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Truth about the glycemic index

6 Oct 2020

It is recommended by nutrition experts that fruits and vegetables should be part of everyone’s daily eating pattern. However, only one in 10 Americans meets the recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Confusion around the Glycemic Index (GI) and its dietary implications may be another barrier to adequate consumption.

“The GI has been around for 40 years,” explains registered dietitian Constance Brown-Riggs. “Its intention is to indicate with a single number how quickly a food will cause a rise in glucose in the bloodstream, and it can be used by people who want to achieve weight loss or by people with diabetes for choosing which carbohydrate-containing foods to eat. However, the GI doesn’t give the full picture, and many nutrition professionals believe that it leads to misinformation about the healthfulness or nutritional qualities of foods, including fruits and vegetables.”

As November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and a time to bring attention to diabetes and its management, Brown-Riggs offers her insight into the most common GI misconceptions, supported by findings from a new survey conducted by Today’s Dietitian:

Myth: High-GI foods should be avoided

Truth: Foods like potatoes, carrots, watermelon and ripe bananas have GI scores that are categorised as ‘high’ and this score might lead people to remove them from their diets or label them as ‘bad’ for their health. The truth is that these are nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables that should be included as part of any healthy, balanced eating plan.

Myth: GI is crucial to select plan meals

Truth: The reality is, it’s more important to focus on the overall nutritional qualities of a food when building meals. It’s also more practical to focus on the glycemic effect that a meal has on blood sugar rather than focus on the effects from individual foods. That means looking at carbohydrate needs and content at meals; realising how the fibre, protein or fat content of a meal can impact blood sugar; and prioritising combinations that work to meet individual goals.

Myth: Nutritionists rely solely on GI 

Truth: The GI is not a tool that the overwhelming majority of nutrition professionals use when providing dietary guidance or recommendations. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of nutrition professionals surveyed report that they do not use the GI when counseling their patients and clients; and among those who do use it, 70% do so infrequently. An overwhelming majority (83%) of nutrition professionals also report that the GI isn’t part of the nutritional guidelines for food or meal selection of clients or patients in their practice.

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