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Last Updated on December 1, 2020

14 Low GI Foods for a Healthier Diet

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14 Low GI Foods for a Healthier Diet

Diet trends may come and go, but a low-GI diet remains one of the few that has been shown to include benefits based on science. Low GI foods provide substantial health benefits over those with a high index, and they are key to maintaining a healthy weight.

What is GI? Glycemic index (GI) is the rate at which the carbohydrate content of a food is broken down into glucose and absorbed from the gut into the blood. When you eat foods containing carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose, which is then absorbed into your bloodstream.[1]

The higher the GI of a food, the faster it will be broken down and cause your blood glucose (sugar) to rise. Foods with a high GI rating are digested very quickly and cause your blood sugar to spike. This is why it’s advisable to stick to low GI foods as much as possible, as the carbohydrate content of low GI foods will be digested slowly, allowing a more gradual rise in blood glucose levels.

Foods with a GI scale rating of 70 or more are considered to be high GI. Foods with a rating of 55 or below are considered low GI foods.

It’s important to note that the glycemic index of a food doesn’t factor in the quantity that you eat. For example, although watermelon has a high glycemic index, the water and fiber content of a standard serving of water means it won’t have a significant impact on your blood sugar.

Like watermelon, some high GI foods (such as baked potatoes) are high in nutrients. And some low GI foods (such as corn chips) contain high amounts of trans fats.

In most cases, however, the GI is an important means of gauging the right foods for a healthy diet.

Eating mainly low GI foods every day helps to provide your body with a slow, continuous supply of energy. The carbohydrates in low GI foods is digested slowly, so you feel satisfied for longer. This means you’ll be less likely to suffer from fluctuating sugar levels that can lead to cravings and snacking.

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Let’s continue with some of the best examples of low GI foods.

1. Quinoa

GI: 53

Quinoa has a slightly higher GI than rice or barley, but it contains a much higher proportion of protein. If you don’t get enough protein from the rest of your diet, quinoa could help. It’s technically a seed, so it’s also high in fiber–again, more than most grains. It’s also gluten-free, which makes it excellent for those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

2. Brown Rice (Steamed)

GI: 50

Versatile and satisfying, brown rice is one of the best low GI foods and is a staple for many dishes around the world. It’s whole rice from which only the husk (the outermost layer) is removed, so it’s a great source of fiber. In fact, brown rice has been shown to help lower cholesterol, improve digestive function, promote fullness, and may even help prevent the formation of blood clots. Just remember to always choose brown over white!

3. Corn on the Cob

GI: 48

Although it tastes sweet, corn on the cob is a good source of slow-burning energy (and one of the tastiest low GI foods). It’s also a good plant source of Vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron, all of which are required for the healthy production of red blood cells in the body. It’s healthiest when eaten without butter and salt!

4. Bananas

GI: 47

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Bananas are a superfood in many ways. They’re rich in potassium and manganese and contain a good amount of vitamin C. Their low GI rating means they’re great for replenishing your fuel stores after a workout.

They are easy to add to smoothies, cereal, or kept on your desk for a quick snack. The less ripe they are, the lower the sugar content is! As one of the best low GI foods, it’s a great addition to any daily diet.

5. Bran Cereal

GI: 43

Bran is famous for being one of the highest cereal sources of fiber. It’s also rich in a huge range of nutrients: calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and a host of B vitamins. Although bran may not be to everyone’s tastes, it can easily be added to other cereals to boost the fiber content and lower the overall GI rating.

6. Natural Muesli

GI: 40

Muesli–when made with unsweetened rolled oats, nuts, dried fruit, and other sugar-free ingredients–is one of the healthiest ways to start the day. It’s also very easy to make at home with a variety of other low GI foods. Add yogurt and fresh fruit for a nourishing, energy-packed breakfast.

7. Apples

GI: 40

Apple skin is a great source of pectin, an important prebiotic that helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut. Apples are also high in polyphenols, which function as antioxidants, and contain a good amount of vitamin C. They are best eaten raw with the skin on! Apples are one of a number of fruits[2] that have a low glycemic index. Be careful which fruits you choose, as many have a large amount of natural sugars[3].

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8. Apricots

GI: 30

Apricots provide both fiber and potassium, which make them an ideal snack for both athletes and anyone trying to keep sugar cravings at bay. They’re also a source of antioxidants and a range of minerals.

Apricots can be added to salads, cereals, or eaten as part of a healthy mix with nuts at any time of the day.

9. Kidney Beans

GI: 29

Kidney beans and other legumes provide a substantial serving of plant-based protein, so they can be used in lots of vegetarian dishes if you’re looking to adopt a plant-based diet[4]. They’re also packed with fiber and a variety of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds. They are great in soups, stews, or with (whole grain) tacos.

10. Barley

GI: 22

Barley is a cereal grain that can be eaten in lots of ways. It’s an excellent source of B vitamins, including niacin, thiamin, and pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), fiber, molybdenum, manganese, and selenium. It also contains beta-glucans, a type of fiber that can support gut health and has been shown to reduce appetite and food intake.

