight chain of glucose molecules that tend to line up in rows like a string of beads and form tight, compact clumps that are harder for our bodies to gelatinise and digest. 
  • Amylopectin is a string of glucose molecules with lots of bushy looking branching points, such as you see in some types of seaweed or a tree. Amylopectin molecules are larger and more open and the starch tends to be easier for our bodies to gelatinise and digest. 
 WHAT IS GELATINISATION? Ever tried to eat raw rice or dried beans or raw potato? Not a good experience. Possibly mission impossible. That’s because the starch in these foods is stored in hard, compact granules that make it virtually impossible for our starch-digesting enzymes (amylases in our saliva and intestinal digestive juices) to attack and digest. And that’s why we cook these foods. It makes the difference called gelatinisation. It softens them up you might say.

Let’s take rice. The cooking instructions for the absorption method tell us to throw 1 cup of rice into the pot with 1½ cups of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the water has evaporated. Remove from heat, keep covered and set aside for 5 minutes. So, what happens? The starch granules absorb the water, swell up and some burst, freeing the thousands of individual starch molecules. We now have fluffy rice and a food we have no difficulty digesting because our highly specialised starch-digesting enzymes (amylases) have a lot more accessible surface area to attack.

WHAT IS GLYCOGEN? Glycogen is very similar to starch in its chemical structure. Our bodies make it from glucose and store it as backup in the liver and muscles (we can store about 1500 to 1900 calories worth). It comes from the carb foods (starches and sugars) we consume and provides energy we can draw on when our carb stores run low with fasting or intense exercise. When carb stores run low, our bodies convert the glycogen back to glucose to power our muscles and brains.

WHAT IS RESISTANT STARCH? Many scientists categorise resistant starch as another form of dietary fibre these days because of what it does. It actually is starch that resists digestion and absorption in the small intestine and zips through to the large intestine largely intact to be fermented into short chain fatty acids, like acetate, propionate and butyrate by those good gut bacteria we have down there (our microbiome). Research in recent years suggests it may well be as important as fibre in helping reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, so it has a lot of fans. It’s found naturally in unprocessed cereals and whole grains, firm (unripe) bananas, beans and lentils. But you can create it in your own kitchen too when you make potato salad, rice salad or pasta salad – starchy foods that you cook and then cool. The same goes for old-fashioned oatmeal if you cook up a pot one day and reheat individual portions the next.

WHAT ARE MALTODEXTRINS? Maltodextrins don’t occur naturally in foods, they are chains of glucose molecules ranging from three to nine glucose units long produced by processing corn (maize), potato, rice, tapioca, or wheat to break down the starch in a factory. We call them highly refined carbohydrates. As they are flavourless and only slightly sweet, they are commonly added to processed foods to provide bulk and texture and to help blend ingredients together. You will also find them in the single-serving, tabletop packets of some intense sweeteners and in pharmaceuticals.

Are they gluten-free? In the United States and Canada, maltodextrins are most often made from corn, potato, or rice but in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, wheat is widely used. It seems to be generally accepted that the source may not matter, since the original grain or starchy vegetable is highly processed to remove all the gluten-containing protein. However, dietitian Dr Kate Marsh, always recommends people with celiac disease avoid maltodextrin derived from wheat as there is a possibility it may contain small amounts of gluten. She says: “Wheat will appear on the label when it has been used to make maltodextrin. If you have celiac disease and are concerned about a particular product, your local celiac society should be able to help. Alternatively, check with your doctor or dietitian.”

Read More:


Starchy carbohydrates were a major factor in the evolution of the human brain say researchers in the Quarterly Review of Biology, challenging the long-standing belief that the increase in size of the human brain around 800,000 years ago was the result of increased meat consumption.

Starchy veges
“Global increases in obesity and diet-related metabolic diseases have led to enormous interest in ancestral or ‘Paleolithic’ diets,” said Professor Jennie Brand-Miller. “Up until now, there has been a heavy focus on the role of animal protein in the development of the human brain over the last two million years. The importance of carbohydrate, particularly in the form of starch-rich plant foods, has been largely overlooked. Our research suggests that dietary carbohydrates, along with meat, were essential for the evolution of modern big-brained humans.”

According to the researchers, the high glucose demands required for the development of modern humans’ large brains would not have been met on a low carbohydrate diet. The human brain uses up to 25 per cent of the body’s energy budget and up to 60 per cent of blood glucose. Human pregnancy and lactation, in particular, place additional demands on the body’s glucose budget, along with increased body size and the need for mobility and dietary flexibility.

