It is weekend! Along with your foodie buddies, you have decided to try out this new restaurant that has become the talk of the town. It is your turn to place the order, and keeping in mind the 2 kilos you’ve put on last month, you safely go for a plain roti with some chicken curry. You tell yourself it is the right thing to do. But you can’t stop ogling at the butter roti that the skinny chick at the next table is having. You frown and tell yourself, “She can afford to eat all that butter, not me. All the aerobics I did last week will go down the drain.”
What if we told you, you can eat that butter roti and still lose weight? Yeah, now we are talking! And why stop at just the butter rotis? We say bring on the tempting ghee ke paranthe, the delicious butter chicken, and even the gulab jamuns.
But before you embark on this indulgence, we would like to give you a little gyaan about GLYCEMIC INDEX. As foodies, we need to understand the concept of Glycemic Index (GI) and the factors that affect GI of foods and meals. Why food pairing is not only important but the only way for you to enjoy your white rice, white bread, and sweet treats ? How the right pairing of foods can help you eat what you love, without the guilt and without the bulge?
It sure is a little complicated to understand, but once you get this right, you can eat almost everything without the Guilt. Sounds like a good deal?
So, what is Glycemic Index?
Glycemic Index (GI) of a food is the rate at which the food, when consumed, causes a rise in the blood sugar levels. Only carbohydrate containing foods have a GI and it is generally measured in comparison to the GI of glucose or sugar.
Foods with high GI will cause a rapid and sharp rise in the blood glucose levels promoting conversion and storage of excess sugar as fat in the body. This is because the body cannot consume that much sugar released in the blood. Whereas, foods with a low GI will cause a slow and steady rise in blood glucose levels, thus giving the body more time to actually use that sugar for energy. So, that’s GI in a nut shell. If you want to understand this deeper you can read it here.
Factors affecting the glycemic index of foods
When thinking about GI, we need to think about the GI of the dish or meal as a whole rather than the GI of individual foods because various factors can reduce or elevate the overall GI of a meal. So, while sugar has a GI of 100, do you ever take a spoonful of sugar and pop it right into your mouth? You put it in your bowl of milk and cereal and now the overall GI of your bowl of cereal with milk will be around 60 or 70, depending on type of cereal and how much sugar you add.
So, what are the factors that influence GI?
Foods with a higher fibre content are lower on GI. For example, brown rice has a lower GI than white rice, and whole wheat has a lower GI than all-purpose flour (maida). White rice and white flour are high GI foods because they are stripped of the husk and bran which add the fibre content to these foods. Fibre acts as a protective covering over the grain and slows down the absorption of carbohydrates and sugar from these foods, hence the lower GI. So, does this mean that you can have your white rice as long as you pair it with a fibre-rich food like beans (Rajma Curry)? Damn right you can! So, Eat your rice guilt free. Similarly go ahead and enjoy your white bread or pasta as long as you pair them with fibre-rich veggies and beans. You can add some healthy fats and protein rich foods and lower the GI further.
That brings us to the next factor that influences GI, that is FAT.
Fat delays gastric emptying (emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine for absorption), hence allowing slower absorption of sugars into the blood stream, thus preventing a quick rise in blood sugar levels. This is the main mechanism through which fat contributes in lowering the GI of carbohydrate-rich foods. For this reason, eating a roti/bread with butter/ghee (as opposed to a plain roti) will effectively reduce the GI of the roti.
Similarly, eating a plain roti with a curry that is rich in fat and proteins (for instance, butter chicken) will have the same effect. So, choose and pair wisely because the fat content of the meal as a whole matters and not just the individual foods. So, remember to add that spoonful of ghee on the rice, butter/ghee on your rotis and parathas and cheese OR peanut butter with your breads.
Another mistake we commonly make is not eating coconut chutney with carbohydrate-rich idlis and dosas. However, the fat in the coconut contributes to lowering the GI of the idlis/dosas. Further the lentils in the sambhar add the required fibre. So, go ahead and enjoy your South Indian snack the way it was meant to be i.e., with the chutney and sambhar.
