1 August 2019

GI News - August 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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In some quarters, carbs get an undeserved bad rap. But students of human evolution know that dietary carbohydrates (fruits, berries and tubers) played an instrumental role throughout our long 3-million-year journey from a small upright walking ape (Lucy, Australopithicus afarensis) to the tall, smooth-skinned creature with a very large brain who can perform high level maths as well as prolonged strenuous marathons (Homo sapiens sapiens). You could say we evolved eating the original plant-based diet. The challenge today however, is to ensure we consume the high-quality carbs similar to the ones our ancestors ate that are digested at a rate that our bodies can accommodate, preventing burnout of our insulin-producing machinery. In Food for Thought, we answer some of the questions we are asked about the high-quality carbs we like to call “good carbs”. 

Good carbs
WHAT DO CARBS DO? Our brains, nervous system, red blood cells, kidneys and muscles during exercise prefer carbs as their energy source. Carbs also give our cells structure, form part of our genes and play a part in the function of some proteins. Did you know that glucose powers the growth of a healthy human fetus born with substantially more body fat than any other primate.

WHAT ARE CARBS? Carbohydrates are made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, so you can see where the name comes from. You may recall seeing it written up in your high school science books as CHO. For example, the chemical formula for glucose is C6H12O6 which stands for six carbon atoms and six water molecules (H2O = one water molecule; six water molecules = H2O x 6).

All plant foods contain carbs to a greater or lesser extent—fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and nuts—as do milk and yoghurt, but not most cheeses (the whey is drained away so it is just protein and fat).

WHAT ARE GOOD CARBS? These are the plant foods the natural world has provided for us: fruits and berries, vegetables, beans, peas, lentils, seeds, nuts, and grains and the traditional staple foods and dishes we make from them such as noodles, pasta and grainy, seedy breads.

WHAT ABOUT MILK? Dairy foods such as regular milk and yoghurt are good carbs too. And let’s not forget mother’s milk which provides the perfect mix of carbs, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals for our babies to grow and thrive for the first six months of life. Mother Nature made it sweet so it is very appealing to babies. The sweetness comes from a special sugar called lactose only found in milk. Human milk has one of the highest concentrations of lactose of any mammal coming in at around 7 grams of lactose per 100 millilitres (3½ fluid ounces) which in household measures is little over ⅓ cup. It contains almost 50% more than that of cow’s milk. Why so much? One reason is probably to satisfy our fast-growing, energy-hungry, glucose-demanding brain. Scans show that a baby’s brain reaches more than half adult size in the first 90 days of baby’s life. Mother’s milk also contains special carbs called oligosaccharides (think of them as prebiotics), which friendly bacteria in the large intestine chomp on to thrive.

WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT GOOD CARBS? They are sustaining and sustainable foods that come with a swag of micronutrients we need for good health including vitamins B, C and E; minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium and antioxidants including the carotenoids that play a protective role in eye health. Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones studies provide compelling evidence that dietary patterns that are rich in good carbs and dietary fibre reduce the risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and certain kinds of cancer, like colorectal cancer.

HOW MUCH CARBOHYDRATE DO WE NEED? Our diet is not limited to One Size Fits All. You only have to look around the world to see that there are very different dietary patterns with very different fuel mixes associated with good health and long life. Traditional Mediterranean and Japanese diets which are both linked with a long and healthy life couldn’t be more different. The Mediterranean diet is relatively high in fats and tends to be rather moderate in carbs. The Japanese diet, like most Asian diets, is high in carbs and low in fats. What they have in common and what seems to matter most is that they are based on good, wholesome foods and ingredients. Mostly plants.

WHAT ABOUT BLOOD GLUCOSE? When we eat carb-rich foods, our bodies convert their sugars and/or starches into glucose during digestion. However, our bodies do this at very different rates and this is where using the glycemic index (GI) helps us make better choices for long-term health and wellbeing. The GI is particularly useful for people who need to manage their blood glucose levels (BGLs). Think of it as a carbo speedo that gives us an idea how quickly our bodies will digest particular carb foods and how fast and high our BGL is then likely to rise.