Starches would have been readily available to early human populations in the form of tubers, seeds and some fruits and nuts. But it was only with the advent of cooking that such foods became more easily digested, leading to “transformational” changes in human evolution, said co-author Professor Les Copeland.

Researchers also point to evidence in salivary amylase genes, which increase the amount of salivary enzymes produced to digest starch. While modern humans have on average six copies of salivary amylase genes, other primates have only an average of two. The exact point at which salivary amylase genes multiplied is uncertain, but genetic evidence suggests it occurred in the last million years, around the same time that cooking became a common practice. “After cooking became widespread, starch digestion advanced and became the source of preformed dietary glucose that permitted the acceleration in brain size,” Professor Copeland said. In terms of energy supplied to an increasingly large brain, increased starch consumption may have provided a substantial evolutionary advantage.”

According to the researchers, a diet similar to that which gave us our large brains in the Paleolithic era would be positive for human health. That diet should include underground starchy foods such as potatoes, taro, yams and sweet potatoes, as well as more recently introduced starchy grains like wheat, rye, barley, corn, oats, quinoa and millet. “It is clear that our physiology should be optimised to the diet we experienced in our evolutionary past,” Professor Brand-Miller said. “Eating meat may have kickstarted the evolution of bigger brains, but cooked starchy foods, together with more salivary amylase genes, made us smarter still.”

Read more:


For a high-energy breakfast that sticks to your ribs, warms you up on a crisp day and keeps you firing till lunchtime, it’s hard to go past porridge made with traditional oats – a good source of soluble fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E, iron and zinc. Oats make really great porridge because they become comfortingly thick and soothingly creamy when you cook them, thanks partly to their soluble fibre. Exuding a warmth and goodness health halo they are so successful at kick-starting the day for porridge people and muesli fans alike that they have become stuck in the stacks in the breakfast cereal aisle. But oat groats (de-hulled oat grain) have a place at the table for other meals, too. You can use them in salads, pilafs and soups instead of pearl barley or spelt.

WHAT’S IN PORRIDGE? Half a cup (about 130g or 4½oz) of cooked traditional rolled oats have about 270 kilojoules (65 calories), 2g protein, 1.5g fat, 10g carbs (0g sugars/ 10g starches), 1g fibre, 0mg sodium, 48mg potassium.

WHAT ABOUT GI? SUGiRS have tested various types of porridge oats over the years and have found they can range from low GI to rather high. Why the difference? It’s all in the processing. After harvesting, raw oats are cleaned and hulled. Oat groats or whole oats are the de-hulled oat grain (they have not been GI tested but we would guesstimate they would have a low GI value similar to steel cut oats). You can use them in salads, pilafs and soups instead of pearl barley or spelt. Oat groats are then processed to produce a range of products to make your breakfast porridge including:

  • Steel-cut oats (also called pin-head or Irish oats) are groats that have been chopped up with a steel blade (GI 42–52 depending on the brand). 
  • Scottish oats are stone-ground oat groats. 
  • Traditional rolled oats (old-fashioned oatmeal) are groats that are steamed (to soften) then rolled to produce flakes (GI 57) 
  • Instant oats (quick oats) are very fine oat flakes milled from steamed steel-cut oats or groats (GI 82). Some brands are pre-cooked so you just add hot water to make porridge. Some have flavourings and sweeteners added. 
 If you want to serve your porridge with oat milk (GI 69), this is made from steamed or heat-treated oat flakes or oat flour.

Overnight oats (oats soaked in milk overnight and eaten cold the next morning) are increasingly popular for brekkie. GI Labs in Toronto recently carried out a randomised controlled trial to see if the oats served this way retained their lower glycemic response. Dr Thomas Wolever, Principal Investigator at GI Labs, and the study’s lead researcher says: “Both the method of preparation and whether a food is consumed hot or cold have significant effects on postprandial glucose and insulin responses. In this study, we demonstrated that when oats are soaked in milk (cow’s) overnight, they retain their low glycemic and insulinemic impact.” Check out their findings in “Read more”.

