Low-GI Food May Reduce Severe Covid-19 Risk By Preventing Diabetes

By MP Durgahyeni | 29 April 2021

More than a third of people who died from Covid-19 in Malaysia last year had diabetes, a chronic disease that can be controlled with a low-GI diet.

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KUALA LUMPUR, April 29 — Diabetes, an increasingly prevalent chronic disease in Malaysia with high risk for severe Covid-19, can be controlled by consuming low-glycaemic index (GI) food.

According to the Ministry of Health (MOH), GI is a measurement of how fast or slow a food with carbohydrates can increase one’s blood sugar level. To put in simple terms, low-GI foods are absorbed slowly, whereas high GI-foods are absorbed fast.

Australia’s Glycemic Index Foundation (GIF) classifies food on a range until 100 to distinguish the speed the blood sugar is increased. Foods that record under 55 are classified low-GI. These foods release sugar into the bloodstream slowly. GI ratings at 56 to 69 are classified as medium GI, and foods with GI ratings at 70 or more are classified as high.

The index has three categories, which are green, yellow and red. This is similar to a traffic light, where green means you’re all clear to eat these foods often; yellow means practice caution when you choose these foods; and red means food with high-GI which you may want to avoid to keep an optimal blood sugar level.

There are a few factors that determine the position of a food on the GI rating. These include the type of sugar it has, the starch structure, how refined the carb is, cooking method, and interestingly, whether or not a fruit is ripe.

Having carbohydrates doesn’t necessarily constitute having high GI. There are foods that belong in the same category but vary in GI ratings. Meats, herbs, and spices are not found on the GI list because they do not contain carbohydrates.

Foods that are on the low GI list include bread like wholegrain, multigrain and rye; fruits like apples, tomatoes, pears; vegetables like carrots, cauliflowers, broccoli; legumes like lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas; dairy like milk, yogurt, coconut milk; selected types of rice like basmati and brown; as well as selected types of noodles like vermicelli noodles and rice noodles.

On the other hand, high-GI foods include breads like white bread, naan and baguettes; breakfast cereals like cornflakes and instant oats; instant noodles; some rice like Jasmine and white; dairy replacement like oat milk; watermelon; and baked goods like doughnuts, cupcakes, cookies, and cakes.

Diabetes Among Top Conditions In Covid-19 Victims

A consistent diet based on low-GI food may be a game-changer when it comes to healthy eating, and in turn can help reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity. But in pandemic times, the consumption of low-GI food may go a long way.

Recent data revealed that people with comorbidities like diabetes stand a higher risk of succumbing to Covid-19 in Malaysia. In 2020, about 69 per cent of 471 Covid-19 fatalities in the country had at least one underlying health condition.

More than a third, or 38 per cent, of those who succumbed to complications due to Covid-19 in Malaysia were diabetic. This is only after hypertension that recorded 52 per cent among coronavirus deaths in the country.

“Patients with diabetes and other pre-existing chronic diseases had more severe Covid-19 and increased risk of mortality due to the disease,” Health deputy director-general (public health) Dr Chong Chee Kheong told CodeBlue.

“Poorly controlled diabetes increases the risk for skin, bone, eye, ear, gastrointestinal, urinary tract, and respiratory infections, among others, with significantly increased hospitalisation and mortality rates.

“Recent investigations show that good glycaemic control decreases the risk for diabetic complications in type 2 diabetes patients.”

Why Is GI Important To Malaysians?

Research shows that consistent consumption of food with high GI can lead to diabetes. And this is especially true when it comes to the Malaysian lifestyle.

A study conducted in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) concluded that the staple food of Malaysia, rice, has a particularly high GI. This would mean that Malaysians are prone to high GI in their daily diet.

MOH’s National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 found that diabetes (sugar level at 7.0 mmol/L or more) prevalence among Malaysians saw an increase from 13.4 per cent in 2015 to 18.3 per cent in 2019. An estimated 3.9 million adults in Malaysia aged 18 and above had diabetes in 2019.

Apart from that, high-GI diets are also said to be linked to obesity.

The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 said that Malaysia is the fattest nation in Asia, and ranks second in ASEAN countries for obesity among children aged five to 19 years. WHO also revealed that 7.1 per cent of children under five years old in Malaysia were overweight.

The NHMS released in 2019 also echoes this, with new revelations that obesity among Malaysian adults increased from 17.7 per cent on 2015 to 19.7 per cent in 2019. Overweight prevalence increased slightly, from 30 per cent in 2015 to 30.4 per cent last year. This means half of Malaysian adults were overweight or obese as of 2019.

Can Low-GI Food Help Keep Diabetes Prevalence In Check?

Does this mean that eating low-GI food can help curb diabetes? Not only diabetes, but it can also help in weight management, says GIF.

“A low GI diet is not a fad diet but a way of eating that is sustainable in the long term and is backed by over 30 years of scientific evidence,” according to GIF in a newsletter.

“This includes facilitating the management of diabetes, weight loss and weight loss maintenance and reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, diabetes complications and other chronic lifestyle diseases.”

A low-GI diet not only has the ability to provide an optimal glycaemic control among diabetes patients; but it can also help provide resistance to diabetic susceptibility among those with pre-diabetes. (Pre-diabetes is when a person’s sugar level is high, but not as high to meet diabetic diagnosis).

Apart from that, foods with low GI can also contribute to satiety and avoid hunger. They also help to reduce energy intake during meals. This would in turn play a big role in weight management and weight loss.

Ensuring A Healthy Lifestyle With Low-GI Diet

Despite living in a nation that is popularly known for its delectable cuisines, it is not impossible to follow a consistent low-GI diet and adapt a healthy lifestyle.

GIF suggests a few steps for this, which includes educating oneself and switching to low-GI food, taking carbohydrate food optimally, eating regular meals, as well as practising regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

In order to guarantee a healthy lifestyle, particularly in the times we live now, the food we consume plays an integral part. Therefore, while it may not be the cure for diseases, making wise and smart choices in food may contribute to keeping many diseases at bay, and reduce the risk of Covid-19 complications.

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