A phrase that seems to be banded about when discussing healthy eating, or weight management diets, is ‘no carbs’ - but what does that mean? The conversation around eating carbohydrates is often to do with eating a low Glycemic Index – or low GI diet. This terminology, GI, is a rating system that was developed to help those with diabetes manage their food because carbohydrates gets turned into sugar.
The simplest way to think about sugar is to think about it as energy; ultimately what a low GI diet is, is eating foods that slowly release energy. Therefore, one of the great things about understanding the GI system is it will help you eat the right foods to suit a busy lifestyle.
What is GI?
But first, let’s untangle all the different pieces of information and terminology around GI. Carbohydrates - named because of their atomic make up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. These carbohydrates are often broken down into complex carbs (which is starch, such as cereals and grains) and simple carbs (which are sugars such as in desserts!). Carbs are one of the basic food groups and are incredibly important in making sure you have a healthy balanced diet. But not all carbs are the same and they are digested differently depending on a variety of things and this is where the GI rating comes in.
GI stands for glycaemic index and is about how food affects the glucose (which is a type of sugar) levels in your blood. The lower the GI the better; foods with a GI of 55 or less are low, 56 – 69 are medium and 70 and above is considered high. Foods that have a low GI are digested slower, allowing the energy to be released into your body at a slower and more consistent rate. You know that feeling at 3pm where a deadline is approaching fast, you’re feeling tired and you eat a half a packet of chocolate digestives to pick you up without even noticing, but not long afterwards you feel a dramatic drop of energy? That is the sugar rush of a high GI food, with the sugar being processed quickly and overloading your system. That is what you need to avoid when you’re juggling a life that needs you to be on your game the whole time.
Lowering the GI in your diet
There are foods that are simply low in GI, but there are also factors that can affect those foods and there some tips to help with slowing digestion. As a rule, the more processed the food is, the more likely it is to have a high GI, this is because the structure of the starch gets manipulated and the molecules are disrupted when processed. Therefore, sticking with wholegrains and fresh vegetables is an easy way to think about low GI. Fat and acid also slow down the rate that your food is digested, so adding a squeeze of lemon or a slice of avocado to a snack can help cheat a food into being slow energy releasing. As fruit ripens the higher the level of sugar is in them and so the GI level raises.
Foods with a low GI
Examples of GI food are wholegrain and multigrain breads, lentils, chickpeas, butter beans, kidney beans, quinoa, barely, pearl couscous, soba and rice noodles, and vegetables and fruits such as apple, kiwifruit, apricots, carrots, broccoli, celery, tomatoes and courgettes.
Because it is essential to avoid a sugar roller coaster, at Simple Foods we wanted to make it as easy as possible for you to keep on top of your busy life. This is where the idea of the Energy Kit came in – meals designed to be eaten at lunchtime, to power you through the day! The Energy Kit includes our Pearl Barley with Carrots and Almond Shavings, the Turmeric Wholegrain Rice, our Charred Tahini Broccoli, or our Quinoa Burger – the Energy Kit has a huge array of dishes so you won’t get bored, and you will stay energised!
GI is of course only one way to assess your food, and it doesn’t take into account the amount of carbs you eat – as Oscar Wilde said “everything in moderation, including moderation” and you are well on the way to a healthy balanced diet!