What is the glycemic index?
The Canadian Diabetes Association defines it as “a measurement of how quickly a specific type of carbohydrate-containing food raises your blood sugar levels. High glycemic index (high GI) foods will raise your blood sugar faster than low glycemic index (low GI) foods.”
|GI Rating Scale||GI Value|
|Low GI||55 or less|
|Medium GI||56-69 inclusive|
|High GI||70 or more|
The concept was developed in the early 1980’s by Canadian nutritional scientist Dr. David Jenkins and his team. Although it has gained traction with nutrition experts and in the diabetic community, to the mainstream consumer it remains a mystery.
Our pursuit of energy is relentless in today’s hectic lifestyle. It seems we can never get enough. Consumers are on the hunt for foods promising sustained energy. Grabbing snacks on the run often results in a sugar high, followed by a crash.
Research shows that low GI foods can help manage blood sugar levels by moderating the highs and lows. There is also strong scientific evidence that low GI diets can reduce the risks of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease and can help with appetite control.
Why hasn’t low GI become a trend in North America?
- A low GI diet is not all-inclusive. There is more to a healthy diet than choosing low GI foods; it also means getting enough fibre, protein and other essential nutrients, staying hydrated and limiting salt, sugar and fat.
- The glycemic index of a food can vary and is affected by several factors such as the degree of ripeness – ripe bananas have a higher GI; storage time – older, starchier potatoes have a higher GI and cooking methods.
- The combination of foods eaten together also affects a person’s glucose response. Adding low glycemic foods to a high GI meal can have a moderating effect but the result can be difficult to predict without testing.
- Health Canada’s support in recognizing low GI claims on food labels would help to educate consumers. However, there are no immediate plans to do so.
- Clinical testing with human subjects is required to substantiate a low GI claim for processed foods. Tests must be conducted by specialized laboratories, adding time and expense to the product development process.
Opportunities for food brands
Low GI packaged foods must be easy to identify. The GI Labs Tested mark on labels assures consumers that low GI claims can be trusted.
Unfortunately, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency does not permit statements such as “low glycemic index”, “non-glycemic” and “Glycemic Index = xx”. This creates a challenge for marketers.
Simplifying the message in a way that resonates with the target consumer is key. Take a page from Australia’s Glycemic Index Symbol program; a groundbreaking certification program that educates consumers and makes healthier low GI food choices easy. The Canadian Diabetes Association plans to develop a GI symbol and education program to help the growing number of Canadians living with diabetes.
There is a connection between low GI foods and the healthier eating trend. Consumers are unknowingly choosing low GI foods by eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes and low-fat dairy products.
Whether low GI becomes a trend remains to be seen. Perhaps someone will write a best selling book that will spark the trend, in the same way that Wheat Belly fueled the gluten-free movement.
Canadian Diabetes Association http://www.diabetes.ca/diabetes-and-you/healthy-living-resources/diet-nutrition/the-glycemic-index
Glycemic Index Laboratories Inc. Canadian testing facility http://www.gilabs.com
Australia’s GI Symbol program http://www.gisymbol.com
GI list for 1,000 foods – Note: If processed foods have been reformulated, the GI values may no longer be accurate. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/suppl/2008/09/18/dc08-1239.DC1/TableA1_1.pdf
© Birgit Blain