Q: I need some new foods for a low GI diet. Can you recommend some superfoods?
Let's start at the beginning: The main source of energy for cells that make up muscles and tissues is sugar, also known as glucose. This glucose comes from carbohydrates in the foods we eat (sugar, starch, and fiber), and is stored in the liver and muscles. Though glucose is vital, consuming too much can cause imbalances in blood sugar levels, and a myriad of health problems including insulin resistance, can result. Yet again, maintaining a healthy balance of glucose and blood sugar comes down to what we eat.
To understand how different foods sway our equilibrium, it's helpful to learn about the glycemic index (GI), which ranks foods according to how they affect blood sugar levels on a scale of 0 to 100. Foods with lower numbers (55 and below) help control appetite and reduce the risk of insulin resistance. Foods that rank high (70 and above) do the reverse and should be avoided, including white sugar, instant white rice and plain white bread. Foods that rank in the mid-range (between 56 and 69) are certainly not â€œbad,â€ but should be consumed in moderation by those watching GI levels, such as bananas, sweet corn, and raisins. Although usually designed for weight loss and to control diabetes, many people can benefit from being more conscientious about the glycemic effect in general to reduce risk factors for chronic diseases.
Happily, most natural whole foods inherently rank lower on the glycemic index. For example, although instant white rice (processed) ranks high on the GI index, natural wild rice ranks much lower. And although white skinless baked potatoes rank over 70 on the GI index, sweet potatoes rank under 55. Some other great low GI foods include rolled oatmeal, peas and legumes, carrots, green vegetables, nuts and apples.
Many superfoods are also especially beneficial for a low GI diet, offering premium nutrition at the same time. Here are a few of the best:
Chia Seeds: A low GI diet's best friend! Here, the fiber and fat content in chia seeds helps slow down the absorption of sugar in the blood. Carbohydrates in the form of fiber don't raise blood sugar, and at 40 percent fiber by weight, chia seeds are one of the best sources of fiber of all foods.
Goji Berries: Goji berries are a low-glycemic fruit with a GI of around 29 that offers the right combination of protein, fat, and fiber to balance the absorption of sugar. Several medical studies have been conducted to test the effectiveness of these berries for diabetics, and the results have been very promising. One recent study indicated that goji berries may even help prevent diabetic retinopathy, a severe side effect of diabetes that can lead to blindness. Though they're great by the handful, goji berries are fun to get creative with in the kitchen: try spreading some Goji Berry Jam on a slice of 100% stone-ground whole wheat or pumpernickel bread as part of a low-GI breakfast.
Healthy Sweeteners: Ditch processed white sugar and artificial sugar substitutes for healthy sweeteners that actually help balance your blood sugar instead of making it spike. It's easy to mix yacon syrup and coconut palm sugar in your smoothies, desserts, sauces, and beverage recipes. Both of these natural sweeteners are considered low on the GI index (around 35) and have delicious flavors too! Use yacon anywhere you'd use a liquid sweetener, and coconut palm sugar any place you'd use a traditional cane sugar.