Nutrition: Glycemic load

Friday 04 May 2018

Hi everyone. I hope that you found last week’s blog helpful and have tried some of the snack ideas.

As a follow on this week I want to look at the glyceamic load of food and its relevance to healthy eating. I use the term quite regularly when describing the health benefits of foods as it is a very good indication.

It could be looked at as yet another diet plan which is not my intention but if the basic principles are followed then it definitely contributes to better health This is supported by many health professionals.

So what do we mean by Glyceamic load (GL).

Well The GL of a food is an accurate indicator of the potential impact that particular food will have on your blood sugar levels.

Basically sugar has been given a GL number of 100. When sugar is eaten, we know that it will send blood sugar rocketing up very quickly so because of this it has been given a high number.  

All other foods have been given a GL number relating to how much sugar or ‘simple carbohydrate’ it contains. So the higher the number the food has been given the greater the negative impact it will have on our blood sugar levels.

‘Simple carbohydrate,’ simply means that the structure of the food is very simple, easy to breakdown and digest so consequently the quicker it will reach the bloodstream and the quicker our blood sugar levels will rise..

This is opposed to ‘complex carbohydrates’, which as the name implies are more complex in structure therefore will take longer to breakdown and digest. This will produce a slower release of sugar into the blood. These foods are obviously more desirable.

So let’s look at some examples.

I have listed some foods that have a low GL and so are better options because of their slow release of sugar into the system and 10 foods with a high GL number which will give a fast release of sugar into the bloodstream.

Examples of low GL foods:  Apples, brown basmati rice, berries and cherries, grapefruit, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, oats, peas, tomatoes, wholemeal bread, vegetables rye bread, whole meal pasta.

Examples of high GL foods:  white bread, white rice, white pastas, biscuits, confectionery, white potatoes, crisps, most commercial breakfast cereals, fizzy drinks, fruit juices, very ripe bananas grapes, dried fruits, honey.

Meal planning-  it’s about balance:
It is important to remember when planning meals and snacks that you include some protein (eggs, pulses, lean meats, chicken, fish, nuts, etc) because protein takes longer to digest and will slow down the release of sugar from the carbohydrates in the meal. We looked at some suitable snacks in our last blog which are good examples of low GL foods Nutrition blog on snacks.  

There are many books published in the Glyceamic Load for those who want to look at this in more detail but I do think that this blog gives you the basic idea of its main principles which once again are a high intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, good quality protein and wholegrain cereal products and of course very little or no sugar.

It is important to remember here it is also a question of ‘balance’. For example if you wanted a jacket potato which has a high GL but  added some baked beans, humus or tuna with a small salad this would slow down the release of the sugar from the potato making it an overall better meal.

Another example is that if you wanted to serve white rice with a high GL but put it with a vegetable based sauce or a chicken curry type sauce with lots of vegetables, all with a low GL, the overall GL score of the dish would be improved.  

We have covered the detrimental effects that high blood sugar can have on our health, if you remember it has no nutritional value at all and contributes nothing positive to our health Nutrition blog on sugar.

Some ideas

Here are a couple of recipes that have a low GL but are very nutritious and easy to prepare. I have used them quite recently in a cookery demonstration at Maggie’s in Cheltenham and they were very well received. I hope that you try them and enjoy the results.

Warm Barley Salad. (a GL of 5 per serving)
This can be eaten hot or cold. A real comfort food.

Note that if you wanted to add more protein to the dish to make it a complete meal you could add a tin of drained chickpeas or kidney beans or some unsalted cashew nuts. Or simple serve this with some fish or chicken or an omelette to make a substantial main meal.

200g/8oz. Pearl barley.
200g/8oz baby spinach shredded.
4 cloves garlic crushed.
2” piece of fresh root ginger peeled and finely grated.
2 small onions peeled and finely diced.
8 tbsp of broken up walnuts.
4 tbsp lemon juice.

  1. Put the barley into a large pan and cover with double the amount of cold water. Bring to the boil then turn to a simmer. Cook for approximately 50-60mins till barley is tender.
  2. Put all the other ingredients into a big bowl and toss together.
  3. Drain the cooked barley and add to the other ingredients while still hot. Mix thoroughly. The heat of the barley should wilt the spinach and absorb the flavours of the other foods.

Chocolate Crunch (GL 8 per serving)

200g dark chocolate 70% cocoa broken into chunks.

125g rough oatcakes.
50g goji berries.
50g broken walnuts.
50g pumpkin seeds.
2 tsps mixed spice.
1 tsp cinnamon.
50g of almond butter or unsalted peanut butter.

  1. Melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir to speed up the melt.
  2. Put the oatcakes in to a mixing bowl and crumble with the fingers into small pieces. Stir in the goji  berries, pumpkin seeds, nuts and spices.
  3. Once the chocolate has melted take bowl off the pan and stir in the nut butter mixing until it is smooth. Pour all the chocolate mix over the dry ingredients and stir well until everything is well coated.
  4. Spread the mixture onto a baking tray that has been covered with some baking paper. Spread  evenly and then put in the fridge to set or to speed up the process put in the freezer.

Serve by breaking into pieces.

Blog originally written by Caroline Sept 2012

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