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GI labelling continues to grow — and confuse

While the Glycaemic Index — a system that ranks foods according to their effect on blood glucose levels — continues to capture headlines, it remains a confusing concept, according to one prominent UK body.

Reading Scientific Services Ltd (RSSL), a food technology institute, is fielding an unprecedented number of enquiries from UK, European and North American food producers seeking to reformulate products to achieve lower GI ratings. Yet many have only a vague understanding of GI principles.

?We tested more than 100 products last year,? said Jane Staniforth, head of food business development at RSSL. ?We have a service that enables food producers to develop low-GI products. Or they may just want to test the GI levels of their foods. Others just want to know more about GI and how it is likely to affect their business.? Staniforth said confusion was being amplified among both producers and consumers by other glycaemic measures, such as Glycaemic Load (where GI figures are coupled with actual quantity of available carbohydrates consumed) and Glycaemic Response (which attempts to measure actual effect on blood sugar levels from consumption of all carbohydrates).

?If consumers start getting used to products with low GI on them, or low GL or low GR and think they are all the same thing, then this is going to create problems,? she said.

Staniforth said lowering the GI value of a food could be achieved in many ways. ?We look at replacing sucrose with lower-GI sweeteners, replacing some of the starches with slower-release fibres and carbs.? To date, reformulating baked goods and confectionery are the most common requests.

The UK is quickly catching up with Australia, which has the world?s most advanced GI labelling scheme. The UK?s biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, launched an effort last year to label more than 1,000 food items with GI ratings by the end of 2005. More than 60 items now do so, and other supermarkets are following suit.

A Leatherhead Food International survey found one third of respondents believed low-GI dieting could help fight obesity. Despite this, UK bakery Warburtons has eschewed GI labelling by launching a low-GI white bread backed by an advertising campaign based on the slogan ?longer lasting energy,? which it believes is more user-friendly.

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