Read more:


Potato, pasta or rice? We thought it would be interesting to compare what you are putting on your plate. For the potato we followed the standard dietitian guidelines for a serve (if you like two potatoes, double the numbers). For pasta and rice, we used the serving sizes recommended on the packet and opted for the white stuff because that’s what most people choose. With wholemeal pasta or brown rice, you’ll be adding a little more fibre to your day. Peel the potato and you lose a little fibre.

Ingredients: Potato.
PASTA (Penne) 
Ingredients (Barilla Penne Rigate): Durum wheat semolina, water.
What’s in 100 grams of cooked penne? As Barilla only provide nutrition information for dry pasta on the packet, here are the numbers you need to compare cooked penne with cooked rice. 100g al dente penne (cooked from about 35g dry pasta) provides 555kJ/135 calories and 25g available carbohydrate.
RICE (Low GI White) 
Ingredients (SunRice Doongara): Doongara Low GI White Rice


While they are a pariah in many parts of the developed world, due to the current popularity of low carbohydrate diets, potatoes have been eaten and enjoyed all over the world for centuries. Even today, roots and tubers are the third largest carbohydrate-containing food source in the world, with potatoes representing nearly half of those consumed.

Potatoes are classified as a starchy vegetable, due to the fact that they are predominantly composed of carbohydrate (86% of energy), and most of that carbohydrate is starch. Whatever the variety of potato, potato starch consists of amylopectin and amylose in a fairly constant ratio of 3:1, which is one of the reasons why the average potato has a high GI.

The average GI of potatoes is 77, with a range between 54 to 101, depending on the variety and how they are cooked and eaten. A medium-sized (around 150g) boiled potato provides approximately 23 g of available carbohydrate, so the average GL is 15, which is moderate.

Despite their generally high GI, research from single meal studies suggests that boiled potatoes are more filling (satiating) than equal kilojoule (calorie) portions of other common carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, rice and pasta.

A small proportion of the starch found in potatoes is resistant to enzymatic degradation in the small intestine and therefore reaches the large intestine essentially intact, where it becomes fuel for the microbiome. The amount of resistant starch in a potato depends on how it is cooked and eaten: 

  • boiled potatoes – 2.4g per 100g 
  • cooled-and-reheated potatoes – 3.5g per 100g 
  • baked potatoes – 3.6g per 100g 
  • cold potatoes (whether originally baked or boiled) – 4.3g per 100g. 
The protein content of potatoes is comparable to that of most other root vegetables and tubers with approximately 2–4 g per serve (medium-sized potato). On a dry-weight basis, this is comparable to that of cereals and, with the exception of beans, exceeds that of other commonly consumed vegetables. Potatoes have a relatively high biological value (BV) of 90 compared with other key plant sources of protein (e.g., soybean with a BV of 84 and beans with a BV of 73). Unlike many vegetables, potatoes contain all nine essential amino acids and are therefore a complete protein.

Potatoes contain a variety of essential vitamins and minerals most notably vitamins B (B6, riboflavin, thiamin and folate), C and the minerals potassium, magnesium, and iron. A medium-sized boiled potato provides 17 mg of vitamin C – more than half of the estimated average requirement for adults. Potatoes provide one of the most concentrated sources of potassium with a medium-sized boiled potato providing 647 mg, or nearly 20% of the Adequate Intake for adults – significantly more than those foods commonly known as high in potassium, like bananas, oranges, and broccoli.

While they are not particularly high in iron compared to meats, poultry and seafood, potatoes are a reasonable source of non-heme (i.e., plant sourced) iron, and importantly, the bioavailability of iron in potatoes exceeds that of many other iron-rich vegetables owing to extremely low or non-existent levels of antinutrients, chelators and ligands that inhibit iron absorption in the gut (e.g., tannins, oxalates, phytates) and high levels of vitamin C, which enhances iron absorption from the gut.

Frying potatoes (French fries and potato crisps/chips) increases their energy (kilojoules or calories) density, and acrylamide levels, and may also make them high in saturated and trans fats (depending on the fats/oils used) and sodium (from added salt). Also, the kind of potato used to make hot chips commercially has a very high GI, so the average GI of French fries is 75.

So, the answer to “should I be eating potatoes?” is yes. Boiled, baked or cold potatoes (potato salad) are a delicious, nutritious and very affordable staple that can be included in moderation in a healthy balanced diet. However, save fried potatoes for special occasions because they are a treat not daily fare – and be fussy about the fats/oils they are fried in.

