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What is the Food Insulin Index?

When we consume carb-rich foods, our bodies convert their sugars and starches to glucose, but it converts them at very different rates. Some foods break down quickly during digestion and the glucose in the bloodstream increases rapidly, others break down slowly, and the glucose is released gradually into the blood. And, of course, there are moderates.

The glycemic index or GI is a numerical ranking that provides a good indication of how fast the body is going to digest, absorb, and metabolise carb foods that have been tested following the International standard.

But the GI is only part of the story. It can only measure carb-containing foods and it’s not always proportional to the insulin response to a food. When our blood glucose levels rise, our pancreas releases insulin (a hormone) that drives the glucose out of our bloodstream and into our body’s cells where our body can use it as an immediate source of energy or store it as glycogen.

Enter the food insulin index or FII which scientists at the University of Sydney have been researching for almost 20 years. “The FII looks at how much insulin the body normally releases in response to a whole food or meal (its carbohydrate and the quantity and quality of its protein and fat). Some foods need more insulin to help utilise them, while other foods need much less. Choosing foods with a lower FII can help reduce your overall insulin demand on your pancreas or insulin requirements,” says dietitian and diabetes educator Dr Kirstie Bell.

Despite all their best efforts, some people with type 2 diabetes have trouble managing their blood glucose. In a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, University of Sydney researchers found that the FII may be an additional tool for people with type 2 diabetes to help them reduce postprandial hyperinsulinemia and improve insulin resistance and beta cell function.

Here are some tips to help people with diabetes achieve that:

  • Balance meals with some carbs, lean protein and plenty of salad or vegetables as all foods stimulate some insulin response.
  • Opt for lower FII carbohydrates such as pasta and noodles over higher FII ones such as most white rices and regular couscous when it comes to putting starchy carbohydrates on the dinner plate.
  • Choose higher fibre, less processed breads and cereals, such as dense grainy bread and traditional porridge oats.
  • Snack on fruit and non-starchy vegetables as they are low FII and packed with vitamins and minerals.
  • Choose lean cuts of red meat, chicken or fish and team them with lots of non-starchy veg and/or salad. Processed meats like bacon and sausages may have a lower FII, but their high saturated fat content makes them a much less healthy choice.

Information courtesy of www.glycemicindex.com (September 2017)