By Joyce Hendley, M.S., November/December 2007
Following the glycemic index (GI) system can be confusing—“but only if you spend too much time crunching numbers and not looking at the big picture,” says Joyce Hendley, EatingWell’s nutrition editor and author of The EatingWell Diabetes Cookbook (The Countryman Press). Knowing a few overall principles can make low-glycemic eating much simpler, she explains:
Large food particles take longer for the body to break down and absorb, so they move more slowly through your digestive system. So in general, the more intact and less processed a food is, the lower its GI. Think whole rather than refined grains, whole fruit rather than fruit juice, steel-cut oats rather than instant oatmeal and stone-ground rather than plain cornmeal. When buying whole-grain bread choose stone-ground, sprouted or cracked-wheat types; the grain kernels should be visible.
By definition, fiber is the part of plant foods that cannot be digested by the body, so fiber-rich foods like beans, nuts, dried fruits and high-fiber cereals, pasta and breads are inherently low on the GI. Focus on boosting fiber by eating more foods like these and you won’t have to think about GI.
When it has protein to break down, the stomach empties more slowly. Adding a little protein to a carbohydrate-based meal or snack—say, adding a few chicken strips and a sprinkle of cheese to your pasta bowl, or a light smear of peanut butter on your toast—can lower the GI value of your meal.
Like protein, fat molecules also slow down digestion, so including a little fat can lower a food’s GI and make it more satisfying. Be sure to choose heart-healthy unsaturated fats like vegetable oils and nuts. And, if you’re watching calories, be moderate: drizzle bread with a little olive oil, toss carrots with a bit of tasty dressing, sprinkle slivered almonds on your salad.