Whole-grain bread over white bread, millet to white rice, complex carb foods, good fat vs bad fat…it is tough to stay in-line with the flood of ongoing information shoved down our throats.
And then, we are advised to eat like our ancestors.
All for good. But do we really live like them?
Traditional Indian high carb diet was well suited for our ancestors (mainly farmers) who lived active lifestyle. Their food intake and the physical activities were well balanced.
Modern day Indians do not lead a very active lifestyle, but we do eat a lot more food than we should. Most of the diseases are the bi product of our lifestyle changes.
Samosas, namkeen, naan, sharbat, mithais, cakes, biscuits..you name it and we have ample reasons & occasions to enjoy these high-carb, high-fat and high-calorie treats in the name of tea-time snack, festivals or celebrations.
And most of these are predominantly made with maida, dalda/transfat, sugar, additives, which are devoid of any nutrients, raises blood sugar, constipation, and acidity and makes us hungry soon.
These unhealthy food habits and modern day lifestyle is the cause of type 1 or juvenile diabetes, hypertension, obesity and many other non-communicable diseases.
Causes of unhealthy lifestyle:
- TV ads pushing junk foods
- Pressure to perform (in school/office)
- No workouts
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Odd sleeping hours
- Unhealthy snacking habits
- Highly processed cereals and drinks
Work pressure, sedentary lifestyle and more desk jobs in today’s world need us to revamp our diet accordingly.
- Good health is all about making smart choices.
- Glycemic Index (GI) and Glycemic Load (GL) are a few effective tools which can help us to be more mindful of our sugar and carb intake.
- These tool may not be perfect, but you can always use them to gather information about the nutrition content of any food you choose.
- The first step could be to write down the carb-rich foods you eat, then try replacing them with better options.
- Aim to eat at least one low GI food at each meal and try to select your snacks based on low GI.
GI is a scale to measure the effect of carbohydrate-containing foods on blood sugar. It effectively measure the speed with which a particular food raises the sugar levels.
Low GI foods mostly contain complex carbohydrates and fiber (remains undigested) which are digested slowly and gradually raise the sugar level. Foods high in GI are digested rapidly and causes a spike in blood sugar instantly.
In simple terms
Low GI = Good
High GI = Bad
GI for pure glucose is rated at 100
High GI: Above 70
Medium GI: 55-70
Low GI: Below 55
GI of some grains used in Indian cooking:
- Ponni rice – 70
- Millet – 54-68
- Jowar – 77
- Varagu – 68
- Sona Masuri – 72
- Surti kolam – 77
- Basmati – 55-65
- Black rice /Kavuni rice – 42
- Par boiled rice – 38-72
- White rice flour – 72
- Puffed amaranth – 97
And the GI will increase more if the grains are processed before eating.
Some low GI natural foods:
- Tomato – less than 15
- Cauliflower – 5-15
- Cabbage – 0-10
- Cashewnut – 25
- Peanuts – 13
- Yoghurt – 1-5
- Beans & Legumes – 2-13
- Fresh fruits – 4-14
- Mushrooms – 10
- No-starchy vegetables (spinach, onion, lettuce) – 1-7
- Garlic – zero
- Chia seeds – zero
- Pumpkin seeds – zero
How to make good use of GI:
A. Combining foods: Add little fat to high-carb food and that will reduce the GI. Eg. Add a little ghee to your rotis or butter to bake potatoes and you will reduce their GI.
Mixing food groups changes the way your body digest food.
Foods cooked with fat and protein slow down the absorption of carbs and thereby lower the GI.
B. Portion size: Glycemic load or GL comes to play when portion size is considered. Glycemic load accounts for carbs in food and how much each gram of it will raise the blood sugar level. For eg. GI of watermelon is 72 but GL is only 4 which means that you need to consume the entire watermelon to in one go for the blood sugar to spike, which is quite unlikely. And although GI of watermelon is high it is good for you as the portion size of GL is low.
C. Sourdough – use sourdough to bake goodies. Process of making sourdough from flour reduces the GI.
D. Keep them intact: Processing the wholegrain to make food increases the GI.
According to a research by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), GI of processed finger milet (powder form) is close to the GI of polished rice as it becomes easy to digest (powdered ragi) and which can spike the sugar level.
Wheat bread made with 100% whole-wheat flour – 71 and if you replace 75% flour with cracked wheat is decrease to 48.
Quick cooking Oat porridge – 66 and while rolled oats – 55
E. Raw and undercooking: Vitamin C which is heat resistant and many natural enzymes get destroyed while cooking.
Carrots score 41 when boiled and 16 GI when raw.
Eat more salads with raw vegetables, tofu and dressing of cold pressed oil.
Keep your pasta slightly under-cooked (firm with a bite) to keep the GI low.
F. Acidic foods – apple cider vinegar, fermented yogurt, citrus juice help lower the GI of certain foods. Use these as dressing over vegetables.
G. Foods with zero GI – Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, virgin coconut oil, avocado, flour of flaxseeds, almonds and walnuts. These are high in fibre and have good fats as an added bonus.
Points to ponder:
- High GI = Bad food and Low GI = good food
- While GI can help make food choices, GL can help you work out the right portion size.
- You don’t need to completely cut out high GI foods, the trick is to combine them with low GI foods to achieve moderate GI
- Cooking with processed flour (rice or wheat) result in significantly higher GI than cooking with whole rice or wheat. Idlis have higher GI than khichdi with whole brown rice.
- Make a portion size shift. Let veggies occupy more space than rice or rotis
- White Rice is refined carb food with high GI and the process of milling (removing the bran) adds to the misery
- Adding ghee reduce GI load of many foods
- Certain “No carb” foods such as nuts, seeds, eggs, tofu, oil and many vegetables which mainly contain protein and fats also come under low GI category
- There are several varieties of rice and all have different GI.
- High GI foods are good when you need instant energy (pre workout).
- The flours have greater GI than their whole versions, the finer ground the flour is, and the more rapidly it gets absorbed raising the sugar level rapidly.
- General guideline for low GI and low GL is, the more fiber a food has the better.
Glycemic Index may not be a perfect system, foods with high GI are not necessarily unhealthy and not all foods with low GI are healthy. But we can always use these values to know how much sugar goes into our body and can reduce the chance of any forth coming diseases.
There is no doubt that Indian diet is well-balanced and one can easily maintain a healthy lifestyle eating Indian food provided it is cooked in right way.
Sometimes, use of excess oil, salt & spices in gravies, overcooking vegetables, and sweet loaded desserts/mithais rob off the goodness from it.
Limit intake of refined or highly processed foods and sugary treat. Focus more on right whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts & seeds and pay attention to fiber content in it. And eat carbs that require zero or very little processing.
No diet plan suits all. But choosing foods that are less likely to spike your blood sugar may be a healthy choice to manage diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Do not worry too much about numbers, pick foods that suits your lifestyle and activity levels accordingly.
And when you eat healthy in moderation you can never go wrong with your food choices, whatever the number!
The following article is my interpretation of information I gathered from my nutritionist Ms. Payal Talesra, internet references and friends working in the same field.
The views and nutritional advice expressed here are not intended to treat or to prevent and any disease or to replace the advice of your doctor.