Research around the world over the past forty years shows that switching to eating mainly low GI carbs throughout the day that will trickle glucose into our bloodstream and lower our day-long blood glucose and insulin levels helping us:

  • Manage our appetite because we will feel fuller for longer 
  • Minimise our body fat 
  • Maximise our muscle mass 
  • Decrease our risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 
IS RESISTANT STARCH A GOOD CARB? It 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. 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.

Read More:



ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle reports on a systematic review and meta-analysis of glycemic index, glycemic load, and type 2 diabetes risk published in Nutrients by an impressive global group of nutrition scientists. Their conclusions are simple and powerful he says. Glycemic index and glycemic load are important markers of food quality. In fact they do an excellent job of predicting type 2 diabetes risk for individuals and for the population.

Almost 40 years ago, David Jenkins published the first paper to propose that the glycemic index of foods might be an important measure of nutrition quality. Back then, dietary guidance pointed to a low-fat panacea. Research continued quietly on the glycemic index. The pendulum swung from fear of fats to carbophobia. Sugar is the villain of the day now. But maybe the time has come for the glycemic index to bring a bit more objectivity.

Perhaps some of the energy that goes into vilifying carbs, sugar, soda, and other dietary goblins would be better spent directing people toward better carbs. “Don’t” has never been an especially effective tool for behavior modification.

Senior author on this new paper, Jennie Brand-Miller, explains the appeal of the glycemic index: “I liked the fact that it turned traditional nutritional science upside down. The old wisdoms were that sugars were bad and starches were good, but the GI showed some starches, such as potatoes, converted to glucose far quicker than some sugars. What appealed most was that GI intuitively made sense. We all talk about needing a sugar hit or having a sugar low, and this provided an explanation. It provided a way in to explore how foods can affect not just our physical health, but our moods as well.”

And now we know that glycemic index is a good marker for how changes in the food supply are driving an increased type 2 diabetes risk. Maybe now we can move from the narrow focus on macronutrients to a broader view of dietary quality. It looks like paying attention to this humble index might help.

Read more:


A recent post in Refinery29 (“a modern woman's destination for how to live a stylish, well-rounded life”) says “grilling up a good time doesn't have to mean meat-based burgers for all. In fact, these days there are a lot of meatless burger alternatives on the market. From veggie and plant protein patties to quinoa and bean-based, non-meat eaters have plenty of options when it comes to grilling out.” Their reporter found that some people looked for trad veggie burgers, while others want burgers to taste as much like real meat as possible.

Vege burger
Meat substitutes are certainly having a moment in the sun. Writing for the New York Times, Timothy Egan says “fake meat will save us.”

PR like that is an agency’s dream come true says ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle. So, it’s no wonder that Beyond Meat was “going bananas” with a 550 percent surge in its stock price after a very successful IPO. Its rival, Impossible Foods, can’t keep up with demand for its Impossible Burger. That’s good news for farmers who can’t sell their soybeans – a typical plant-based protein source. Suddenly, pea protein is hot. Prices for this humble legume are rising, even though soybean prices are depressed. The biggest meat processor in the U.S., Tyson Foods, is jumping in to build a billion-dollar brand with half-pea, half-beef burgers. Kellogg is supposedly sitting on a goldmine with its Morningstar Farms brand for fake meat.

Kyle asks if PR spin is tapping into foodie moralism to make this highly processed food seem like a healthy choice? Yes, indeed, he says. We need to move toward a more sustainable diet that won’t destroy the planet he says. Fake burgers, though? It’s unlikely they’ll give us a healthier diet. Maybe it’s time to remind ourselves of Michael Pollan’s top tip: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” By food Pollan means fruit, vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, seafood, poultry and meat and to avoid what he calls “edible food-like substances.”

