Fat Reduces GIJ Stanton has noted that adding a little fat to a starch is very effective in lowering its GI. In a post titled “Fat and Glycemic Index: The Myth of Complex Carbohydrates,” JS states that:
- Flour tortillas have a GI of 30, compared to a GI of 72 for wheat bread, because tortillas are made with lard.
- Butter reduces the glycemic index of French bread from 95 to 65.
- A Pizza Hut Super Supreme Pizza has a GI of 30, whereas a Vegetarian Supreme has a GI of 49.
What’s interesting to me here is that what we really care about is not the glycemic index, but the peak blood glucose level attained after a meal. It is blood glucose levels above 140 mg/dl only that are harmful, and the harm is proportional to how high blood glucose levels rise above 140 mg/dl. So it’s the spikes we want to avoid.
But another paper shows that gastric emptying rate is even more closely tied to peak blood glucose level than it is to glycemic index. From :
So combining a starch with fat may reduce peak blood glucose levels even more than it reduces the glycemic index; which is a good thing.
Dairy reduces GIDairy is effective at reducing GI:
[D]airy products significantly reduced the GI of white rice when consumed together, prior to or after a carbohydrate meal. It is not likely that dairy fat alone was responsible, because whole milk worked better than butter. However, low-fat milk only reduced the GI of rice by 16%, while whole milk reduced it by 41%. So clearly dairy fats are part of the recipe, but not the whole story; whey protein may also matter.
Meals Have Lower GIGI is calculated by eating a single food and only that food.
But what happens when you eat a meal? You’re no longer eating one food, but a mixture of foods. The baked potato may come with meat and vegetables, and with butter on top.
You might think that a weighted average of the GI of the various foods might give a good indication of the GI of the meal. Then, since fat, meat, and vegetables have a low GI, you’d expect GI of the meal to be much lower.
It turns out that the GI of meals is low – in fact, it is even lower than the average GI of the foods composing the meal.
That is the result of a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition . Three meals were prepared combining a starch (potato, rice, or spaghetti) that digested to 50 g (200 calories) glucose with vegetables, sauce, and pan-fried chicken. The GIs of the meals were consistently lower than the values predicted using a weighted average of GIs of the meal components:
|Meal||Actual GI||Predicted GI|
So eating a starch as part of a meal reduces GI to the range 38 to 53 – below the levels of many fruits and berries.
So What’s the Healthiest Way to Eat “Safe Starches”?One way to limit the likelihood of reaching dangerous blood sugar levels after a meal is by eating a relatively “low carb” diet. We recommend that sedentary people eat about 400 to 600 carb calories per day. This limits the amount eaten at any one sitting to about 200 calories / 50 g, which is the amount of a typical glucose tolerance test. It is an amount the body is well able to handle.
But the manner in which carbs are eaten may be just as important as the amount.
Let’s look again at the Perfect Health Diet Food Plate:
The design of a PHD meal is found in the body of the apple. Assuming two meals a day, the recipe is to combine:
- A safe starch (roughly ½ pound, which translates to 150 to 300 carb calories);
- A meat, fish, or egg (¼ to ½ pound);
- A sauce made up of fats and acids such as lemon juice or vinegar;
- Vegetables, preferably including fermented vegetables with their healthy acids;
- (Optionally) some dairy or a glass of wine.
It seems reasonable to expect that a meal designed in this fashion will have a glycemic index around 30. The odds of 200 carb calories with a glycemic index of 30 generating blood sugar levels that are dangerous – 140 mg/dl or higher – in healthy people is very low. Even in diabetics, it may be uncommon.
So, yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus, and you can eat safe starches and avoid hyperglycemia too!