Where do I start?
Start with where you are right now. Try keeping a diary of what and when you eat for a typical week. It is really worth making the effort to do this as it can produce some real surprises. You may find it helpful to take the time to review your diary alongside the following ‘checks’ and choose one set of changes before going on to the next. Try to focus on the positive; thinking about the types of foods you want to eat more frequently rather than what foods to avoid. By planning changes to your food choices and meal patterns in a series of small steps, you are more likely to achieve longer term improvements that matter to YOU.
CHECK 1 – REGULARITY
Are you eating regularly or do you grab a meal or snack when you can? There’s no rocket science here; we tend to function more efficiently and effectively if we are presented with fuel and nutrients on a regular basis. Most of us do well on three moderate meals, starting with a breakfast, and perhaps including the odd small snack. The pace of life can sometimes mean that some of our meals are more easily overlooked than others. If meal planning for regularity is a concern for you then it may be most helpful to explore practical ways to manage your meal gaps before anything else.
CHECK 2 – VARIETY
Are you eating a mix of nutrient rich foods at most meals? Each food we eat carries its own range of nutrients so this is why we need to eat a variety of foods from the different food groups each day. If you have a whole food group missing from your regular food choices– try to find foods in that group that you enjoy and eat them more often.
PROTEIN CHOICES from:
- Animal sources such as meats, fish (white and oily), eggs, cheese, milk,
- Vegetable sources such as beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
Most of us eat sufficient protein but perhaps limit our range of sources. Try to include a protein choice at each meal.
CARBOHYDRATE CHOICES from:
- Vegetables and fruits. Most of us have too few of these. Go for generous portions of vegetables and salads with moderate amounts whole fruits and only small amounts of juices. Choose a rainbow of colours for nutrient value and eye appeal.
- Grains and white potatoes; eg bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, rice, potato etc. Most of us have very generous portions of these. Try choosing the less processed options such as wholegrain breads, pastas and cereals and swap white potatoes for sweet potatoes which have a higher nutrient value. Broaden your variety and consider your portion sizes, start by cutting them down by about a third of what you would normally eat.
FATS & OILS from:
- Vegetable sources such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and their oils and avocados. AVOID the polyunsaturated oils such as corn oil, sunflower oil and vegetable oil.
- Animal sources such as butter, egg yolks, oily fish, meats
We all need to include some good quality fats and oils in our meals, they are essential for health.
CHECK 3 – STABILITY
Are you helping your body to keep blood glucose levels stable? Consider your food combinations at meals and snacks. By choosing more moderate portions of carbohydrates and teaming these up with a source of protein and some fats or oils we can help to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. This is readily described as lowering the glycaemic load (Lower GL) and may provide us with better blood sugar and weight control, improved blood lipid profiles and more sustained energy levels.
The following meal building suggestions may start you thinking of new foods or meal combinations you may like to try. Keep things simple and explore changes, one at a time.
Building meals to moderate carbohydrate absorption and balance blood glucose levels.
- Choose a good PROTEIN CHOICE e.g. eggs, beans, bacon, ham, mackerel or nut butters.
- Include VEGETABLE CHOICES such as tomatoes, mushrooms or salads to give colour, crunch and a nutrient boost. Cook or dress these with your favourite oils.
- Include a moderate portion of a LOWER GL CARBOHYDRATE CHOICE such as wholegrain granary bread, stoneground wholemeal bread with whole seeds or sourdough breads…with butter.
- For a cereal option, try LOWER GL CARBOHYDRATE CHOICES based on wholegrain oats e.g. porridge
- Moderate the cereal portion and boost the protein, fat and nutrient value by adding nuts, seeds, unsweetened yogurt or milk. Add moderate portions of fruit (eg berries) to sweeten and boost nutrient variety further.
- Vary your PROTEIN CHOICES: meats or white fish or oily fish or beans or eggs or cheese
- Add VEGETABLE CHOICES. Experiment with colour variety and texture; crunchy vegetable sticks, rainbow salads, chunky vegetable soups, stir fries and roasted vegetable mixes. Cook or dress these with your favourite oils.
- Add a LOWER GL CARBOHYDRATE CHOICE: e.g. pasta, noodles, brown basmati rice, sweet potatoes, wholegrain granary / seedy type or stoneground wholemeal or sourdough breads or oatcakes.
- DESSERT: choose fresh fruit and whole milk yogurts more often
- Fresh fruits including berries
- Nuts and seeds
- Yogurts ( preferably whole milk based and unsweetened)
- Oatcakes with cheese
- Vegetable sticks with houmous, yogurt based dips or pate
- Plain dark or milk chocolate – in moderation!
- Water (try adding citrus slices/ cucumber and mint leaves to ring the changes).
- Tea, coffee, herbal / fruit teas (no added sugar)
- Unsweetened milk (dairy, soya, nut milks etc.)
- Sugar free flavoured squashes / waters etc.
NOTE: If you are a diabetic on insulin or taking medications to help lower your blood glucose levels, please have a word with your medical team before making significant changes to your glycaemic load. Your medicine doses may need adjustment.
Following are a few practical and inspiring cookbooks and recipe websites.
There are many more out there; have a look around and choose the ones that look appealing to you.
- The Low – GL Diet Made Easy by Patrick Holford – Practical guidance – explains principles and provides lots of meal ideas.
- Cook. Nourish, Glow by Amelia Freer
- The Art of Eating Well and Good + Simple by Hemsley & Hemsley
- The Living Well with Cancer Cookbook by Fran Warde and Catherine Zabilowicz – low GI recipes and healthy eating advice for disease prevention.
- The Medicinal Chef – Healthy Every Day by Dale Pinnock.
RECIPE WEBSITES eg:
A Closer Look At The Glycaemic Index and Glycaemic Load
The Glycaemic Index (GI) was created by comparing the blood glucose levels of volunteers after eating 50g carbohydrate portions of different foods. Each food was given a GI rating depending on how fast the carbohydrate affected the blood glucose and insulin levels. Foods containing carbohydrates that are easily digested and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream have a high GI; foods containing carbohydrates that break down more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream, have a low GI.
Pure glucose is generally used as the ‘standard’ at 100 and the GI ranges are as follows:
- Low GI is less than 55 (see example list below).
- Medium GI is 55-70.
- High GI is 70-100.
The Glycaemic Principle
The Glycaemic load (GL) is more relevant to real life in that it relates the GI to an actual portion of food eaten.
GI X grams of carbohydrate in portion = GL value
- Low GL=10 or less
- Moderate GL= 11-19
- High GL=20 or more
NOTE: Just to complicate things further, fats and proteins consumed at the same meal as a portion of carbohydrate will slow down the absorption of glucose from that carbohydrate portion i.e. the food mix really can make a difference. For example, a jacket potato (a high GI food) eaten with a mix of cheese (providing fat and protein) and salads (providing fibre and oil in a dressing) will have a more moderate impact on blood glucose than if the same potato were eaten alone.
Is it important for me?
It is not advisable to get too hung up on GI numbers and only eat foods with a low GI. Just include them more often in your meals and use higher GI versions in smaller portions. This is more readily referred to as ‘lowering the glycaemic load’ or Low GL eating. If more of our meals are based on moderate quantities of slower carbohydrates, more stable blood glucose levels (and more stable insulin levels) are likely to be achieved. This can help to maintain energy levels throughout the day – avoiding peaks and troughs that lead to fatigue and a tendency to need a quick carbohydrate fix at frequent intervals.