Eat Your Carbs … Maybe

By / Food / June 13th, 2013 / 1

Have you ever heard of the Glycemic Index (GI), or The Zone Diet which bases its weight loss program on the GI? The Glycemic Index is based on the idea that carbohydrates (potatoes, bread, corn, etc) are not all created equally. Some affect blood sugar negatively and others affect it positively. The theory until now has been that we should be eating carbs low on the GI scale in order to maintain low blood sugar and avoid diseases, like type 2 diabetes.

Recently, an international committee of nutrition scientists from ten countries on three continents released their latest report on the subject. They concluded that carbohydrate quality does indeed matter, and that the carbohydrates present in different foods affect post-meal blood sugar differently, with important health implications. According to the findings, “Too little glucose, and we starve many bodily functions (especially the brain, which uses 11-20% of the glucose we produce). Too much, and our body scrambles to produce enough insulin to process all that blood sugar – and we may develop heart disease, eye, kidney and nerve damage. Ideally, our food delivers a steady stream of just the right amount of glucose.” So far, so good. They also confirmed that there is convincing evidence from a large body of research that low glycemic index/glycemic load (GI/GL) diets reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, help control blood glucose in people with diabetes, and may also help with weight management. The Committee recommended including the glycemic index and glycemic load in national dietary guidelines, and that packaging labels and symbols on low-GI foods should be considered. They also confirmed low GI measurements complement other ways of characterizing carbohydrate foods (such as fibre and whole grain content), and should be considered in the context of an overall healthy diet.

So, what does it mean for you? Basically, this information is another tool in your efforts to reach and maintain good health. For now, at least, you’ll have to dig around in various sources to find where each food falls on the Glycemic Index. Perhaps very soon, we’ll be able glance quickly at nutritional labels to determine the GI number. In the meantime, here are some tips that emerged from the study:

Choose traditional muesli, or longer-cooking oatmeal or porridge (not instant) instead of processed flakes or puffs.

Eat a variety of intact whole grains, and be sure not to overcook them. Intact grains such as barley, wheatberries and ryeberries have a low glycemic index, especially when they’re cooked al dente. Pasta has a low glycemic index, and it’s important to cook it al dente. Enjoy pasta with plenty of vegetables and beans or fish for a healthy pasta meal.

  • Look for longer-cooking varieties of rice. Cook extra portions and freeze them for later use.
  • Favour whole fruits over fruit juice, and enjoy juice in small quantities or mixed with sparkling water.
  • Skip the fluffy, light breads. Traditional dense grainy bread has a much lower glycemic index.
  • Eat legumes. Serve lentil soup, a bean-filled chili, or a chickpea salad. Add beans to soups, salads, pasta and other dishes.
  • Certain fibres, including resistant starch (found in foods including beans, bananas, cold pasta and potato salads), lower your body’s glycemic response. A mostly plant-based diet provides a good variety of different types of fibre.
  • Add zing to your meals. Acidic foods lower your glycemic response, so squeeze lemon juice on your vegetables, fish or chicken; enjoy your salad with oil and vinegar; and add a splash of vinegar to soups or vegetable stews.
  • Enjoy snacks like carrots with hummus, apple slices with nut butter, or plain yogurt with fresh or frozen berries. Enjoy balanced meals and snacks. Eating healthy fats and lean protein with carbohydrates lowers the overall glycemic load of a meal or snack.
  • Practice portion control. Too much of even a healthy food is, well, too much. Serve yourself a modest portion, eat slowly and mindfully, and reflect before you reach for more.

If you’d like to read the study yourself, visit

The Consensus Statement was the culmination of the International Scientific Consensus Summit on Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load and Glycemic Response, organized on June 6-7, 2013 in Stresa, Italy by two nonprofits, Oldways and the Nutrition Foundation of Italy. At the Summit, scientists reviewed the latest research on glycemic index (a measure of carbohydrate quality), glycemic load (a measure that combines carbohydrate quality and quantity in real-world portion sizes), and overall issues of glycemic response (how the body’s management of blood sugar is affected by both food and lifestyle, over time).


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