Read more:



Since everyone seems to be talking (and eating) burgers, we thought it would be interesting to compare a regular lean beef patty that just contains lean beef, with a meatless patty (we chose the top-seller Beyond Meat Beyond Burger™) and a homemade chickpea patty (the recipe is from The Low GI Vegetarian Cookbook). The nutrition information here is for the patty alone.


Ingredients: Lean minced beef.


Ingredients: Water, Pea Protein Isolate*, Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Refined Coconut Oil, Rice Protein, Natural Flavors, Cocoa Butter, Mung Bean Protein, Methylcellulose, Potato Starch, Apple Extract, Salt, Potassium Chloride, Vinegar, Lemon Juice Concentrate, Sunflower Lecithin, Pomegranate Fruit Powder, Beet Juice Extract (for color).

(*Peas are legumes. People with severe allergies to legumes like peanuts should be cautious when introducing pea protein into their diet because of the possibility of a pea allergy. Our products do not contain peanuts or tree nuts.)


Ingredients: 400g (14oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained, 1½ tablespoons olive oil, 1 onion, finely chopped, 1 garlic clove, crushed, 1 tablespoon mild Indian curry paste, 1 zucchini, grated, 110g (4oz/1½ cups) firmly packed fresh wholegrain breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon freshly chopped coriander, 1 egg, lightly beaten, Wholemeal plain flour, to dust. Serves 4.

Vege PATTY  
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Low carb diets are still very popular in many parts of the world. The problem is, many people do not seem to really understand what “carbs” actually are. Consumer research in Europe, for example, has found that only 51% of consumers can correctly identify a carbohydrate. This is not really surprising, because carbohydrates are complicated and not currently well described on food labels.

Good carbs
CARBS IN FOODS Carbohydrates include varieties that are digestible by humans (known scientifically as available carbohydrates):

  • Oligosaccharides (e.g., maltodextrins)
  • Starches (e.g., amylose and amylopectin)
  • Sugars (e.g., fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltose and sucrose)
And varieties that are not digestible by humans (unavailable carbohydrates):
  • Dietary fibres (e.g., cellulose, gums, hemicellulose, mucilages and pectins)
They occur in relatively large amounts in a broad range of unprocessed and minimally processed foods including:
  • Fruits
  • Grains (e.g., barley, oats, rice, rye, wheat, etc.)
  • Legumes (e.g., peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.)
  • Milk
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Vegetables
  • Yoghurt
But are also refined into processed culinary ingredients, including:
  • Flours (e.g., plain wheat flour)
  • Sugars (e.g., table sugar, or sucrose)
  • Dietary fibres (e.g., pectin)
Unfortunately, food labelling requirements for carbohydrates are generally poor all around the world. In most nations, including Australia, New Zealand and Europe (including the UK), only total carbohydrate and total sugars are required to be listed in Nutrition Information panels. Dietary fibre is optional unless certain specific nutrient claims are made.

North Americans are provided with more information – Nutrition Facts panels must include:
  • Total carbohydrate
  • Dietary fiber
  • Total sugars
  • Added sugars
However, oligosaccharides and starches are currently not identified in any Nutrition Information/Facts panels anywhere. Unfortunately, their omission creates erroneous statements about “carbohydrates and sugars” in foods (which is of course a tautology, because sugars are a form of carbohydrate), when what people are actually trying to say is “starches and sugars” in foods. Indeed, starches and oligosaccharides are the invisible nutrients in foods, not sugars.

WHAT DOES “LOW CARB” MEAN? Many people that are following low carb diets today are in reality following low starch diets that primarily exclude or limit grains (e.g., breakfast cereals, breads, pastas, rice, etc...) and starchy vegetables (e.g., corn, potatoes, peas, etc...). Most aren’t specifically aiming to exclude dietary fibre, although a reduced fibre intake is often an unwanted side-effect.