Many a time, what we do is order an ‘aloo-patty burger with no cheese’. What we think is ‘fat is the culprit, so let me avoid cheese in my burger. That’ll be healthy for me.’ But stop and rethink, what you are ordering is an aloo tikki patty and bread. Both are high on starch and have high GIs. If you add some cheese to it, the fat in the cheese would lower the GI of the entire meal and add some protein as well.
Let’s see how protein helps lowering the GI.
Very much like fat, protein also slows down the release of sugars into the blood stream, thereby preventing a sharp rise in blood sugar levels. Thus, protein lowers GI of carbohydrate-rich meals. For e.g., a khichadi will have a lower GI than plain cooked rice (the lentils not only add proteins, but also fibre to the khichadi). Peanut butter lowers the GI of bread by adding the protein and fat.
Physical form and cooking time
The physical form of the carbohydrate matters. The more processed a food, the higher the GI. For e.g., whole wheat has a lower GI than whole wheat flour. Similarly, rice flour will have a higher GI than rice grains. Boiled carrots have a higher GI than raw carrots.
As a general rule, the longer a food is cooked, it gets more time for the starch to breakdown into a more absorbable form and hence higher the GI. So, it is important to cook the foods to the right degree, even overcooking l increases the GI of foods like overcooked pastas, rice, potatoes, etc.
We know by this time, you are thinking that this is really complicated and how can one possibly spend all their time planning their meals, and calculating whether there is enough protein or fat or fibre. Which is why you should eat intuitively, follow your taste, remember how foods are traditionally consumed and you will instinctively arrive at the right food combinations. Foods are paired together not just for the taste but also for the balanced nutritive values. A few decades ago, when the choices were limited, our ancestors would instinctively eat meals that were balanced. There was no science that married the ‘made for each other’ foods – beans and rice, bread with eggs and cheese – well there is a three some here ;), mashed potatoes and roast chicken and so on …
Here are a few ways to get your started
- A spoon of ghee to the khichadi will further reduce its GI.
- Eating an egg with a toast for breakfast lowers the overall GI of the meal.
- Substituting the aloo patty in a burger with a chicken or fish patty will also reduce the overall GI of that burger (for vegetarians it can be a soybean or beans patty)
- But you do like the potatoes, so have your baked or fried potatoes with some grilled meats and veggies (don’t have the bread or rice here as you already get your carbs from the potatoes)
- Rice with veggies and grilled meats
- Desserts and sweet treats – Now this is where it gets tricky. While there is no way to reduce the GI of a piece of cake or chocolate, there are ways to control and plan when and how to indulge in these so called ‘cheat foods’ and make everyday a cheat day 😉
Now that you know how to plan your meals with a balanced GI, we will take 2 more mins from you. How much of a low GI meal can you consume? Just because bread and peanut butter are low in GI doesn’t mean you can have 6 slices of toast and peanut butter or for that matter 2 large bowls of rice and beans. It is important to listen to your body to decide how much you should eat. Yes, your body talks to you. :)
That brings us to the concept of Glycemic load.
Along with the glycemic index, the glycemic load of a food also needs to be considered. This is how it is calculated.
Glycemic load = GI of a food X Carbohydrate content of the same food/100
Don’t worry this is not a math class. This simply means that not only the GI but also the total amount of carbohydrate in a food matters. If you have excessive amounts of a low GI food, it can have the same effect as eating a small portion of high GI food because of the total carbohydrates consumed. What we are trying to say is that quantity always matters. Only because you chose a low GI food, does not mean you can eat it as much as you want.
As nutritionists at bon happetee, we know exactly how hard it is to keep that weight in check when you love food so much. So, we will never recommend that you have your burgers without the mayo or the paranthas without ghee nor ask you to give up your rasgullas and chocolates. All we are saying is, choose food combinations judiciously and watch the quantity! That is all you have to do.
So just get this right, and eat … eat everything you love. Eat it whole-heartedly, and without any guilt whatsoever.