When discussing carbohydrate foods, you’ll often finds the words “glycaemic index” or “GI” being used. The glycaemic index is used to rank carbohydrate foods according to their effect on blood sugar levels. The lower the GI, the slower the rise in blood sugar levels when the food is consumed. This is because the lower GI carbohydrates take longer to be digested, absorbed and used by the body.
High GI carbohydrates, on the other hand, are easily digested and absorbed very quickly – resulting in a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. This then triggers your body to produce a large spike in insulin to counter the high blood sugar levels, which brings your blood sugars crashing down (hello energy slump and sugar cravings!). Over time, the frequent exposure to high levels of insulin can cause your cells to become insulin resistant and this puts you in a vicious cycle of requiring more and more insulin to keep you blood sugar levels under control.
Whilst it may feel like the logical thing to do is to cut out carbohydrate foods, it’s also worth remembering that not all carbohydrate foods are the same. Carbohydrate foods such as wholegrains, legumes, lentils, fruit and starchy vegetables are all fantastic sources of dietary fibre, plant chemicals, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which go a long way in keeping your body healthy and better protected from the effects of insulin resistance.
The trick to having carb foods is to make smarter choices, and one of the easiest ways to do this is to choose less processed, wholefood carbohydrates. This is because processed carbohydrate foods tend to have a higher GI than its wholefood version. Processing generally reduces the amount of dietary fibre the product has and make it more easily digested. Processing can also make it easier and quicker to consume carbohydrates in larger quantities (think fruit juices and fluffy white bread slices), which can further spike your blood sugar levels.
So, don’t stop it – swap it! Here are some easy ways to swap your way to a lower GI and make a clever carb choice:
Swap your breakfast cereal with rolled oats or natural muesli
Breakfast cereals can be quite heavily processed, and some are laden with added sugars (unfortunately these ones tend to be targeted towards our kids! Argh!). Rolled oats are a lower GI source that can be eaten in a variety of ways – as a hot cooked porridge, or a crunchy muesli topping for yoghurt, or even in a breakfast smoothie! Check out our recipes for Porridge 5 Different Ways, or a Breakfast Smoothie for the time poor.
Swap potatoes for lower GI varieties
Potatoes are a great source of nutrients, it’s such a shame that they have developed such a bad reputation. Sweet potatoes have a lower GI than regular white potatoes, but if you’re not particularly fond of them you can try Carisma (available at Coles) or Nicola varieties. The most important thing to do when it comes to potatoes is leave the skin on as the fibre in the skin helps to slow down digestion. Another top tip is to eat them cold as refrigerating them after cooking helps to lower their GI even further – try this recipe and eat any leftovers cold. Yummy!
Swap your snacks
Feeling the munchies and reaching for biscuits or crackers? In general, both sweet and savoury biscuits are highly processed with minimal dietary fibre. Try swapping to a higher fibre, lower GI choice such as Ryvita Pumpkin Seed & Oats crispbread as a base, and then add a sweet or savoury topping. Pressed for time? Then try a high fibre low GI muesli bar or a serve of fresh fruit.
Swap your rice and pasta
Rice has a high GI. Try swapping to a lower GI rice variety such as basmati rice or go for a low GI rice such as SunRice Doongara which comes in both white and brown forms. As for pasta, you could try swapping to a high fibre pasta which will have a lower GI. The most important thing when it comes to pasta is to avoid overcooking it, as this will make the pasta easier to digest and thus increase the GI. Make it al dente! Try our recipe for a lower GI version of the classic spag bol.
Swap your drinks
Our drink choices can contribute significantly to our intake of refined, high GI sugars – so they are definitely worth being given extra attention.
- Swap sugar-sweetened soft drinks, iced teas and cordials to a diet or zero-sugar version.
- Swap flavoured milk for plain milk and try a sugar-free drinking chocolate to give it a different taste.
- Fruit juice is a really high GI form of fruit, so limit your intake to 125mL or ½ cup per day, and swap for fresh fruit instead.
- If you’re adding sugar to your beverages, try reducing the amount of sugar used or limiting the frequency of these drinks.
Water really is the best drink for your body, so aim to drink at least 8 cups of water a day.