Read more:
 Dr Alan Barclay  
Alan Barclay, PhD is a consultant dietitian and chef (Cert III). He worked for Diabetes Australia (NSW) from 1998–2014 . He is author/co-author of more than 30 scientific publications, and author/co-author of  The good Carbs Cookbook (Murdoch Books), Reversing Diabetes (Murdoch Books), The Low GI Diet: Managing Type 2 Diabetes (Hachette Australia) and The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners (The Experiment, New York).

Contact: You can follow him on Twitter or check out his website.


OK so clothing isn’t really about eating, but it’s a household issue so we thought it was worth talking about. According to ABC’s program War on Waste, Australians throw a massive 6000kg of clothing into landfill every 10 minutes. For those of you thinking you are in the clear because you donate old clothes to charity, sorry to burst your bubble but 85% of donated clothing ends up in landfill. Charities are groaning under the weight of donations.

Old clothes
Producing a single item of clothing uses a massive amount of resources. According to Fashion Revolution, 2,720 litres of water is used to make just one t-shirt. That’s how much water we normally drink in around 3 years! Not to mention the greenhouse gases released into the air along with the fertilisers, pesticides and toxic dyes that are contaminating waterways. The True Cost movie uncovers the devastating impact that chemicals from textile production have on the health of local communities. Communities located in cotton producing areas are exposed to pesticides and some leather tanneries contaminate drinking water. Sadly, these communities experience high levels of particular diseases like cancer and early death.

What Can You Do to Help? 

  • Choose versatile pieces that you love and will wear over and over again. For special occasions consider renting or borrowing an outfit. 
  • Buy pre-loved vintage items from a charity store to rescue an item from landfill and buy quality items at a bargain price. 
  • Support sustainable companies like those using organic cotton, recycled materials and those avoiding toxic dyes. Check out Greenpeace’s list of brands that are working to eliminate hazardous chemicals. 
  • Spend a little more on well-made timeless items. Look for heavier fabrics as well as strong and tidy stitching so they last longer. 
  • Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon and acrylic are types of plastic so when they are washed, tiny plastic particles enter our waterways. Instead choose natural fabrics like cotton (e.g. denim), linen, silk or wool that don’t release micro-plastics and decompose faster in landfill. A linen sleeveless top can decompose in as little as 2 weeks compared to a polyester dress that may remain in landfill for over 200 years. 
  • Use aprons when cooking to protect clothes from hot oil and food stains. Launder dark items inside out to preserve their colour as they may fade in the wash when rubbing against other garments. Do up zips or hooks and turn garments inside out so fabric doesn’t snag. 
  • Learn how to sew on a button or re-dye your favourite black jeans that have faded over time. 
  • When items are beyond repair, give them a second life. Turn old worn out clothing, tea towels and tablecloths into shopping bags, aprons, cleaning rags and much more! 
 Ethical Clothing in a Nut Shell
  • Be mindful of the human and environmental costs of fast fashion. 
  • Buy only what you need. 
  • Choose good quality products made from natural fabrics that will last longer. 
  • Only launder garments when they are dirty. 
  • Repair worn textiles or get creative and turn them into new useful items. 
 Further reading
Thanks to Rachel Ananin AKA TheSeasonalDietitian.com for her assistance with this article.
  Nicole Senior     
Nicole Senior is an Accredited Nutritionist, author, consultant, cook, food enthusiast and mother who strives to make sense of nutrition science and delights in making healthy food delicious.   Contact: You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or check out her website.


They were cultivating sweet potatoes in Central and South America for about 7–8000 years before Columbus arrived. He thought they looked like yams and tasted like chestnuts, and shipped them back to Spain along with chillies and chocolate. Like ducks to water they took to local conditions and thrived in the Mediterranean climate.

This was just the beginning of their global conquest – they are now grown in more developing countries than any other root crop. They have a big advantage over regular potatoes – their skin does not develop green patches. They are easy to prepare – peel or scrub and roast, boil, steam, mash, add to stir-fries or use in place of pumpkin in desserts (although they are not as sweet and are much starchier, so they will thicken a dish more).

Sweet potatoes come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes. It’s the orange-fleshed sweet potato that we like to roast and use in recipes for its colour and sweet flavour. It also has a moderate GI value (65). The white-fleshed sweet potatoes that have been tested have a high GI (75).

