A Brand of the Glycemic Index

Monday 5 September, 2011

Residents of Warrane were given some useful advice on diet by our guest on August 31, Professor Jennie Brand-Miller AM, a pioneer of the Glycemic Index and its role in human health.

Professor Brand-Miller explained how important it was to know how quickly the carbohydrate foods we eat are absorbed into the bloodstream.

She pointed out that this knowledge is not only important for people suffering from diabetes, but also for other people who could experience everything from weight gain to a number of diseases from eating the wrong foods.

“The glycemic index is for everyone, not just people with diabetes,” she said. “Our blood sugars are too high most of the time and that can cause complications for weight management and in the prevention of diseases, including heart disease and even cancer.”

“We have also found that the GI of the foods that a pregnant woman eats is probably the most critical element of the birth weight of a baby.

“If the mother has high blood glucose levels, the baby grows very big and can be hard to deliver and the child has a high risk of being overweight and obese as it gets older.”

A Professor of Biochemistry in the School of Molecular Bioscience at the University of Sydney, Professor Brand-Miller also works in the university’s Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders. Her research interests focus on all aspects of carbohydrates including diet and diabetes and insulin resistance. Her research group is internationally recognised for its work on nutritional aspects of food carbohydrates.

Professor Brand-Miller said that if people did not eat the right foods to help maintain their blood glucose levels over a long period of time, their brains did not function well and they could even “keel over from physical exhaustion”.

“When your blood glucose levels get low you have trouble thinking straight and you probably won’t make the right decisions,” she said.

“But most people don’t have a problem with too-low glucose levels, but with too-high levels.”

People with too high glucose levels could develop vision problems, kidney problems and even run the risk of needing to have their toes and fingers amputated.

Professor Brand-Miller pointed out that some of the common foods with an undesirably high glycemic index included both white and wholemeal breads (as opposed to whole grain breads), most cooked potatoes, most types of rice (except for Basmati rice) and most breakfast cereals (except for low GI ones like Kelloggs Sustain and Special K).

Low GI foods which tend to keep your blood sugar levels at a reasonable level included most fruits and vegetables, porridge oats (except quick cooking oats), pasta and dairy products.

Professor Brand-Miller said that when she and her colleagues wrote their book on the glycemic index for people suffering from diabetes, The New Glucose Revolution, they only expected to sell about 10,000 copies, but they had now sold over 3.5 million copies.

She also spoke about her battle with hearing loss which had left her profoundly deaf. She said that one of her great medical heroes was Professor Graeme Clark AC, the inventor of the bionic ear, which she now uses to enable her to hear.

She spoke of how Professor Clark had battled scepticism from people in authority in universities before he was able to develop the bionic ear and encouraged students to be prepared to “question authority” when necessary.

“Even when people in authority assert something you still need to ask what is the evidence that it is true,” she said.

Professor Brand-Miller also expressed the hope that Warrane’s resident would try to do something for people “that will make this planet a better place than when you were born”.

(A podcast of the talk is available through Warrane's iTunes Channel)

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