Debunking the carrot myth
Raw or cooked, carrots are good for you and they won’t send your blood glucose on a roller coaster ride. End of story. Why? Well, not only are they a low GI food (41), they have very few carbs. In fact, to get a hefty portion of carbs from carrots you’d have to crunch through at least 5 cups or 750 g (about 1½ lb) at a sitting – a pretty awesome achievement even for carrot lovers.
How did the high GI carrot myth happen. Well, they were first tested way back in the early days (1981) – only five people were included in the study, the variation among them was huge, the reference food was tested only once and the result was a high GI. And it was that early high GI result for healthy foods like carrots (along with watermelon) that became the stick to beat the whole GI concept with for years – and to this day for the anti-GI stalwarts.
By the 1990s, international standardised procedures producing really reliable results for GI testing were clearly established and the SUGiRS team decided to retest carrots. This time, ten people were included and the reference food was tested twice as per the standardised methodology for GI testing. The result was a mean GI value of 41 with a very narrow variation. Although this later and clearly more accurate value for carrots was published in the International Tables of GI Values (2001), the word just didn’t seem to get around. To this day, GI opponents still clobber us and the GI concept with the old value for carrots. Lesson: you can’t win ’em all. Lesson two: ‘A food’s GI value was never meant to offer the only criterion by which it is judged as fit to eat’ says Jennie Brand-Miller in The New Glucose Revolution. It’s a useful tool from the nutrition tool box to help you choose more of those smart carbs when creating a healthy eating plan.
‘So if carrots don’t have many carbs, how many did you make your volunteers crunch to get the GI value,’ a reader asked us recently? When we test any food, we calculate how much food we need to provide 50 grams of digestible carbohydrate (fibre’s not counted in this). If this represents an unreasonably large amount of food for anyone to eat, we scale down everything by half and test a 25 gram carbohydrate portion. In fact, MOST fruits and vegetables and some dairy products have been tested this way. In the case of carrots, our volunteers ended up eating about 350 g cooked carrots (3–4 large carrots). It was a big portion but manageable! In the case of raw carrot juice (GI 43), they drank 350 ml or just under 1½ cups (easy!). So what’s the take-home message? Well, because all fruits and vegetables are valuable additions to the diet, don’t dwell on their GI. With the exception of potatoes which are carb rich and have a high GI for the most part, tuck in to your heart’s content to make sure you get those 2 serves of fruit and 5 of veggies every day along with the fabulous fibre these healthful foods provide.
For a carrot recipe with the right amount of crunch for this piece we turned to Julie Daniluk, Toronto’s Big Carrot’s chief in-store nutritionist. You don’t need to peel the veggies and fruit, just wash and scrub them well before grating or chopping. Julie tells us that you ‘can make it ahead of time and store in the fridge if you prefer to give the flavours time to blend.’ She also recommends adding a clove of fresh chopped garlic as a booster.
Julie Daniluk’s Carrot and Beetroot Salad
Serves 4 as a side salad
2 cups roughly chopped romaine (cos) lettuce or your favourite salad greens
1 crisp green apple, washed but not peeled
2 medium carrots, scrubbed (or peeled) and grated
1 medium beetroot, scrubbed (or peeled) and grated
50 g (2 oz) natural almonds, halved or roughly chopped
2 tablespoons (30 ml) lemon juice
2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
- Line a large serving platter with the lettuce or salad greens. Chop the apple into 1 cm (½ inch) cubes and brush with lemon juice to prevent browning.
- Combine the grated carrots, beetroot, chopped almonds and apple in a bowl and toss with the olive oil. Assemble this bright red and orange root veggie salad on top of the greens and enjoy.