When shopping, look for small to medium even toned sweet potatoes with firm skin that are free from blemishes, cracks and soft spots. They should be plump in the middle and tapered ends. Buying similar sized ones makes it easier to get cooking times right. They are good keepers. Store them in a cool, dark, well ventilated place for up to 2 weeks. Don’t store sweet potatoes in the fridge – that will promote softening, sprouting and can cause them to develop a permanently hard centre.
    Nutrition Facts Sweet Potato  
Source: The Good Carbs Cookbook (by Alan Barclay, Kate McGhie and Philippa Sandall) published by Murdoch Books


THE GOOD CARBS COOKBOOK  The Good Carbs Cookbook (by Alan Barclay, Kate McGhie and Philippa Sandall) published by Murdoch Books helps you choose the best fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, seeds, nuts and grains and explains how to use them in 100 refreshingly nourishing recipes to enjoy every day, for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert. The recipes are easy to prepare, (mostly) quick to cook, long in flavour and full of sustaining goodness, so you feel fuller for longer. There is a nutritional analysis for each recipe and tips and helpful hints for the novice, nervous, curious or time-starved cook.
PAN ROASTED SWEET POTATO AND BEETROOT WITH SHARP GRAPEFRUIT GLAZE Roasting is one of the easiest and best-tasting ways to cook autumn-winter veggies – just toss everything with oil, throw them in a baking dish and cook them in a hot oven. The more the surface area of veggies to be roasted the crisper they become. The aptly named, sweet potatoes turn remarkably sweet as they cook and caramelise while the roasted beets provide a bright colour contrast. The sharp sweet-sour glaze (lemon, blood orange or pomelo can replace grapefruit) adds significantly to the dish’s Vitamin P – Pleasure that is – eating enjoyment. Preparation time: 15 minutes • Cooking time: 35 minutes • Serves: 6
6 small beetroot
1 medium (orange-fleshed) sweet potato
2 medium red onions
⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit zest
¼ cup grapefruit juice
2 tablespoons currants
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F (fan-forced 180°C/350°F). • Simmer the beetroot in a large pot of water for 10 minutes. Drain into a colander and when cool enough to handle, peel and halve. • Peel the sweet potato and cut into chunks the size of the beetroot pieces. Slice the onion into thick wedges and put into a roasting pan with the beetroot, sweet potato, balsamic, oil, grapefruit zest and juice. • Tumble them all together and roast for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp-tender and slightly caramelised. • Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle over the currants and pine nuts. Give the pan a few quick sharp tosses and serve.

Per serve 
970kJ/230 calories; 4.5g protein; 13g fat (includes 1.5g saturated fat; saturated : unsaturated fat ratio 0.13); 22g available carbs (includes 16g sugars and 8g starches); 6g fibre; 60mg sodium; 560mg potassium; sodium : potassium ratio 0.1

The Glycemic Index Foundation, a not-for- profit health promotion charity committed to providing people with the tools to help them improve their wellbeing with healthy low GI healthy eating principles, have teamed up with the CSIRO to promote the online Total Wellbeing Diet Gut Health Program. Find out how you can participate here.
GI Symbol
Use a pre-cooked chicken if you don’t have time to roast your own. You can also prepare the roast vegetables ahead of time and serve cold, or re-heated with the salad. Serves 2

200g/7oz lean chicken breast
Butternut pumpkin, 0.25 average pumpkin(s), diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Olive oil spray
1 x 250g (9oz) pouch SunRice Medium Grain Brown Steamed Rice in 90 Seconds
2 cups baby spinach
2 tablespoons basil pesto

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F (180°C/350°F fan forced). • Place the chicken breast, pumpkin and zucchini on a lined baking tray. Sprinkle over the smoked paprika, spray with cooking oil and toss well to combine. • Roast for 20–25 minutes or until golden and tender. Once cooled slice the chicken thinly across the grain. • To serve combine the brown rice, roasted vegetables and baby spinach in a large bowl. Top with sliced chicken and pesto.

Per serve 
2151kJ/514.5 calories; 33.6g protein; 15.6g fat (includes 2g saturated fat; saturated : unsaturated fat ratio 0.15); 56.1g available carbs (includes 10.2g sugars; 37.3g starches); 8.6g fibre; 336.9mg sodium


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Nutritional analysis To analyse Australian foods, beverages, processed products and recipes, we use FoodWorks which contains the AusNut and Nuttab databases. If necessary, this is supplemented with data from www.calorieking.com.au or http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search.

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