Carbohydrates are one of the best sources of energy for our bodies. The simplest form of carbohydrate is glucose, which is:
A universal fuel for most organs and tissues in our bodies.
The only fuel source for our brains, red blood cells and a growing fetus, and is
The main source of energy for our muscles during strenuous exercise.
Surprisingly, most of us don't eat too much carbohydrate, but all too often we eat the wrong kind, because not all carbohydrates are created equal. This is where the glycemic index or GI comes in. It's about recognizing the 'smart carbs' - the low GI ones - and making sure we include them in our main meals and snacks.
The GI is simply a dietary tool that helps us differentiate between the various carbohydrate foods we eat and how our bodies use them.
Carbohydrates with a low GI (55 or less) don't make our blood glucose levels rise very high for very long. They provide sustained energy.
Carbohydrates with a high GI (70 or more) are the ones that cause our blood glucose levels to go higher for longer. High blood glucose may cause damage to vital organs.
Research has shown that if we eat too many high GI foods and not enough low ones, we are at risk of developing significant health problems.
Carbohydrate foods come mainly from plants - cereal grains, legumes, fruit and starchy vegetables. Some dairy foods like milk and yogurt also contain carbohydrate. Common sources of carbohydrate include:
Fruits and their juices such as apples, pears, oranges, plums, peaches and nectarines, berries and bananas
Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, taro, sweet corn, parsnips, pumpkin and carrots
Legumes (pulses) such as beans, chickpeas, lentils and split peas
Dairy foods like milk, yogurt, ice cream and their alternatives