What is low GI eating... and how to do it
You’ll be pleased to know that the low GI diet isn’t one of those restrictive fad diets. Thank goodness. Instead, it can be a balanced way of eating that isn’t prescriptive or restrictive.
When eating low GI, you don’t need to cut out any major food groups and you can still make low GI choices when eating out. Hooray!
Here’s the low-down on low-GI eating, including why eating a low GI diet is healthier for you and how to do it.
What exactly is a low GI diet?
Let’s start with the basics.
Everything you eat is digested at a different rate. Certain foods affect your body icn different ways.
The glycemic index (or GI) is a ranking of carbohydrate foods on a scale of 0 to 100. A food GI ranking tells you how much they raise your blood glucose levels after eating.
High GI foods
These foods are quickly digested and absorbed by your body which can cause a larger spike or fluctuation in your blood glucose levels.
High GI foods have a rating of 70 or above and may include things like cake, biscuits, soft drinks and some more refined carbohydrates like white bread.
Low GI foods
These foods have a smaller impact on your blood glucose levels. Low GI foods have a rating of 55 or below and may include things like legumes and beans, many wholegrains, dairy foods, many fruits and vegetables, and grainy breads.
Including more low GI foods into your diet may help you manage your blood glucose levels, which may have health benefits.
The benefits of low GI eating
Why eat low-GI foods? There’s growing evidence that suggests eating a more low GI diet is great news for your health. Here’s why:
- Diabetes: Eating a low GI diet is recommended by Diabetes Australia as something people with diabetes, pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes may do to help support their health.
- Cholesterol: Significant research from 28 randomised-control trials suggests that eating a high-fibre, low-gi diet may help reduce total and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
- Weight maintenance: According to research, including low GI choices into your diet, along with following a high protein diet may be helpful for maintaining weight.
How do I know if a food or drink is low GI?
Some products will proudly tell you they are low-GI on the front of the pack, and you may even notice some products have the Low GI symbol from the Glycemic Index Foundation. This is an easy way to spot low-GI options in supermarket aisles. However, not all low-GI products will be as identifiable!
That’s because for a food to officially be classified as low GI, it needs to be tested in a lab. This process can cost quite a bit of money, which smaller food companies may not be able to afford.
Also, while some wholefoods like fruits and vegetables will naturally be low GI, they don’t often have a food package or label!
So, how do you know if something is low GI or not? If you want to know the glycemic index for a specific food, the University of Sydney has an easy-to-search database of foods and their GI score.
Do all foods have a glycemic index rating?
Some foods that are very low in carbs or have no carbohydrates like beef, chicken, fish, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds, avocadoes, many fruits (such as berries) and vegetables don’t have a GI rating.
Because these foods are mostly made up of protein or fat, their GI can’t be tested. Simply put - eating these foods alone won’t have much of an impact on your blood glucose levels.
Can I only need to eat low GI foods on a low GI diet?
No, you don’t need to limit your diet to solely low GI foods. What a relief! And you don’t have to avoid all high GI foods either. This could be quite tricky! Instead, swapping to low GI carbs is a great step. You can also try to include one low GI food within each meal.
Here’s a nifty trick to try out; If you are enjoying a food that is high in GI (like white rice), combining it with protein foods (like tofu or an egg) and low GI carbs (like beans) can help lower the glycemic index of the whole meal.
Healthier low GI food swaps
Eating a low GI diet is as simple as swapping to healthier, low GI options of some of your favourite foods. Here are some healthier low GI food swaps to try including in your diet:
- Swap white bread for → wholemeal, seeded or brown bread
Typically, the darker the bread and the more seeds and wholegrains you can spy, the better it will be for your wellbeing
- Swap white rice for → brown rice with quinoa, Basmati or low GI white rice
While normal white rice has a high glycemic index, brown rice mixed with quinoa is going to have a lower GI, while also giving your body added fibre and protein.
If you aren’t ready to move away from white rice completely, you can buy low GI white rice in the supermarket. This specific grain of white rice is naturally low GI. Another healthier option is to get basmati rice, which has a low to medium glycemic index.
- Swap white potatoes for → sweet potato
This simple swap not only adds antioxidants into your diet thanks to the naturally occurring nutrients found in sweet potatoes, but you’ll also be making a lower GI choice.
White potatoes have a high glycemic index, while sweet potatoes have a low GI. Extra points for keeping the sweet potato skin on (after simply giving it a good scrub before cooking).
Is a low GI diet right for me?
If you’re considering trying a low GI diet, it’s a great idea to speak to your doctor or an Accredited practicing dietitian who can help tailor your diet to ensure it’s healthy for you.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board August 3, 2021