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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Regulating Diabetes/Weight : Getting the Basics Right

Embarking on a healthier lifestyle is easier than we think. Awareness about the right kind of foods ( ie., those with a low to medium GI ), how they drive our blood sugar levels and switching to whole grains help us make a move in the right direction.

Glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how fast the blood sugar levels rise after consuming a particular carbohydrate ( starchy food ). Glucose having a GI of 100 is the benchmark against which all foods are rated. High GI foods cause a sudden spike in the blood sugar levels and consequently a sudden drop. While the former puts pressure on the pancreas to secrete more insulin , the latter is responsible for causing hunger pangs. As a result, high GI foods make us eat more. In comparison lower GI foods are digested slowly and hence raise the blood sugar gradually without causing any sudden drop and hence result in a better insulin response (sensitivity). That makes us feel satiated for a longer duration. A diet that comprises mostly of low GI foods with a small portion of medium GI foods is considered to be the healthiest.

Starchy foods and foods that are refined, polished and processed are generally high GI foods. As a thumb rule, all (well almost)that is white ( bread/rice/flour ) is bad. Unpolished or hand-processed grains with their high fiber content and all naturally occurring nutrients are a healthier option. The fiber helps in slowing down the absorption of the sugar, swells up in the tummy and makes us full.

Since rice and wheat form a large portion of the Indian diet, we need to be aware of their GI values. Most of the popular Indian rice varieties have very high GI values, for example GI values of Sona Masuri ( 72.0 ), Kolam ( 77.0 ) and Ponni ( 70.0 ). Switching to brown rice ( it has the germ and underlying nutrients intact)or par-boiled rice ( it is boiled before being milled which forces some of the nutrients into the endosperm ) having low to medium GI values are advisable. Some of the rice varieties that have low/medium GI values are :
Basmati ( 46-69)
Par-boiled Ponni (27-45)
Par-boiled Sona Masuri
Jirasar ( )
Khani Paka
Moolgiri ( 54.1 )

( The individual GI values for each rice variety may vary from crop to crop, cultivation method, age and processing method. )

Bottomline : Though brown rice is the healthiest option followed by par-boiled rice, go for Basmati (aged grains are better) only if you have a very discerning palate. I however prefer the par-boiled sona masuri and ponni rice which goes well with Oriya cuisine unlike the former which stands out like a sore thumb among the mustard flavored curries.

Another factor to be considered is the increase in volume after cooking. Basmati and Ponni are good examples of rice that swell dramatically during cooking. Such a variety will make one satiated while consuming a lesser amount of rice.

Similarly whole wheat which is high in fiber is a healthier option as compared to refined flour or processed wheat flour. However, the mass produced whole wheat flour has the bran and germ removed before grinding which results in a white flour stripped of its fiber and nutrient content. It is later recombined with some of the ground bran and germ to get whole wheat flour.

While in case of 100 percent stone ground wheat flour, the intact (bran, germ and endosperm) wheat grains are ground resulting in a little coarse but nutrient dense flour. This type of flour contains Vitamins B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, copper , magnesium and manganese which are essential for the proper functioning of the human body. Consuming whole foods helps prevent weight gain and the onset of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in the long run.

Hence it is advisable to ditch those refined flour items like bread, biscuits , cakes and polished white rice, and switch over to whole wheat bread, cookies, muffins and brown/par-boiled rice.

Remember the Golden Rule for leading a healthy life: Eat in Moderation.


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