Low-GL Carbohydrates

Low-GL Carbohydrates

What are low-GL carbohydrates?

Your body needs carbohydrates. It is by far the safest “fuel” for your body to run on. Some carbohydrates though, are better for your health and weight than others.

The best way to lose weight - and to stay healthy - is to keep your blood sugar levels on an even keel. And the best way to achieve this is by eating carbohydrates which slowly releases the sugar into to your body, and avoid those that goes straight into your blood stream causing your blood sugar to shoot up.

But it doesn’t end there. Most foods don’t consist of solely one thing. While meat is mostly protein and fat, other types of food contain a mixture of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

The GI, the glycemic index, only tells you if a carbohydrate is fast or slow releasing.

The GL (glycemic load) is a measure of the amount of carbohydrates in the food multiplied with the GI of the carbohydrates.

Watermelon, for example, has a relatively high GI score but it contains very few carbohydrates so it has a low GL score. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, have a low GI score but they contain a high percentage of carbohydrates so have a high GL score.

The lower the GL score of a food item, the more you can eat of that food without gaining much weight.

Low-GL Carbohydrates

The carbohydrates with the lowest GL are non-starchy vegetables:

•    Asparagus
•    Aubergine
•    Beansprouts
•    Broccoli
•    Brussels sprouts
•    Cabbage
•    Cauliflower
•    Celery
•    Courgette (zucchini)
•    Cucumber
•    Endive
•    Fennel
•    Kale
•    Lettuce
•    Mangetout
•    Mushrooms
•    Onions
•    Peppers
•    Radish
•    Rocket
•    Runner beans
•    Spinach
•    Spring Onions
•    Tenderstem broccoli (broccolini)
•    Tomato
•    Watercress

It is a good idea to fill up half of your plate with vegetables from this low-GL carbohydrates group – as a salad or lightly steamed/cooked.

You can make them all the more delicious by drizzling some dressing over your salad, and toss your lightly cooked vegetables with some olive oil, lemon juice/zest and season with a little salt and some more black pepper. You could also add some crushed/minced garlic, herbs or some grated Parmesan cheese.

Starchy Vegetables, Grains, Rice and Pasta

•    Squash
•    Carrots
•    Swede
•    Beetroots

These vegetables have a higher GL than non-starchy vegetables but a much lower GL than:

•    Sweet potatoes
•    Parsnips
•    Potatoes

It is better to eat more of the first four and less of the last three if you are watching your weight.

But don’t cut out sweet potatoes from your diet as they are incredibly nutritious. When I cook something like a vegetarian casserole or curry, I add twice as much squash as sweet potatoes. I do adore both of these vegetables and I use them a lot.

When it comes to grains and rice, quinoa is by far the most nutritious and the kindest to your waistline. You can eat nearly twice the amount of quinoa compared to brown rice for the same effect on your blood sugar.

Apart from being really nutritious, quinoa also contains a high amount of protein – which gives it a low GL score (see pulses below).

Of the different types of rice, brown basmati rice has the lowest GL.

For pasta, your best choice is wholegrain pasta or pasta made from pulses.

Oats are great to use for breakfast. Of the fibres in grains, oat fibre is the best at controlling blood sugar – oats subsequently have a low GL score. (Bircher MuesliPorridge


Pulses - beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils - are the best foods for both balancing your blood sugar and giving you the right mixture of carbohydrates and protein. This perfect balance gives all pulses a low-GL carbohydrates score.

Pulses are also low in fat and saturates whilst being packed with both insoluble and soluble fibre and a variety of minerals.

I eat a lot pulses and often without any animal-based protein. I use them for example to make tasty curries - Vegetarian Curry, Red lentil Coconut Dhal – or dishes with Puy Lentils like Puy Lentils With Roasted Vegetables.


Fruit contains a simple sugar called fructose and fructose needs to be converted to glucose before it can be used as fuel for your body. This makes fructose a slow-releasing carbohydrate.

But some fruit contain pure glucose as well – like grapes and dates – and eating these fruits will cause your blood sugar to shoot up.

Bananas contain both glucose and fructose and are therefore faster releasing than apples - which contain mainly fructose and are slow-releasing.

Berries, apples, pears and plums are your best choice of fruit when it comes to GL points.

Berries have the lowest sugar content of all fruit and are also really nutritious. Notice the difference - one single date has the same effect on your blood sugar level as a large punnet of strawberries!

Dried fruit has a high sugar content – as does fruit juice – and a high GL score.

The “bad guys”

And then there are the carbohydrates that it is best to avoid or at least cut down on – refined carbohydrates.

Refined carbohydrates like white bread, white rice and refined cereals have a similar effect to sugar on your blood sugar. It will make your blood sugar shoot up only to come crushing down not long afterwards – making you crave more food not long afterwards.

These blood sugar spikes and troughs are also really bad for your health as they damage your arteries.

A plate full

Finally - and this is important - eating low-GL carbohydrates together with some protein (vegetable or animal-based) and some fat (seed and nut oils, olive oil and coconut oil) will further lower the GL score of carbohydrates. And fibre-rich food will lower it even more.

Most of this information comes from two books by Patrick Holford – “The Optimum Nutrition Bible” and “The Low-GL Diet Bible”.

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