Please note that barley does contain gluten, which makes it unsuitable for anyone who is Celiac[5] or who follows a gluten-free diet. In this case, gluten-free alternatives might include quinoa, buckwheat, or millet.

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11. Raw Nuts

GI: 20

Most nuts have a low GI of between 0 and 20, with cashews slightly higher at around 22. Nuts, as one of the best low GI foods, are a crucial part of the Mediterranean diet[6] and are really the perfect snack: they’re a source of plant-based protein, high in fiber, and contain healthy fats. Add them to smoothies and salads to boost the nutritional content. Try to avoid roasted and salted nuts, as these are made with large amounts of added salt and (usually) trans fats.

12. Carrots

GI: 16

Raw carrots are not only a delicious low GI vegetable, but they really do help your vision! They contain vitamin A (beta carotene) and a host of antioxidants. They’re also low-calorie and high in fiber, and they contain good amounts of vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants. Carrots are great for those monitoring their weight as they’ve been linked to lower cholesterol levels.

13. Greek Yogurt

GI: 12

Unsweetened Greek yogurt is not only low GI, but it’s an excellent source of calcium and probiotics, as well. Probiotics help to keep your gut microbiome in balance and support your overall digestive health and immune function. Greek yogurt makes a healthy breakfast, snack, dessert, or a replacement for dip. The most common probiotic strains found in yogurt are Streptococcus thermophilus[7] (found naturally in yogurt) and Lactobacillus acidophilus[8] (which is often added by the manufacturer). You can also look into probiotic supplements for improving your gut health.

14. Hummus

GI: 6

When made the traditional way from chickpeas and tahini, hummus is a fantastic, low-GI dish. It’s a staple in many Middle Eastern countries and can be eaten with almost any savory meal. Full of fiber to maintain satiety and feed your good gut bacteria, hummus is great paired with freshly-chopped vegetables, such as carrots and celery.

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Bottom Line

If you’re looking to eat healthier or simply cut down on snacking throughout the day, eating low GI foods is a great way to get started. Choose any of the above foods for a healthy addition to your daily diet and start feeling better for longer.

More Tips on Eating Healthy

Featured photo credit: Alexander Mils via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Lisa Richards

Nutritionist, Creator of The Candida Diet, Owner of TheCandidaDiet.com

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Published on August 24, 2021

What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

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What Is a Whole Food Diet And Does It Really Work?

I’ve been a dietitian now for a long time (more years than I care to mention), and if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that fad diets are best avoided. This is why I’m so pleased that whole food diets are being talked about more and more.

Rather than a “diet,” I prefer to think of a whole food diet as a way of life. Eating this way is balanced, and it is a great way to support your all-around body health and longevity. Plus, it’s delicious and—in my opinion—not limiting either, which is a massive bonus.

A well-balanced diet follows some fairly basic principles and, in essence, consists of plenty of the following:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean protein
  • Nuts
  • Water

This is essentially all a whole food diet is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an accepted definition of the whole food diet, which means that there are some highly restrictive versions around and some involve principles to frame your diet around rather than strict rules.

Read on to learn more about the whole food diet as a framework for eating rather than a strict rule book of dos and don’ts that restricts your lifestyle.

What Is a Whole Food Diet?

By definition, a whole food diet consists of eating foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. It’s easy to get lost in a quagmire of organic, local, or pesticide-free, but a whole food diet is basically food in its most natural form. Obviously, spices can be ground and grains can be hulled, but you get the idea. You eat the whole food rather than what’s left after being refined or processed.

In other words, it involves a lot of cooking because whole foods do not involve anything processed. That means no premade sauces, dips, or convenience foods like chocolate bars, sweets, or ready-meals. It also includes things like tinned vegetables and white bread.

Why? Processed and convenience foods are often high in salt, saturated fat, and additives in comparison to anything homemade. Because of this, their toll on your overall health is higher.

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Can Other Diets Also Be Whole Food Diets?

Here’s where it gets confusing—yes, other diets can also be whole food diets. Eating a whole food diet is a lifestyle choice, but many other diets can exist within a whole foods construct. So, diets like the MIND Diet and Mediterranean Diet are also whole food diets.

For example, here are the foods involved in the MIND Diet:[1]

  • Green, leafy vegetables five times a week
  • Five or more different colored fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Berries five times a week
  • Five or more servings of nuts a week
  • Olive oil five times a week
  • Whole grains five times a week
  • Oily fish twice a week or take an algae-based omega-3 supplement
  • Legumes and pulses five times a week
  • White meat/mix of plant-based proteins twice a week
  • Vitamin D supplement
  • Minimally processed foods
  • No more than one glass of wine a day
  • One or two coffee or tea a day max
  • Two liters of water a day

That’s pretty much a whole food diet, right? As long as any meat or plant-based proteins are as unprocessed as possible, then it can be a whole food diet.

Other diets, like a vegan diet, for instance, could be whole food diets or not. It really depends if processed foods are included. Some food substitutes are really heavily processed, so it’s important to read labels really carefully. But it’s only some, not all.

And here’s where it gets woolly. If you don’t need to eliminate certain food groups for whatever reason—ethical, health, religion—then a whole food diet can be great. But if you do exclude certain foods, then it could be beneficial to include certain “processed” foods. This is to make sure that you don’t miss out on vital nutrients to keep you healthy.

