Karl and I have recently been having conversations about sugar, carbs, fat, protein and more healthy foods to serve family and friends. We are each of a certain age, along with our families, and considering how sugar and other foods affect the body only makes sense. To put it more clearly, we have been discussing the way and speed (they are not the same thing) that the miracle that is the human body turns what we use for fuel into glucose that the body uses for energy.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the Feral Cooks love to eat. Because we each love to eat, we also love to cook. This gives us the opportunity to tailor the fuel ingredients for our bodies. Like me, Karl refuses to ever give up delicious food.
So, we have on-going conversations about how to make good food that’s good for spouses, friends/dinner guests and us – or at least, not-quite-so-unhealthy food. Sugars and carbohydrates are easy marks for reduction, resulting in smarter eating and a more healthy diet, so it seems logical to address them before considering such things as fat and protein intake. They really all must be balanced.
So what is the glycemic index? GI is a way to gauge the speed at which any given food will be turned into glucose by the body. Seems simple, huh?
Well now… let’s take a look at this.
The GI is a figure that relates it to the impact of glucose on glucose levels in the bloodstream. Glucose is assigned a value of 100 and all others receive a numeric value in relation to it. While good awareness of GI values is doubtless helpful to people dealing with diabetes (both type 1 and 2), it is also of great value to anyone who wants to fine-tune athletic strength or endurance, or even maintain a reasonable Body Mass Index or diet to lose weight in a gradual, healthy manner.
The healthy banana has a GI value (GI for short) of 62 per 120 gram serving. The delicious watermelon, which is about to become abundant in the summer months has a GI of 72. By comparison, an average sized apple has a GI of 39. The difference? The simple answer is not only the amount of natural sugar in each variety of fruit, but also the amount of fibre.
Food is rarely eaten as a sole ingredient. My example of fruit was deliberately straightforward. Imagine that I had used flour for my example. If I am baking bread, it might be useful, but if I am consuming bread, I may want to know a rough figure for the finished product. Like calorie-based diets, there are GI charts for food items – bread, for example.
Product, GI, Serving size in Grams (28 grams=1 oz.)
Bagel, white, frozen, 72, 70
Baguette, white, plain, 95, 30
Coarse barley bread, 75-80% kernels, average 34, 30
Hamburger bun, 61, 30
Kaiser roll, 73, 30
Pumpernickel bread, 56, 30
50% cracked-wheat kernel bread, 58, 30
White-wheat flour bread, 71, 30
Wonder™ bread, average, 73, 30
Whole-wheat bread, average 71, 30
100% Whole Grain™ bread, 51, 30
Pita bread, white, 68, 30
Corn tortilla, 52, 50
Wheat tortilla, 30, 50
Source – Dr. Perlmutter’s Guide to the Glycemic Index
You can see how this may be helpful to inform you of food choices. For those of us who do not eat processed foods and would rather cook from scratch, the Glycemic Index offers us a guide to improving the healthy nature of our food through informed ingredient substitution. Now let’s look at various flours’ GIs. It is important to remember that, once ground, the health factors found in whole grains, change considerably.
Buckwheat flour 35
White flour 71
Whole wheat flour 74
Source: The best flour to use to limit carb impact on glucose levels
I once met a man in the fancy “Japonica” department of a swanky store in Yokohama, who tried to tell me that the humble buckwheat plant was the answer to the world hunger problem. It is cheap, grows like a weed and is nutritious. Next week I will have a soba recipe for you, made with the humble buckwheat noodle–which is popular in Japan for its taste, not its low GI.
There is another element to consider with glycemic index: the glycemic load (GL) is an equation that takes into account the planned portion size of a food as well as the glycemic index of that food. Glycemic Load = GI/100 multiplied by the net grams of planned carbohydrate (net carbohydrate is the total grams of carbohydrate minus the dietary fiber). In theory, a large amount of a low GI food may increase your blood sugar as much as a small amount of a high GI food. PEDS
I am neither a biologist, nor a chemist. I am as good as the reading that I do, and most of that reading takes place on the internet. All of this is to say that the science behind much of what you have just read is not mine. I have cited my sources to give credit where it is due. I encourage you, however, to do your own reading and find what works for your body and helps you maintain your target level of physical fitness and health. Then, post your findings and we can use this forum to talk it through.
Healthier eating is getting more important in the culinary world, as obesity and diabetes rates in the US continue to increase and cause myriad health problems for both young and old. Wouldn’t it be nice to stay ahead of that curve through a healthier diet? And no, indulgent foods will not disappear from this blog. A little more precooking consideration may go into them, though.