Saturday, 30 March 2013

why i choose low g i - and the 411 on diabetes

First of all - a warning.
This is an extremely long post.
But an extremely important one.

Now, the glycaemic index.

For a long time, I've thought about which lifestyle change I would discuss here first. Time after time I have come back to this - the glycaemic index. 

Yes, I know those two words sound scary and scientific. Maybe that's why some bright spark decided somewhere along the line to abbreviate it to just "GI" - much less scary, right?

But honestly, the concept is not difficult to understand. Let me put my white coat on for a moment - haha, sorry about the pharmacy pun - and try to explain.

As soon as we put food into our mouths, it starts to break down. We don't even need to chew it in order for it to start breaking down. If you don't believe me, pop something (edible) into your mouth and just let your saliva attack it. Notice how it starts to get soft and soggy? And starts to dissolve?

When we swallow, that food continues into our stomach where it gets broken down even more. After that, it gets pushed into our small intestines where mostly, the absorption of nutrients happens. Then it goes into our large intestines - and I'm fairly sure you already know what happens after that.

The reason we need to break down our food is because that is how the nutrients in our food become available and ready to be absorbed. Almost all of the breaking- down happens in the stomach, and almost all of the absorbing happens in the small intestine.

One of the nutrients that we absorb from food is glucose. How quickly we absorb glucose from a food is that food's glycaemic index.

Foods with a low glycaemic index (so a GI of less than 55) release their glucose into our bodies slowly. Foods with a high glycaemic index (greater than 70) release their glucose very quickly. And then there are foods with a moderate glycaemic index, which just means that their glycaemic index is between 55 and 70.

The reason why a food's glycaemic index is important is because the amount of glucose in our bloodstream (also known as our blood glucose level - or more commonly, blood sugar level) needs to stay pretty constant. Too low or too high a blood sugar level are not desirable - in the most extreme cases, it can actually be very dangerous.

The good news is that our bodies are pretty clever, and have methods to keep our blood sugar levels within a normal range. Unfortunately, sometimes things can go wrong - sometimes genetic, and sometimes because of our lifestyle - and the methods our bodies use to maintain our blood glucose levels no longer work effectively. This is when diabetes (or pre- diabetes) happens.

Diabetes that happens as a result of genetics cannot (yet) be prevented, but diabetes and pre- diabetes that happens as a result of our lifestyle can be avoided. Once diagnosed with diabetes, however, the condition can only be managed, not reversed. Still, through healthy eating and exercise, the many complications and problems that can come with poorly- managed diabetes can be avoided, delayed or at least minimised.

Now, if you have read my introductory post, 'welcome to the change room', you will already know that my father has diabetes. His is the lifestyle- induced kind, and his was the near- fatal- because- of- poor- management kind. Several years ago now, his blood glucose control was so awful that his life was literally at risk. Now, through regular exercise and a much better diet (filled with low GI foods), I am relieved and proud to say that he is active, happy and most importantly, healthy.

You see, when we eat, our food provides us with energy - and there is a window of time in which we need to use up that energy before it gets stored as fat. Foods with a low glycaemic index provide our bodies with a slow and sustained release of energy. Small amounts of glucose enter our bloodstream, so our blood glucose levels are only affected very gently (and our bodies can easily keep them under control) and we are more likely to utilise this energy before it gets stored as fat.

When we eat foods with a moderate glycaemic index, larger amounts of glucose presents itself. It becomes a tad (or a lot, depending on the GI value) more difficult to use up the available energy before it gets stored as fat. Our bodies have to put in more effort to keep our blood glucose levels under control, too.

Finally, when we eat foods with a high glycaemic index, a much larger amount of glucose floods our bodies. Our blood glucose levels skyrocket, and if we do not utilise this energy very quickly, our bodies will convert it - and store it in our bodies - as fat. This is the reason people experience a "sugar high" after they eat lots of junk - they feel their blood sugar levels get high (literally). But then their energy levels go crashing down - after all, if a food dumps all its energy into our bodies soon after we eat it, what else is there to give afterwards? So in order for us to feel energised again, our bodies quickly make us crave more food, more sugar - and of course, the vicious cycle continues.

The more often we eat loads of high glycaemic foods, the more our bodies are confronted by a tidal wave of sugar - and over time, our bodies can get worn out trying to deal with it.

I will try to simplify it as much as possible, but in short, one of the chemicals our bodies produce to cope with any glucose entering our bodies is insulin. When we constantly need to call on insulin to help us bring down our blood glucose levels - and especially when we need insulin to call for backup because we've flooded our bodies with too much glucose - our bodies can eventually develop insulin resistance (aka pre- diabetes). That means our bodies can no longer work as effectively to bring our glucose levels back to healthy and normal - and all of our organs become exposed to higher, more toxic levels of sugar. If we do not reverse this condition, it can progress into diabetes. And as I said earlier, a diagnosis of diabetes is manageable, but not reversible.

Of course, the amount of food we eat is super important as well - a whole lot of low GI foods is still not going to benefit your health, and a small serving of high GI food will not do a great deal of harm. So, in addition to eating the right foods, we need to be sensible and also eat the right amount.

There are a few things we can do to help decrease a food's glycaemic index - if we can slow down the rate at which food enters the small intestine from the stomach, we can lower that food's glycaemic index. Remember, the small intestine is where most of the absorbing happens.

So far, science has shown us that the ways to do this are -

  • eating fat with the food - preferably good fats, of course!
  • eat protein with the food - protein takes more effort to break down than carbohydrate (i.e. glucose), so digestion takes longer and absorption is slower
  • eating something sour with the food
  • eating something spicy (as in 'chili' spicy, not 'cinnamon, nutmeg, etc' spicy) with the food
  • eating something with a lower glycaemic index with the food - to reduce the overall glycaemic index of the meal

So, all of the change room's products are a lovely combination of low GI ingredients and good fats (yes - there is such thing as a good fat, but more on that at a later date). Some of the items have the addition of sour ingredients (organic fresh lemon, organic sour cherries, organic Incan berries...), and there are a few exciting items coming soon that take advantage of the addition of spice, too!

More importantly than what the change room menu has to offer, I hope I have helped you understand why I choose low GI, and hope that you start to choose it too. I know there are times we crave (or have no choice but to eat) foods that may have a moderate or high glycaemic index, but please try to employ a type of "harm minimisation" by adding some good fats, protein, something sour, something spicy or something with a lower glycaemic index to treat your bodies a little better.

It has been an extremely long post, but one I hope that has maintained your interest and attention and also encouraged you to start to change the way you look at food. Do your own research and make up your own mind, and if you have any further questions about diabetes, insulin resistance or the glycaemic index, please do not hesitate to comment below or shoot me an email -


  1. Thank you! Very helpful info that i can now tackle the scary supermarket with! :)

    1. I'm glad you found it useful & interesting, Looey! The supermarket isn't as daunting once you know what to look at & what not to look at! :)