Processed Foods That Are Okay on a Whole Food Diet

Many brands of cereals are fortified with B vitamins, which can be hard to come by on a plant-based diet.

For example, vitamin B12 (needed for maintaining a healthy nervous system, energy, and mood-regulation), is largely found in animal sources. It is something that those on a plant-based diet need to keep an eye on, as studies show that around 20% of us are deficient. And we also know that 65% of vegans and vegetarians don’t take a B vitamin supplement.[2]

So in that case, choosing a cereal fortified with B vitamins would be a good option, if done wisely. By that I mean use your discretion and check the labels, as many brands of cereals are packed with sugar and additives. But you can strategically choose minimally processed foods using a whole foods mentality.

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As a rule of thumb, if there are any ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t understand, or sound artificial, they probably are best avoided.

Benefits of a Whole Food Diet

In a 2014 analysis by Yale University, they concluded that “a diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention.”[3]

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables or other high-fiber foods like whole grains and nuts is really important in maintaining good long-term health and preventing health problems like diabetes and cancers. These kinds of foods also help our bodies to cope and control the effects of inflammation.

In fact, one review from 2019 stated that “diets high in plant foods could potentially prevent several million premature deaths each year if adopted globally.”[4] This is a big endorsement for a whole food diet.

Whole Foods and the Gut

Whole foods are loaded with fibers that are sometimes lost during processing or refinement. Fiber is essential for a healthy gut because aside from its traditional “roughage” reputation, it also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, providing a whole host of other benefits.

They also provide a lot of variety, which the gut loves. The more variety, the better. So, even though you might fall in love with certain recipes, it’s important to mix up the kinds of whole foods you eat to maintain a healthy gut. Aim for 30 different whole foods each week. It’s easier than you think!

Whole Foods and the Brain

The brain is a really hungry organ, and it uses 25% of the total energy you consume from your food. Everything it needs to function at its best is—you guessed it—a whole, unprocessed food.

In fact, the best diet recommended for brain health is the MIND Diet. In one study, it was shown that people who follow the MIND diet closely had a 53% reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s.[5]

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Some of the best whole foods for the brain are:[6]

  • Oily fish
  • Nuts
  • Eggs
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Whole grains

Is It Easy to Follow a Whole Food Diet?

Once you’ve got your head around having “ingredients” rather than “ready-to-eat” things in your kitchen cupboards, it’s actually very easy. The only issue is the lifestyle and habit changes that come along with it.

It is very likely that for many people, following a totally, religiously whole food diet may be unattainable at least some of the time. For example, there are days where you don’t get time to make your lunch or if you want to enjoy social eating. Similarly, people who have young children or who are working more than one job are unlikely to be able to follow a whole food diet all of the time.

Sometimes, we put ourselves under pressure to be as perfect as we can with diets like this, which can lead to an eating disorder called Orthorexia, which is a preoccupation with healthy eating.

This means that following a whole food diet, in principle, can be healthy and accessible for some people but not for everyone. It also means that those with previous disordered eating, as always, need to avoid any form of dietary restriction or rules around their diet.

Is a Whole Food Diet Boring?

Absolutely not! The beauty of this way of eating is that there are barely any recipes that are off-limits. If you can make it yourself using natural ingredients, then it counts. So, dig out your recipe books and get familiar with your spice cupboard.

Here’s my advice if you’re just starting: stock up on coconut milk and canned tomatoes. You’ll use them all the time in sauces.

Best Hacks for Sticking With a Whole Food Diet

Here are some tips to help you stick with a whole food diet and develop this lifestyle.

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1. Practice Batch Cooking

Especially in the beginning, if you’ve been used to eating more convenience-based or packaged foods, you’re likely to feel like you spend the majority of your life in the kitchen. So, I’d suggest getting your cookbooks out and planning around five things to make per week. If you make double, or even triple portions depending on your household, you’ll have enough quantity to last several meals.

For example, his could be homemade granola. Make it once, and that’s breakfast sorted for a week. Whole food diet ingredients like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, nuts, and seeds are all delicious, and great nutritional resources to keep you feeling full until lunchtime.

I also love to make big stews, sauces, and curries that can happily be reheated and added throughout the course of a few days.

2. Make Your Own Convenience Foods

Sticking to a new way of eating can be really difficult, especially for your willpower. So, it’s very important to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

Pre-chop. Pre-chop. Pre-chop.

If you’ve got a container of carrot sticks on hand or can happily munch on a few pieces of melon from the fridge, use those—it’s almost easier than grabbing something from a package. This can extend to your other vegetables, too. If you get your veg delivered or buy it from a market, choose a few things to slice after you wash them. That way, if you need a speedy lunch or a lazy dinner, it’ll be ready in minutes.

Ready to Try a Whole Food Diet?

If you’re looking to maximize your overall health, well-being, and vitality, I’d absolutely suggest a whole food diet. But, as with everything, it’s important to do what works for you and your own lifestyle.

Featured photo credit: Louis Hansel – Restaurant Photographer via unsplash.com

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Reference

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