Aside from my rebellious first impressions of The GI Diet by Rick Gallop, I have to admit that this book does one thing very well: makes the glycemic index intelligible and practical.
Dr David Jenkins* at the University of Toronto developed the glycemic index as a way to measure how a particular food affects glucose levels in the blood and its attendant insulin response. Huh? Basically, a food will either make your blood sugar skyrocket or not. Those that do are bad bad bad for you. Those foods cause your pancreas to pump out large doses of insulin rapidly that suck up the blood sugar and then stuff the excess into your fat cells. The sugar becomes stored fuel, not used fuel. Gallop calls them red light foods. Those foods that cause your blood sugar to soar quickly but not too quickly, Gallop calls yellow light foods, like the amber light at an intersection that warns you to look before proceeding. In this case, think do you really want to eat this, is the transient pleasure worth the rise in blood sugar and all that will lead to, primarily weight gain and blood glucose results your GP will tsk tsk over? Then there are foods that cause a slow, long-lasting rise and fall of blood sugar like a slow, warm wave that washes over you langurously. Those foods Gallop calls green light foods because you can eat as much as you want when you want — within reason of course. Because the blood sugar rises slowly, it’s used as fuel for the body as you go about your life; there is no excess the body sees as storage potential and thus you don’t grow your fat cells. (Gallop explains it differently: red light foods give you a sugar high then a sugar low that leads you to look for more to eat, and that’s how you get fat.)
Gallop makes the index even more understandable by creating a small table of basic, everyday foods that you can eat but in strict moderation if you want to lose weight. My only gripe with this table is you got to remember the page it’s on and to keep looking at it else you’ll forget that no, it’s not 2 slices of bread at a meal but 1 that you can eat. What would’ve been nice is a pull-out card listing these foods that you could stick on your fridge or bread box where it’s always visible.
Gallop makes his traffic light analogy even more followable by listing at the back almost every food in colour-coded columns under category headings so that it’s easy to find out if what you want to eat is green lighted. And right at the beginning where he talks about starting Phase I of the GI Diet, the weight loss phase, he lists them under breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack, which makes it even easier when starting this diet.
Some people think it’s easy to follow a GI diet cause you just eat more fibre. I’ve had one rather obese person say she doesn’t need to get the book because she eats healthy, no white bread, no white sugar. Uh huh. Clearly, losing weight and keeping it off is more than just switching one’s bread to whole wheat. First off, in Canada, whole wheat does not mean whole grain, and only whole grains give you the complete nutrition and fibre content of the wheat. Also, did you know that how the wheat is milled will change its glycemic index rating? If it’s milled the conventional way it’ll cause a much faster, higher blood sugar rise than if it’s stoneground.
I was in the mood for a sandwich the other day — a no-no as a sandwich is 2 slices and I’m supposed to have only 1 slice per meal, but what the hey, I was in the mood, and a Herbivore sandwich for me is 2 meals anyway. So I went there, and as she was preparing my yummy, huge sandwich, I noticed all these goodies. Several used spelt flour, so being mindful of what Gallop had said about stoneground wheat only, I asked, “Is the spelt flour you use stoneground?” I got a blank look, the kind that screams I’ve never heard that question before. She asked someone in back; that person said she had no idea but now was so intrigued just had to find out. Several minutes later, she replied, it’s stoneground. Whoo hoo! I bought a chocolate chip “cookie.” Yum, yum, yum. OK the bananas in it were not the most GI friendly but the flour was as were the rest of the ingredients, so I figured I was good. I continued to lose weight after indulging in that anyway.
The problems I had with converting my diet to The GI Diet were in finding the kinds of crackers and breads and snacks I could eat. I discovered that many so-called high-fibre breads and crackers were not, despite what the labels said. I would buy a package of what I thought was the good stuff, take it home, compare the fibre grams in it to what Gallop said it should be and find it sadly lacking. I finally wrote down the nutritional requirements to take with me to the store and spent hours poring over labels. As Jane Haddam is so fond of saying in her Demarkian mysteries, it made my head hurt. I would say it took me about a half dozen trips plus a couple by my mother to the grocery store for me to finally get my snacks and breads in order.
Gallop recommends Wasa brand crispbreads; the store clerk told me they fly off the shelves. I don’t know why. They made my gums hurt (and I’ve never had problems with seeds before), feel like sawdust, and taste so-so. Back to the cracker aisle. I had the added problem of trying to find an organic product as I prefer my diet to be as close to 100% organic as possible, at least at home anyway. I finally settled on Holland Organic and Ryvita. The latter is not organic, and the former, after I did the math, I realised didn’t have enough fibre in it. Ryvita seemed very familiar to me. Turns out my maternal grandmother insisted on my mother keeping it in stock for her. It’s a lot tastier than Wasa, and my gums are OK too. But the Holland cracker is absolutely terrific with cream cheese and strawberry jam. So I may treat myself to those every once in awhile.
Bread was a bear to find. First off, I guess I’m fussy. I like slightly sweet — sweet from the grain, not sugar — chewy, flavourful whole wheat bread. I tried multigrain, and although it’s OK, I much prefer whole wheat. Plus multigrain breads are not all made the same. Most don’t have enough fibre in them. Then I had to figure out which whole wheat was stoneground. What a pain in the you-know-what. Most breads don’t list that on the label. I had to go surfing their websites and, in the end, just go in to the wholesale-retail outlet and ask. The St John’s Bakery Integral and Red Fife breads are made with stoneground flour. They’re pretty darn good too. Tough to keep to the 1-slice-per-meal rule.
And lastly, I hadn’t eaten protein bars before but after reading and rereading Gallop’s 3 meals, 3 snacks plan of green-light foods for weight loss, I decided that would be the easiest way to fulfill at least 1 snack requirement. Ha! I went to 3 different stores, stood in front of 3 different protein bar aisles, compared the nutrition labels of all these bars to what Gallop recommends, and wanted to give up right then and there. Too much fat, not enough protein, too much sugar, way too many calories, ingredients that sound like a pharmacy aisle, ingredients that make me gag, not organic. The ones I settled on were closest to his requirements but were too caloric and had too much fat. And then my mother remembered that my father Dr. Khursheed Jeejeebhoy works with a woman who has developed an entire line of low-calorie, low-fat protein bars that triathletes love. The Simply Bar. And they exceed Gallop’s recommendations too. So now I got my snacks sorted.
Next, his fat rules.
*I worked in Dr. Jenkins lab one summer as a student. It was nice to work with human diets for a change instead of rats, and I may actually have been there when he was developing the glycemic index. I remember being fascinated with his work and regretting that I spent such a short time there. Most summers I worked in Dr. Harvey Anderson’s nutrition labs at the other end of the building and learnt a lot from his staff.