The Lowdown On High GI Foods - Why Knowing The GI Number Of A Food Is Key To Healthy Eating

June 16, 2021
The Lowdown On High GI Foods - Why Knowing The GI Number Of A Food Is Key To Healthy Eating

Different nutritionists and dieticians advocate different ways to help clients eat healthily. One such popular way is to use the GI, or glycemic index, of foods and ingredients to help clients pick the best foods to eat. But what exactly is the glycemic index? And how can it be used to make better food choices? Here, we answer those questions as well as highlighting some great low GI meals available from meal delivery kits - showing that not all convenience food has to be bad for you.

What does GI mean?

GI stands for glycemic index. It is a number given to each type of food or ingredient that denotes how much that food will cause a human’s blood sugar to spike. The higher the number, the more that food will cause blood sugar to spike and then crash quickly. Low GI foods tend to increase blood sugar at a lower rate and keep blood sugar steady for a longer period of time.

One of the reasons that nutritionists and dietitians advocate eating low GI foods as much as possible is that they are often found to make you feel full longer - with the result that you end up eating less or reducing the amount of snacks you have. However, not all low GI foods are healthy and not all high GI foods are unhealthy so it is a fine balance to be had.

Which is better - high GI or low GI?

In general, it is better to eat foods with a low GI as opposed to a high GI number. A high GI number is akin to eating pure sugar which is why a high number can be so detrimental to your appetite and health. Diabetics will know well that when they eat simple carbohydrates, their blood sugar goes up quickly. White rice is a good example of this. Its GI number is the same as sugar as it has the same effect on blood sugar as eating simple sugar on its own.

This is why using the GI number of food, along with advice from their healthcare professional,  is highly advantageous and beneficial to diabetics. It can help prevent them from inadvertently eating a good that will cause their blood sugar to spike and instead eat low GI rated foods which can help them control their blood glucose.  

What are high GI foods?

High GI foods are ones that have a GI number of 70 or higher. Given that a lot of food is packaged without the GI number advertised, it is good to get to grips with what sorts of food has a higher GI number, and what has lower ones. It makes making swaps and substitutions in recipes that much easier.

In the main, white carbohydrates are usually high GI foods. The aforementioned white rice is one of the worst, but white bread, cakes, premade breakfast cereals and even a baked potato can have a very high GI. Anything with a high amount of sugar in it will also have a high GI, so sugary drinks and desserts or puddings will often come with a blood sugar spike once eaten.

What are low GI foods?

Low GI foods will tend to include any unprocessed food in their raw condition. For that reason, most fruits and vegetables have a low GI along with beans, some grains, wholewheat pasta, bulgar wheat and nuts. Such foods will have a GI number of 55 or less.

Trying to replace high GI foods with low processed wholegrains that release energy slowly is key to increasing the amount of low GI foods in your diet. A quick and easy substitution would be swapping white rice for brown rice, or white pasta for wholewheat pasta. They are both quick and easy wins that take minimal effort yet can have optimal effect.

Trying not to add too much to your fruit and veg at meal times is also a good way to slow down the release of sugar into your blood. Many dietitians recommend having half your late full with veg - and preferably leafy veg being a large portion of that.

Low GI Food Options

Here are just a couple of choices from meal kit delivery companies that show how low GI food can be absolutely delicious. Plus they are quick and easy to make, demonstrating that convenience food can be healthy - as long as you make it yourself.

Carribean sweet potato curry with black rice

This meal is a fantastic example of making low GI foods work for you. This curry is jam packed with them. Lentils are a great ingredient that keep you full for a long time by releasing energy slowly. Sweet potatoes are a great swap for white potatoes as they have a lower GI number as well as having more fiber and arguably more flavour. Finally, eating black rice as opposed to white means you are eating rice that is far less unrefined than more common white rice.

Honey Soy Salmon with brown rice and bok choi

While the honey in this recipe is sugary so can be bad for blood sugar levels, the rest of the ingredients are a fantastic combination that equate to a meal that will keep you fuller for longer. The lean protein of the salmon, along with the brown rice and plenty of green leafy veg thanks to the pack choi, means that you will not crash and burn after eating this yummy meal.

Increasing the amount of low GI foods in your diet - key takeaways

Given that not all low GI foods are good for you, and not all high GI foods are bad for you, using the GI index is something that should be done alongside other healthy eating habits to ensure that you have a nutritionally balanced diet. However, that is why using meal kit delivery services can be so great - chefs have done all that hard work for you. And, then, when it comes to making your own food using ingredients from the supermarket, you have a better idea of what a nutritionally balanced meal looks like. Once you have started eating healthily for long enough, you will not want to go back to highly processed high GI foods. You will soon notice the difference it has made to your energy levels and body and as a result, never want to go back to eating a diet laden in high GI foods. .

Rachel Lee
Having worked at Morgan Stanley and BNYMellon for over 10 years in pensions and investments, Rachel now works as a full-time business and financial writer.

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