THE CARIBBEAN DIET: Rethinking glycaemic index

This week Jada-Virginia shares her thoughts on starchy carbohydrates focusing on the fact that not all carbohydrates are created equal.

Over to Jada-Virginia….

Not all vegetables are created equal. There, I said it! Potatoes and cassava simply do not do the same things to our bodies… Lockdown has invited many of us to slow down and focus on the essentials, causing a lot of us to redefine cooking as a top priority. This may have intrigued some to question what exactly makes the true difference between a healthy and unhealthy diet. In this series of articles, we will look at why the Caribbean diet promotes vitality and health. To illustrate these ideas, I will share recipes along the way, which will give you new inspiration for a varied and balanced diet. In this first article, I focus on the benefits of low GI starches, which are a key element of the Caribbean Diet.

What is GI?

GI stands for glycaemic index, a measurement of the time foods take to cause a raise in blood sugar following their consumption. You may wonder why use such a measurement. It turns out, how sweet a food tastes cannot tell us everything about the effect it will have on our blood sugar and overall health. GI provides a numerical scale to blood sugar levels, with 100 being pure glucose; low GI (LGI), commonly classified as 55 or below and high GI (HGI) at 70 or above. As a result, the GI index helps us make more discerning food choices. This is important as fast blood sugar spikes have a negative short-term effect on energy levels and, if high GI food consumption is sustained over a long period of time, long-term health issues such as diabetes, obesity and even Alzheimer’s Disease often follow.

How to read your metabolic health

Elevated blood insulin is an early sign of Type 2 diabetes and is an excellent stage for medical and nutritional intervention, however, prevention is always better than the cure. To prevent elevated blood sugar and insulin levels, GI and Glycaemic Load are useful tools to help you build a healthy diet and prevent inflammation- a trademark of diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Whilst glycaemic index tells us how likely one food item is to raise blood sugar; glycaemic load tells you how much an entire meal will raise a person’s blood sugar overall.

Cutting edge neuroscience reveals that blood sugar and insulin levels have a significant bearing on hippocampal function. Chronic high blood sugar elevates insulin levels in the body and brain, the hippocampi are highly dependent on insulin to function, however, when insulin levels in the brain are elevated, the hippocampi, and other regions, become insulin resistant as hormones work by negative feedback, when insulin is high, the hippocampi become starved of insulin, causing a sort of insulin resistance of the brain, hence why Suzanne de la Monte has coined the term “Type 3 Diabetes” to describe Alzheimer’s Disease.

How to eat to support good metabolic health

So, at this point, I hope you feel equipped to categorise food and improve your blood sugar levels. You may now be wondering what you can do about all this today to lower your diabetes and Alzheimer’s risk right now. It may be obvious that a typical chocolate cake or ice cream would have a high GI and GL, in fact, the first step is to eliminate processed and refined carbohydrates such as packaged pastries and white bread, sugar, breakfast cereals and fried food, this will already cut down your levels of inflammation drastically. However, what may not be so obvious is the difference between high GI tubers and low GI tubers or white and brown pasta.

The golden rule to lowering the GL of your diet is to make sure that the carbohydrates you consume are complex and high in fibre. In fact, someone first starting to improve their diet might still struggle with cravings for simple carbs, to avoid simple cereals or toast, eat a fibrous apple first thing in the morning. Follow this up with some rye bread or rye crackers and avocado for some low GI fuel. I have listed some other food swaps below that could help you choose nutritious, high fibre carbs over processed, low fibre carbs and if you want to introduce something new into your diet, you can also refer to its glycaemic index; my list below should help you get started: low GI carbohydrates are highlighted in green and high GI carbohydrates in orange.

Type of food Carbohydrates Average GI (glucose=100) Average GL (GL of 1 = 1gram of glucose)
1.     Grains White wheat bread

71

10

Whole wheat/whole meal bread

70

9

Wheat and rye bread (75% wheat flour, 10% rye flour, 15% wheat bran)

54

6

2.     Cereal Porridge, rolled oats

54

12

Instant oat porridge

67

16

Muesli

55

11

3.     Tubers Taro, boiled

54

4

Potato, boiled

84

22

Potato, instant mash

86

17

Potato, French fries

64

20

Orange Sweet Potato, boiled

61

14

Averages calculated from University of Sydney GI database

Food swaps
High GI Low GI
Potatoes  Green banana
White rice  Buckwheat (gluten free)
Cereal Oats (gluten free)
Pasta Rye pasta (contains gluten)
White bread Wholemeal ryebread (contains gluten)
Potato Chips Rye crackers with soft cheese (contains gluten and dairy)
Orange Sweet Potato Coco yam

In conclusion, consuming foods low in simple carbohydrates and high in fibre lowers your glycaemic load and overall blood sugar, which reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and other conditions linked to inflammation and high blood sugar, such as Alzheimer’s. Making a few simple swaps and making a gradual transition into low-carb eating will improve your metabolism and vitality, leaving you feeling more energised, less bloated, and less hungry. Complex carbohydrates release energy gradually throughout the day, keeping your energy levels stable throughout the day.

THG Note: I recommend the inclusion of small amounts of starchy carbs/grains (gluten-free) (approx 10% of your plate. See the ANH Food4Health Guidelines for more information)