Glycemic index: should we be eating less sugar?

Who doesn’t like to indulge in a square of chocolate now and then? Glucose plays a key role in the functioning of the body; but, some sugars are better for you than others. We'll help you find out which are which, as well as how to reduce your overall intake.

Chocolate cake and kiwi

Chocolate, candy, cakes… Ah sugar, where would we be without you?! We know it’s not great for our health or waistline, but that doesn’t mean we’re ready to give up on all delicious treats forever. What if we told you sugar is actually hidden everywhere, even in foods that you may consider to be “healthy”? White bread, potatoes, pasta and deli meats — that’s right, they're on the list.

Why do we love sugar so much?

The answer to this question is in our brain!

Reason 1: This fabulous muscle that allows us to think and move is fuelled mainly by carbohydrates. It needs this fuel to function, and has no problem letting you know when it's running low! 

Reason 2: The brain is made up of neurons that release chemical compounds called neurotransmitters. These impact our bodies in a variety of ways, including our physical state and mood. A perfect example is dopamine, which controls the pleasure centres of our brain and makes us feel happy. It is released when we eat sugary foods, such as chocolate. Finally, the mystery behind those evening chocolate cravings has been revealed!

Can the glycemic index help us to eat better?

The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking system that enables us to identify food categories relative to how much or how little sugar they contain; as well as the speed at which our cells absorb the sugar. To prevent sugar from remaining in our blood stream for too long, our pancreas produces insulin that allows our cells to use this glucose (or sugar). The problem is that the higher the glycemic index of a food we consume is, the more insulin our bodies produce, which can lead to a long-term risk of obesity, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. It is, therefore, a good idea to opt for medium- and low-GI foods in order to limit blood sugar levels.

someone who is cutting tomatos

Sugar is in everything

Over consumption of sugar can lead to numerous problems; but you may need to be more cautious than you think when trying to limit your sugar intake. 

Sugar is found in the vast majority of our foods. We’re not just talking about the sugar in your tea or coffee. There may also be more sugar than you realize in your processed foods and prepared meals. This type of low-quality sugar has a high glycemic index and is often listed as glucose syrup, refined sugar, dextrose, or another kind of sugar. 

raisin muesli

Pitfalls to avoid, plus some healthy alternatives

> "Healthy" cereals: while they may be low in fat, many are actually high in sugar or sweeteners. Instead, opt for oatmeal with dried fruit, nuts and fresh fruit.

> Processed chocolate powder: often high in refined sugars and sweetened condensed milk. Instead, opt for pure cocoa powder and add your own natural sugar (honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or raw sugar).

> Processed jam: despite the mouth-watering fresh fruit on their labels, most processed jams are actually high in refined sugars (up to 50%). Instead, make your own jam or cook some frozen fruit and then sweeten it to your liking with natural sugar.

> Processed dried fruit: some dried fruit sold in supermarkets is actually coated in sugar. The bright colours and shininess of these products are an easy giveaway. Instead, go for 100% natural dried fruit.

> White bread: be wary of this carbohydrate. Instead, opt for whole grain, sourdough or rye. These breads are richer in nutrients and fibre, which gives them a lower glycemic score.

Mixing good health with pleasure

While too much sugar is clearly a no-no, glucose is still essential for our bodies -  especially our brains - to function properly. Whether in the form of slow- or fast-release sugars, glucose provides the energy necessary for your physical or sports activity.

It is also a source of pleasure that should not be ignored! By learning how to make your meals and snack choices more nutritious, you can enjoy the best of both worlds! You can still enjoy a square of dark chocolate in the evening, but we'd suggest going for chocolate with more than 70% cocoa, instead of one with a higher sugar content.

A few final tips to help you choose healthier sugars on a daily basis:

> eat complex and slow-release carbohydrates (whole-grain rice, whole wheat, sourdough bread, etc.) instead of simple and fast-release carbohydrates (white sugar, white bread, white rice, etc.).

> when topping your pancakes, crêpes or waffles, replace sugary syrups with applesauce or a mashed ripe banana.

> when making a cake or sweetening your coffee or tea, replace white sugar with coconut sugar or maple syrup.

Now, with all this talk about chocolate and treats, surely it's time to bake a (healthy, low-sugar) chocolate cake!

Chocolate cake and kiwi

craving a delicious chocolate brownie? Check out this recipe!

Ingredients:

- 300 g cooked sweet potato

- 140 g dark chocolate (70%, 80% or even 90%, according to taste)

- 100 g low-GI flour of your choice (e.g. whole wheat flour, oat flour, chestnut flour)

- 30-50 g coconut sugar (depending on desired sweetness)

- ½ tsp. of vanilla extract (optional)

- 1 pinch of salt

- 1 drizzle of maple syrup (optional)

You'll need: blender, brownie pan, oven

Cooking: 180°C, 10 min. maximum for a melt-in-the-mouth finish.