Even the definition of a low carb diet is hotly debated. One of the more popular systems classifies diets according to the amount of total available carbohydrate they provide:
  • Very low-carbohydrate diet. 20–50 grams per day or less than 10% of a 2000 Calorie (8,400 kJ diet)
  • Low carbohydrate diet. Less than 130 grams per day or less than 26% of energy from a 2000 Calorie (8,400 kJ diet)
  • Moderate carbohydrate diet. 130–230 grams per day, or 26–45% of energy from a 2000 Calorie (8,400 kJ diet)  
  • High carbohydrate diet. More than 230 grams per day or more than 45% of energy from a 2000 Calorie (8,400 kJ diet)
To put these definitions into perspective, traditional Mediterranean diets are moderate in carbohydrate and traditional Japanese diets are high in carbohydrate. Traditionally, humans have not consumed very low carbohydrate diets.

HOW MUCH CARBOHYDRATE ARE WE EATING? Many people in the developed world could be forgiven for thinking that our diets are high in carbohydrate, and should reduce our intakes. However, we know from the latest Australian Health Survey that on average, Australian adults consumed an average of 222 grams of carbohydrate per day in 2011–12, or 44% of energy from carbohydrates, putting them in the moderate carbohydrate diet camp.

ENJOY GOOD CARBS Most people in the developed world don’t need to consume a low carbohydrate diet. Enjoying a traditional dietary pattern with a long history of health, well-being and longevity, like the traditional Mediterranean diet or Japanese diet, is a better strategy – and both diets contain plenty of fruit and vegetables, something most people don’t eat enough of.

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.


It’s hard to beat the juicy burst of sweet corn kernels straight from the cob. Peel back the husk of a fresh ear of corn (stripping away the silk) and we are munching through the neat rows of yellow or white kernels of a very big grass seed head that was cultivated in the Americas for thousands of years before Christopher Columbus arrived on the scene.

Although “officially” a grain, the particular variety we tuck into is very much eaten immature as a vegetable. Boil, steam, microwave, bake or barbecue and serve piping hot with just a dot of butter and sprinkle of salt. Or add the kernels to soups, stews and stir fries; fritters and frittatas; chowders and crepes; salsas and salads; muffins, breads and corn cakes, and toss whole baby corn into stir-fries.

Buy cobs with fresh green unblemished husks that fit snugly with moist slightly brown silky tassels intact. (If the tassels are black or dry, the corn is old: if dry and pale the corn is immature) if you can get a peek at the kernels, they should be tightly packed, plump, shiny and smaller at the tip than they are in the middle (this indicates a young cob). When sweet corn is really fresh, the kernels will release a milky liquid when cut. As the natural sugars in the kernels start converting to starch once the husk is removed, resist buying pre-packed shucked ears. Snap-frozen cobs and kernels make a handy year-round substitute.

Wholegrain products made from corn include:

  • Polenta, a coarsely ground dried corn that is actually a type of grits. (Avoid instant polenta, it may be convenient and foolproof but it’s not the same at all.)
  • Corn grits, which are chopped up dried kernels that you can use in soups or stews or serve as a side dish.
  • Hominy grits are corn grits that have been treated with an alkaline solution (nixtamalized).
Corn is often used as a base for gluten-free processed foods. Be aware that many products made from corn don’t have a low GI at all – cornflakes (GI 77), popcorn (GI 72), cornmeal (GI 68) and corn pasta (GI 87). Corn chips do (GI 42), but they are also very high in fat and added salt.

Corn NIP


It’s all about corn this month with Barbecued Corn with Avocado Cream from Dr Alan Barclay’s book, Reversing Diabetes; Chicken and Corn Soup with Toasted Tortilla and Avocado from The Good Carbs Cookbook; and for the kids, Diane Temple’s Chicken and Corn Nuggets from the Money Saving Meals series we ran in 2010.

