Glycemic Symbol’s Australian connections hailed as “global pioneers”

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 1st July 2013

Australia’s Glycemic Index (GI) Symbol program, which helps to promote the benefits of a low-GI diet, has been showcased as a “global pioneer” at an international health summit, and highlighted as a leading example of consumer education that could be adopted by other countries.

The Glycemic Index applies a measurement to dietary sources of carbohydrates that indicates how much that food raises the blood glucose levels in the body when consumed. Research suggests that eating too many high-GI foods and not enough low-GI foods puts consumers at greater risk of developing significant health problems.

At the meeting, which was called the ‘Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load and Glycemic Response: an International Scientific Consensus Summit’ and held in Italy in early June 2013, leading nutrition scientists reviewed the latest scientific evidence to develop an international consensus on the role of the GI and its health implications.

“There is convincing evidence from a large body of research that low glycemic index/glycemic load (GI/GL) diets reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease, help control blood glucose in people with diabetes, and may also help with weight management,” the consensus stated.

The group recommended inclusion of GI and GL in national dietary guidelines and food composition tables, and that packaging labels and symbols on low-GI foods should be considered.

“Given essentially conclusive evidence that high GI/GL diets contribute to risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, reduction in GI and GL should be a public health priority,” said Dr Walter Willett, participant scientist and Chairman of the Deparment of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Australian scientist, Professor Jennie Brand-Miller, whose book ‘The Low GI Diet’ played a role in bringing the GI into greater public awareness, also participated in the summit.

Professor Brand-Miller said Australia was “leading the world” in educating consumers on the health benefits of a low-GI diet and the strength of the scientific consensus reinforced the importance of these dietary messages.

“There is no doubt of the benefits a low-GI diet has in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and its importance for weight management,” Professor Brand-Miller said. “The challenge now is to educate people on how to adopt a low-GI diet, how to make simple swaps that could improve their health and make it easy for shoppers to identify low-GI foods by using the GI Symbol,” she said.

“We will see a ripple effect from this summit with a greater international focus on low-GI foods at a public health level, which will in turn drive consumer demand for easily identified low-GI foods,” Professor Brand-Miller said.

GI food labelling in Australia

Although the GI appears to have been invented in 1981 by Dr David Jenkins at the University of Toronto in Canada, it was the University of Sydney that has commercialised and maintained an International Glycemic Index database through an affiliate company that promotes and licenses the Glycemic Symbol Program.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) allows food products to show the numeric value of the GI or GL, provided the number has been determined by a recognised scientific method. Foods may be labelled as ‘low-GI’ if the numerical value of the GI of the food is 55 or below.

The GI’s usefulness as a health indicator has been the subject of some scientific debate. In October 2011, Australian Food News reported that a study by the University of Otago in New Zealand had found that potatoes and other high-GI foods may not be high-GI when considered in the context of the whole meal.

GI Symbol "pioneering" says international summit