Diets based on the principles of glycaemic indexing (GI) are set to increase in popularity as consumers become familiar with the concepts and incorporate them into their eating patterns. Its development is also being driven by the rise in diabetes; it?s estimated one quarter of the Western world is either suffering from, or at risk of, diabetes.
GI recognition is most advanced in Australia where an on-package labelling scheme was inaugurated in 2002 and a majority of the population understands GI principles. Under the system, backed by Diabetes Australia as well as the government food regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand, products that meet certain criteria can gain a high, medium or low GI ranking.
Best-selling books are driving increased international awareness of GI dieting, as well as scientific backing from the likes of Harvard Medical School. Ingredient-suppliers such as National Starch are seeking to maximise this potential with offerings like Hi-maize, a resistant starch designed to lower the GI value of high-scoring GI foods such as white bread and pasta.
?Basically it means processed foods can act more like fibre foods in the body,? said Mike Croghan, global business director of nutrition of the New Jersey-based company. ?Thirty per cent of US consumers are interested in better carbs. We?ve done it with protein, and we?ve done it with fats, so why not with carbs??
Croghan said more foods, particularly in the US, the UK, Scandinavia and France, were carrying GI information, often in the form of a graphed curve to illustrate the principle of energy transference from foods into the body.
In the UK, Unilever?s SlimFast range includes products that feature the statement ?steady energy release? on the package, although the actual GI figure isn?t given.
The GI system has its critics. The American Diabetes Association refuses to endorse it because of anomalies such as table sugar, which is ranked lower than potatoes and carrots.
Becky Lang, PhD, a nutritionist with the UK-based Association for the Study of Obesity, said the glycaemic index had merit but could be misleading because it fails to account for the manner in which glycaemic properties are altered when different foods are consumed together. ?If people stick exclusively to low GI foods they may be missing out on some crucial nutrients,? she said.
As FF&N went to press, UK supermarket giant Tesco threw its weight behind the GI system by announcing it would label 900 own-brand products with low or medium GI rankings.