The avocado cream can also be used as a creamy topping for jacket potatoes or as a spread for toast or sandwiches says Alan Barclay. It’s full of healthy unsaturated fats, dietary fibre and potassium.
Serves 2 • Preparation 5 minutes + 15 minutes soaking • Cooking 20 minutes

2 corn cobs, husks attached
1 long red chilli, finely chopped
lime cheeks, to serve

For the avocado cream
1 small avocado
1 tablespoon lime juice
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
tablespoon coriander (cilantro) leaves, finely chopped

Peel back the husks from the corn cobs, discard the silk and remove several of the inside husks, leaving a few outer husks to protect and steam the corn while it is cooking. Soak the corn cobs and two pieces of string in a large bowl of water for 15 minutes. • Meanwhile, to make the avocado cream, use a stick blender or small food processor to blend the avocado, lime juice and cayenne pepper until it reaches a smooth, spreadable consistency. Stir in the coriander and set aside until needed. • Preheat a barbecue or chargrill pan to medium–high. Drain the corn cobs, reseal the husks and secure with the wet string. Cook the corn, turning occasionally, for 15–20 minutes or until tender. • Peel back the husks and spread the corn with the avocado cream. Sprinkle with the chilli and serve with lime cheeks.

Per serving
Energy 1790kJ/426 calories; Protein 9g; Fat 29g (includes 6g saturated fat; saturated : unsaturated fat ratio 0.26); Carbohydrate 27g (includes 4g sugars and 23g starches); Fibre 9g; Sodium 9mg; Potassium 1475mg; sodium : potassium ratio 0.01

Much of the depth of flavour in this soup comes from the first step of gently cooking the veggies in oil says Kate McGhie. Once there’s a slight sizzle, put the lid on the pan to keep the aromatic moisture in while the veggies soften. Her top tip? Cook the chicken the day before and use the stock for the soup. • Preparation time: 25 minutes • Cooking time: 25 minutes • Serves: 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium zucchini, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
2½ litres chicken broth
400g (14oz) can chick peas, rinsed
Salt flakes
2 medium (about 320g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
2 handfuls coriander (cilantro) leaves, coarsely chopped
3 large tortillas
1 medium avocado, sliced
1 small lime, cut into thin wedges

Put the oil in a large pot and when hot add the onion, garlic, zucchini and carrot. Cook gently until the vegetables soften and then add the chicken stock, chick peas and salt to taste. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. • Shred the chicken and stir through the hot soup with the chilli and half of the coriander. • Lightly toast the torillas and cut into fine strips. • Ladle the soup into bowls, garnish with a few avocado slices, some tortilla strips, remaining coriander and serve with lime wedges for squeezing over the soup.

Per serving
Energy 1540kJ/370 calories; Protein 26g; Fat 19g (includes 4g saturated fat; saturated : unsaturated fat ratio 0.3); Carbohydrate 21g (includes 4g sugars and 17g starches); Fibre 7g; Sodium 1030mg; Potassium 695mg; sodium : potassium ratio 1.48

The next time the clamour for takeaway starts, try these lightly pan-fried nuggets for a quick and easy, budget friendly meal instead. You can also bake them, but they’ll take a little longer to cook. The nuggets also double as tasty finger food when entertaining and leftovers (if there are any) are ideal for lunch boxes says Diane Temple. Makes about 30

500g (1lb 2oz) chicken mince
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed
125g (4oz) can corn kernels, drained
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs made from grainy bread
2 tablespoons chopped chives
½ cup panko crumbs
2 tablespoons canola oil

To serve
Celery and carrot sticks
Tiny tomatoes
Blanched snowpeas (mangetout) or sugar snap peas
Crispy green beans
Tomato, barbecue or sweet chilli sauce

Mix the chicken mince, soy sauce, garlic, corn kernels, fresh breadcrumbs and chives together. With damp hands, roll 1 tablespoon of the mixture into a ball, then flatten it slightly. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. Roll each nugget in dry breadcrumbs and chill in the fridge for 10–20 minutes. • Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and cook the nuggets in batches (about 2 minutes each side) until golden brown and cooked through. Place them on a tray lined with paper towel. Repeat with remaining nuggets.

Per nugget
Energy: 236kJ/ 56 calories; Protein 4g; Fat 4g (includes 0.5g saturated fat, saturated :
unsaturated fat ratio 0.1); Carbohydrate 3g; Fibre 9g


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