THE FUEL. Rethinking the GI

The Glycemic Index, or GI diet, is no new concept. In a world of confusing technical diet jargon – macrobiotic, blood-type, dukan and catabolic – it’s refreshingly simple principle, glucose is bad: high GI is out, low GI is in, has understandably made it the formula of choice for many, often with great results. While the simplicity of the GI charts that rank good vs. bad carbohydrates have made it mainstream, some experts argue that we have simplified it a little too much and its time to consider a little more than just glucose when it comes to weight control.

Our contributor, Dr. Nas Al Jafari of Intercare Health Center in Abu Dhabi, says when it comes to weight control, its not glucose, but insulin – otherwise known as the fat storing hormone – that we need to be wary of. When insulin is high the body can’t unlock its fat stores to use as energy. So rather than basing our diets around the control of good or bad carbohydrates, its time to focus on what can really effects insulin, and the answer isn’t as simple as the GI diet might suggest.

“When it comes to the GI diet, the focus has been put on carbohydrates over other food groups because of the way it impacts glucose. Because we now know that it is insulin, not glucose, that impacts obesity, the conversation needs to change”


“We can’t ignore the impact of carbohydrates. As the total grams of carbs increase in the food we eat, so do insulin levels. But even though it might seem that glucose drives insulin, what we’ve realized is that only a small proportion of our insulin response depends on glucose. Many other factors have an effect on insulin levels – the type of starch, quality of the food, the fiber content, fermentation etc.

What is often missed in the conversations around insulin is the impact of fats and proteins. Fats have very little effect on glucose levels, and usually do not raise insulin levels at all. What seems to be key is the higher the fat content of a meal, the lower the insulin response. What is surprising is that proteins don’t tend to have an impact on glucose but some have the potential to raise insulin significantly, particularly dairy proteins. Interestingly though, ‘whole’ milk produce is not associated with weight gain, whereas studies show that drinking ‘low fat’ milk on the other hand, results in more weight gain.

It’s clear that the topic is complex. The key point is that all foods can trigger insulin release and cause weight gain, it’s not just carbohydrates. Religiously following simplistic ideas such as ‘carbohydrates cause obesity’ or ‘red meat is dangerous’, means that we can often miss the true cause of weight gain and other health issues. The complexities of each of the food groups, the way each are processed and the make-up of our bodies means that to single-out any one food group as the culprit is a very short-sighted view of our health. It’s important to understand the impact of each type of food in order to find an approach that has the most effective results on your weight and your health.”


Increase the ‘natural’ fat content of your meals. This is associated with better body composition. As well as the effects on insulin, fats keep you fuller longer, and require more energy to metabolize.

Carbohydrates do not need to be completely outlawed; it is the refining process that makes carbs toxic. Try to avoid grain-based products or added sugar, and obtain most carbohydrates from ‘green-leafed’ sources.

Eat whole foods and avoid processed produce.

Just drink water, tea and coffee. Avoid (natural) fruit juices.

Chili peppers and vinegar are two simple additions to a diet which help reduce insulin levels.

Implement periods of fasting during your weekly routine. Fasting unlocks fat reserves whilst preserving muscle. You’ll also be restoring the ‘fasting-feasting’ cycle our bodies evolved with over thousands of years.

Ditch the egg white omelets. Whole eggs are far more nutritious and don’t raise insulin as much.

For a comprehensive nutrition and health assessment or to book a consultant with Dr. Nas Al Jafari please contact Intercare Health Center in Abu Dhabi.

Image credit: Karen Mordechai via

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