Media Release 23 September, 2003
GI DIET KEY TO KEEPING KIDS ALERT
A popular food rating tool being embraced by dietitians and nutritionists could signal positive news for the health and wellbeing of Kiwi Kids.
Dietitian Nikki Hart is urging New Zealand parents to re-evaluate their childrens' diets using a food rating method called the glycemic index (GI).
She says the type of foods children eat, and when they eat, has a strong influence on their physical and cognitive performance.
"Under-nutrition can have detrimental effects on the cognitive development of children, decreasing their activity levels and making them become more apathetic. This in turn affects their social interactions, inquisitiveness and overall cognitive functioning."
The glycemic index can assist parents in selecting the best foods to sustain their childrens' energy levels, as it ranks food on a scale of 0 to 100 based on their immediate effect on blood glucose levels (footnote 1).
Pioneer of the glycemic index and author of the well-known book 'The New Glucose Revolution - Healthy Kids', Nutrition Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, says new research has shown low GI foods - in comparison to high GI foods - can help improve cognitive performance (footnote 2). Although further investigation in children is required, this research has exciting implications.
"It is critical that children are provided with healthy, balanced meals with the inclusion of low GI foods at most meals to ensure they have the nutrients and energy to make their best effort in the classroom and on the sports field," says Professor Brand-Miller.
Foods with low GI ratings break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream and include certain carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, high-fibre products and even children's favourites like Nutella - which has a low GI of 33 and carries the official GI symbol used in Australia. This is the consumer's guarantee that the GI has been accurately measured. (Note that the GI symbol has not yet been released in New Zealand.)
In contrast, carbohydrates that break down quickly and are absorbed during digestion, are rated with a high GI and include most breads, breakfast cereals and potatoes.
Carbohydrate foods are the primary source of energy for the body. Worldwide research since the early 1980s has shown that different carbohydrate foods have dramatically different effects on our blood sugar levels (footnote 3).
Nikki Hart is currently conducting and implementing low GI diets with various patients and has seen beneficial results.
"With the children I see low GI foods enable them to sustain their energy levels, increasing the likelihood that they will perform better," says Nikki.
"This is why I encourage children to eat low GI foods at breakfast, because something as simple as a piece of wholegrain toast with Nutella and a glass of low-fat milk can keep them 'running' on all cylinders.
"On the other hand, I encourage the use of high GI foods in children's diets for during and after exercise to refuel energy loss.
"As children store relatively little glucose, it is important that low GI foods - which provide a more continuous supply of glucose in a child's diet - are included to help them remain alert and not hungry in-between meals," she concluded.
Information about the glycemic index is available at www.glycemicindex.com and www.gisymbol.com.au. For specific information on low GI foods for children please consult the pocketbook 'The New Glucose Revolution - Healthy Kids' published by Hodder, 2003.
1. University of Sydney, Glycemic Index website, www.glycemicindex.com. Low GI foods are ranked 55 or less, medium GI foods are ranked between 55 and 70, and high GI foods are ranked 70 or more.
2. Benton, D. et al. The delivery rate of dietary carbohydrates affects cognitive performance in both rats and humans, Psychopharmacology, (2003).
3. Carbohydrate mainly comes from plant foods, such as cereal grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes (peas and beans). Milk products also contain carbohydrate in the form of milk sugar or lactose.