The importance of knowing GI values

Keeping track of the GI can be an additional step in planning our daily food intake


Healthy lifestyle is becoming a trend as Malaysians are more aware that obesity and diabetes are detrimental.

Malaysians are now exercising frequently, getting enough rest and more importantly, consuming healthier diets.

According to a recent research by Food Industry Asia, 81% of Malaysians are more aware of the food they consume.

However, 46% admitted that their dietary habits are unhealthy, while more than half of the respondents are not having healthy diets despite being aware that healthy food intakes would lead to better lifestyle.

Looking at this situation, many people need assistance and education on the right food choices.

One of the lessons that need to be emphasised is glycaemic index (GI) which gives us a picture of how fast our bodies can digest the sugar content in our blood.

Different types of food with the same amount of carbohydrate could have different GI depending on how much time it takes for our body to absorb the carbohydrate.

Therefore, GI is used to differentiate carbohydrates and allows consumers to choose food items that could help in maintaining or stabilise blood sugar levels.

Dieting based on low GI is the most effective way of lowering risk to serious health issues

Keeping track of the GI can be an additional step in planning our daily food intake.

There are three types of GI values which are high GI (GI value of over 70), medium GI (GI value of 56 to 69) and low GI (less than 55).

Guided by these values, we can choose various types of foods while balancing the level of sugar in our blood.

High GI foodswill rapidly increase the level of glucose in our blood, whereas low GI food increases the glucose level slowly or gradually.

We must avoid eating food that would drastically increase blood glucose as it can be detrimental to our health in the long run.

Stabilising blood glucose by eating Low GI food will keep chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart complications, high cholesterol, stroke and cancer at bay.

However, in Malaysia, awareness on the GI concept is still low and not being practised, especially on the labels of food packaging compared to other countries like Australia, New Zealand or even our neighbour, Singapore.

In Malaysia, a healthy diet is ever more important as there are many health issues among Malaysians where 30% adults in the country are overweight, 18% adults are obese, while 25% children are underweight.

More worrying, however, is that 18% children in the country have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Nutrition Society of Malaysia president Dr Tee E Siong said to stop this from happening much longer, a comprehensive strategy needs to be implemented immediately, including the National Plan of Action for Nutrition of Malaysia (NPAN) III.

“A serious action must be taken by various ministries, not just the Health Ministry (MoH), to implement the strategies and programmes.

“This is because dietary issues (excessive or lack of nutrition) must be solved through the collaboration of a few ministries, including the Education Ministry (MoE), the Agriculture and Food Industry Ministry (MAFI) and the Housing and Local Government Ministry (KPKT), among  others,” he said recently.

He also said collaboration must also be made between the government and professionals, academics and the private sector, especially players of the food industry.

“Besides that, sufficient funding and skilled manpower, especially nutritionists, are needed to ensure that all programmes and activities run successfully,” he added.

Dr Tee said keeping track of carbohydrate qualities based on GI could be one of the much-needed focuses of the programme.

He said scientists at the Sydney University in Australia were the first to introduce the concept of tracking the GI consumption which is now recognised by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).

“Although in many countries, the Codex Alimentarius (and organisation under the World Health Organisation) at the moment do not allow putting GI values on food labels, it is being used actively in markets like Australia, New Zealand and Singapore when it comes to foods like bread and rice.

“Even Malaysia has not agreed with the use of GI values, although our nutritionists use the concept when dealing with diabetes patients,” Dr Tee said.

Meanwhile, an expert from Monash University Australia, Dr David Kanna, said research has shown that dieting based on low GI is the easiest and most effective way of lowering risk to serious health issues.

“There have been many positive results that show practising a low GI diet could lower the risks of diabetes and obesity. There are even independent international organisations like the GI Foundation that have been formed to educate consumers and help researchers.

“Through promotion, education and clear GI labels in the market, it will be more convenient for consumers to choose the best food for their diet.

“This method would also push food manufacturers to improve their ingredients to make them low GI for the Malaysian market,” he said.

“The right diet by choosing low GI food will also help protect consumers from coronary artery diseases.

“Overweight people who choose low GI food products will have a better chance of losing weight compared to other types of diet.

“Body weight, fat content, body mass index and cholesterol will go down quickly for those who consume low GI food,” he said.