Glycaemic Index: Understanding How Foods Affect Your Blood Sugar

Unlocking the secrets of nutrition often involves understanding complex concepts, and the glycaemic index (GI) is one of those hidden gems that can significantly impact your health. In this article, we'll discuss glycaemic index, breaking it down into simple terms so you can make wiser food choices and fuel your body more effectively.

What is the Glycaemic Index?

Think of the glycaemic index (GI) as a superhero ranking system for different foods based on how they affect your blood sugar levels. It's like giving each food a score that tells you how fast or slow it will provide energy to your body.

The Science Behind GI

When you eat foods containing carbohydrates (like bread, pasta, or fruit), your body breaks them down into sugar, which is used for energy. The glycaemic index measures how quickly this sugar enters your bloodstream over a period of time - usually 2 hours.

Low GI Foods (0-55): These are like slow-release energy capsules. They break down slowly, providing a gradual and steady supply of energy. Foods like whole grains, legumes, and most fruits belong to this category.

Medium GI Foods (56-69): These are like a balanced meal. They release energy at a moderate pace, keeping you fuelled for a reasonable amount of time. Whole wheat products and some types of rice fall into this range.

High GI Foods (70-100): These are like a sugar rush. They break down rapidly, causing a sudden spike in blood sugar followed by a quick crash. Foods like white bread, sugary cereals, and sweets are in this high-GI category.

Why Does GI Matter?

Understanding the glycaemic index can be a game-changer for your health and well-being:

Energy levels

Low GI foods provide a steady stream of energy, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. This can help you stay alert and focused throughout the day.

Weight management

Opting for low to medium GI foods can aid in weight management by reducing hunger and preventing overeating.

Blood sugar control

For people with diabetes, knowing the GI of foods can be a crucial tool for managing blood sugar levels. It helps them avoid sharp spikes and crashes.

Healthy eating 

Choosing foods with a lower GI can be part of a balanced and nutritious diet, reducing the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

GI symbol and claims on packaged foods

You might have noticed that some packaged food products have a GI symbol or make claims about the food’s GI and its health effects (for example, ‘low GI to help you stay fuller for longer’). These are examples of nutrition content claims and general level health claims, allowed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand under Standard 1.2.7 Nutrition, health and related claims.

The Low GI Symbol and claims about the relationship of a low GI product and its effect on health is only available to packaged food products that meet strict nutritional and testing criteria. 

This labelling is not compulsory for food companies to follow, so not all products that are eligible will display the symbol or make a claim. This is often the case for smaller companies who may not have the money to go through the necessary processes to be given the label. These claims also won’t generally be used on food products that would be eligible but are not typically packaged (for example, fresh fruit and vegetables).

Putting GI Into Practice

So, how can you use the glycaemic index in your daily life? Here are a few practical tips:

Breakfast: Start your day with low GI options like porridge, overnight oats, or whole-grain cereal to energise you for a busy day ahead.

Snacking: Opt for snacks like natural soy yoghurt, nuts, or fresh fruits with a lower GI.

Sports and Exercise: For endurance activities, choose foods with a moderate GI to sustain your energy levels.

Desserts: If you crave something sweet, go for low GI desserts like fresh fruits or dark chocolate.

The glycaemic index isn't just a fancy term; it's a valuable tool for making informed choices about the foods you eat. By selecting low to medium GI foods, you can maintain steady energy levels, control your appetite, and contribute to your long-term health. So, keep this superhero ranking system in mind when planning your meals, and you'll be on your way to a healthier, more balanced diet.