Glycemic Index, or simply known as GI, is a value used to measure how much specific foods increase blood sugar levels. It helps categorize food depending on the sugar intake. Multiple factors influence the GI of food, including its ripeness, cooking method, nutrient composition, and the amount of processing it has undergone. GI can not only help increase one’s awareness of what one is putting on the plate but also enhance weight loss, decrease blood sugar levels, and reduce cholesterol levels.
Foods are classified as low, medium, or high GI foods and ranked on a scale of 0–100.
The lower the GI of a specific food, the less it may affect your blood sugar levels. Medium and High GI foods can impact the health of diabetic people. One food that is known to have medium GI is regular white rice, which most of us consume on a daily basis. Due to its GI content, white rice is very unhealthy for diabetics.
The three GI ratings include:
Low: 55 or less
High: 70 or above
When following a low GI diet, the below list can be used as a useful indicator:
Carrots (boiled): 39
Pumpkin (boiled): 74
Potatoes (boiled): 78
Brown rice: 68
White rice: 73
Whole wheat bread: 74
White bread: 75
Kidney beans: 24
Maple syrup: 54
Table sugar: 65
Dairy products and dairy alternatives
Skim milk: 37
Whole milk: 39
Ice cream: 51
Rice milk: 86
Foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates are digested faster and have a high glycemic index. On the Other hand, foods high in fiber, protein, or fat typically have a low GI. No-carb foods such as poultry, chicken, nuts, oils, and spices are not assigned GIs.
It would be noteworthy that the glycemic index is different from the glycemic load (GL). While GI does not take into account the amount of food eaten, GL factors in the number of carbs in a serving of a food to determine how it may affect blood sugar levels. For this particular reason, it is sometimes important to consider both GL and GI to do a holistic analysis of foods.
As mentioned earlier in the article, ripeness and cooking methods also affect the glycemic index. For instance, fried food, because of the high amount of fat, may slow the absorption of sugar in the blood and actually decrease the GI. However, counterintuitively, baking and roasting can break down resistant starch, a kind of starch that resists digestion and is commonly found in foods such as oats, legumes, and potatoes, therefore increasing the GI levels. On the other hand, boiling tends to help retain more of the resistant starch and hence leads to a lower GI, when compared with other cooking methods.
Nutritionists note that the longer food such as pasta or rice is cooked, the greater the digestibility of the starch content inside these foods and thus the resulting GI is higher. Therefore nutritionists recommend that it is best to cook these foods until they reach an al dente texture, implying that they’re still firm when biting into them.
Other than the cooking method used, the degree of ripeness could also affect the GI of some fruits, including bananas. This is due to the amount of resistant starch decreasing during the ripening process, leading to a higher GI. For instance, fully ripe bananas have a GI of 51, whereas under-ripe bananas have a GI of just 30.
There are several benefits associated with a low GI diet:
A low GI diet can help improve heart health and decrease the risk of developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which can increase one’s risk of suffering a stroke or having a heart attack.
One of the primary benefits of a low GI diet is that it limits spikes in blood sugar thereby leading to reduced ‘cravings’. Spikes in blood sugar are known to trigger a release of insulin, which then leads to fat storage and weight gain. Low GI foods lead to a steadier rise in blood sugar, and high fiber content in food helps to keep one full for longer.
A low GI diet may also lead to weight loss, but evidence for the same is not very strong. As mentioned earlier in the article, ripeness and processing may impact GI index, and fried food may actually have low GI although leading to definite weight gain if eaten in a caloric surplus.
Low GI foods confer specific benefits. A number of diabetics are advised by their nutritionists to stop the consumption of white rice due to it having a GI > 55. A GI of over 55 leads to an instant spike in sugar levels and harms diabetics. However, several Asians being habitual white rice eaters, find it difficult to quit white rice.
Kalanamak Rice, a specialty rice grown in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh helps solve this problem. Kalanamak rice has a GI of <55, therefore it can be safely consumed by diabetics. Kalanamak rice is one of the finest scented varieties of rice and it derives its name from its black husk (kala = black; the suffix ‘namak’ means salt). The rice has been in cultivation since Buddhist times (600BC). Its cultivation is widespread in the Terai region, particularly in eastern UP districts such as Maharajganj, Gorakhpur, and Siddharthnagar. The rice is also grown in districts such as Sant Kabiranagar, Basti, Deoria, Barabanki, Gonda, Bahraich, Kushinagar, and Balrampur. Due to its black husk, the rice is also commonly called the scented black pearl of Uttar Pradesh. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has listed Kalanamak rice as one of the specialty rice of the world.
Kalanamak rice is very rich in important micronutrients such as Iron, Zinc, and Magnesium whose importance has been further underscored during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumption of Kalanamak rice is therefore said to prevent diseases caused due to deficiencies of the aforementioned compounds. It is also likely that regular consumption of the rice can prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The protein content of Kalanamak rice at 11% is almost double of other rice varieties and its low Glycemic Index (49% to 52%) making it “Sugar-Free” and suitable for even diabetic people.
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