Food plays a very important role in the human body to help it achieve a state of composure and general well-being. Ideally, regulating eating habits should be second nature for all of us. This discipline becomes all the more important when the body is undergoing a fast. Ending a day's fast with high-calorie, high-fat and high-sugar foods can lead to its own set of problems, which is the reason why consuming low-GI foods at the time of ending a fast is an ideal way to allow your body to enjoy a sustained level of energy.
Says Dr Archana Ainapure, senior dietician, Health Factory, Dubai, "When the hours of fasting are long," she says, "the consumption of ‘slow-digesting' foods in place of the ‘fast-digesting' ones is a good dietary discipline. ‘Slow-digesting' foods last up to eight hours in your digestive system as compared to ‘fast-digesting' foods that last for only three to four hours. The former category of foods contains a lot of fibre and has low-glycaemic index value."
Dr Ainapure says during Ramadan "meals should be a balanced grouping of food groups: a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, poultry, meat, fish, cereals and a mix of dairy products. Fried foods ideally should be keptto a minimum. Besides adding tothe body weight, they cause flatulence, indigestion, acidity, heartburn and bloating."
Most fruits and vegetables have a low-GI and a low-GL measure. GL refers to glycaemic load and is an extension of the glycaemic index, which takes into account the carbohydrate quantity as well. "Most fresh fruits and vegetables contain few carbohydrates," she says. "However, vegetables like potatoes are higher in carbohydrate content." Pasta and sweet potatoes interestingly, though primarily a source of carbohydrates, are prescribed as part of a healthy diet as they are low-GI staples.
What is a low-GI diet?
A GI-based diet is ranked on the basis of the extent to which foods ‘spike' blood sugar levels after a meal. This is done on a scale of 1 to 100. If you consume high-GI foods (fast-digesting foods), they get absorbed in the blood very fast and indicate a ‘spike' in the sugar (insulin) levels. As a result, you will instantly have a lot of energy in your blood. In its natural course, your body will use this energy first instead of that already stored in your body, such as in your body fat. This is how you gain weight and the more you keep eating high-GI foods, the harder it becomes to lose weight.
"But when you consume ‘slow-digesting foods' [containing fibre and having a low GI]," says Dr Ainapure, "they take a longer time to get digested and therefore show a gradual rise in sugar levels. This delays hunger pangs and you feel full for a longer duration."
Eating low-GI foods diminishes the desire to nibble in between meals. In the long run, this greatly helps people control and lose weight.
According to Dr Ainapure, most grains and seeds that fall in the complex-carbohydrate categoryare ‘slow-digesting foods'. Beans,oats, whole wheat, parboiled rice, lentils and millet are some of thebest examples.
However, refined and processed foods fall in the ‘fast-digesting foods' category. The best examples are flour and white sugar. Leafy vegetables and fruits with skin (like apples) and dry fruits are all low-GI foods.
Interestingly, many modern diets rely on GI values. "These include the South Beach Diet," she says.
"The newest information that has come to light isthat it is not low GI alone that matters, but GL (glycaemic load), which should be taken into consideration. The GI of a food item can be applied only if it contains a reasonable number of carbohydrates in it."
The glycaemic effect of foods, she says, depend on a number of factors. These include the type of starch, fat and protein content of the food, and organic acids or their salts.
For example, did you know that adding vinegar to your salad lowers the GI value? "Broadly," says Dr Ainapure, "unrefined breads with higher amounts of fibre have a lower GI-value than white breads."
What foods one shouldn't eat
According to Dr Ainapure, the best part about the low-GI diet is that there are no particular foods that you cannot or are not supposed to eat.
"Nutritionists merely ask you to eat more low-GI foods. This diet greatly helps in discouraging bingeing and overeating. Besides, it is important to keep an eye on the portion sizes as well."
One of the common mistakes people make, says Dr Ainapure, is to combine low-GI foods with high-GI foods. "By doing this, you lower the GI of the whole meal which limits its goodness. Low GI does not always mean low fat, so it is advisable to watch the fat content in your meals," she says.
Why there is so much emphasis on low-GI diets
Dr Ainapure warns that foods high in GI can be damaging to your health because it pushes your body to extremes. "This is particularly true for people who are overweight and lead a sedentary lifestyle," she says.
Whether you are fasting or not, Dr Ainapure usually recommends eating low-GI meals. You may be greatly tempted by - but it is advisable to avoid eating - high GI foods. Seek a nutritionist's help to identify and differentiate between them if you need additional information on how to maintain good eating habits.
"The basics to remember are as follows," she says. "Eat oats for suhour and along with your other meals, have a healthy mix of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and cereals and eat brown rice insteadof white rice. Make it a habit to eat more salads.
"The idea is to feel satiated for longer hours," she says. "But between iftar and suhour, if you do feel hungry, you could nibble on the following, but in moderation: low-sugar chocolate [but not fat-free or sugar-free varieties], dry fruits, cereals, prunes, and [unsalted] peanuts."
Common health complaints
During Ramadan, some of the most common medical conditions clients complain of, according to Dr Ainapure, are indigestion or constipation, headache, low blood pressure, joint pains, low blood sugar, acidity and heartburn. These can be easily avoided if one follows a good diet with a low GI.
She cites the example of a study conducted at the University of Sydney in Australia which suggested that having a breakfast of whitebread and sugar-rich cereals overa period of time may make a person susceptible to diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. "I have also come across reports published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that Age-related Adult Macular Degeneration (AMD) is higher (42 per cent) in those with a high-GI diet and concluded that eating a lower-GI diet would eliminate 20 per cent of AMD cases. High levels of GI may also promote Type 2 diabetes as they drastically increase insulin levels."
Other ramifications of low-GI diets
Like any other diet, there are certain restrictions in the low-GI diet too. "The glycaemic response is different from one person to another and even in the same person it can differ from day to day," says Dr Ainapure. "My body's blood glucose levels and insulin resistance would be very different than yours. A diabetic's insulin levels would show a ‘spike' even four hours after eating. This is because for up to two hours, the GI value would not show its impact on blood glucose levels.
"The GI response of foods is largely influenced by the last meal you had and also if the meals were consumed in short intervals. This is why the GI of foods gets determined under experimental conditions and after an overnight session of fasting. Many times, the food type, its processing and storage time, and cooking style also affect the GI value."
By stabilising your sugar levels, low-GI foods ensure you enjoy a feel-good state during Ramadan.
- Avoid overeating, especially during iftar and suhour.
- Steer clear of fried foods. They will do more harm than good.
- Keep all those sweet temptations at bay. Eat fresh fruit instead.
- Coffee and tea are diuretics and will leadto the loss of some minerals and salts which are needed by the body.
- Keep your body well-hydrated and drink water regularly. After a dayof fasting, your body will take some time to adjust its fluid levels.