Glycemic Index is Just Wrong

Oct. 3, 2006
The American Assn. of Cereal Chemists International's needs to take a stand regarding its set of definitions for glycemic index, according to David Feder, editor of Wellness Foods.
The American Assn. of Cereal Chemists International held its first World Grain Summit in San Francisco Sept. 17 – 20. Experts from academia, ingredient manufacturing, milling and food processing participated to "explore grain-based science and technology" from the food and beverage perspective.

In the context of this summit, the AACC released its official response to the call for a set of definitions regarding glycemic index titled "AACC International Approves Definitions Related to Glycemic Carbohydrates."

The AACC International board of directors approved a set of four definitions "as part of a continuing effort to improve communication and understanding of how the carbohydrate content of a given food will affect blood glucose levels."

The definitions are:

  • Available carbohydrate – carbohydrate that is released from a food in digestion and which is absorbed as monosaccharides and metabolized by the body.
  • Glycemic response – the change in blood glucose concentration induced by ingested food.
  • Glycemic carbohydrate – carbohydrate in a food which elicits a measurable glycemic response after ingestion.
  • Glycemic impact – the weight of glucose that would induce a glycemic response equivalent to that induced by a given amount of food.

Good thing it's a part of a continuing effort, because one thing missing from the definition list, and the symposium on the same at the conference, was a stand.

The attempts by some processors - not many so far, thank goodness - to take indiscriminate terms such as "glycemic index" and use it to discriminate between a "good" food and a "bad" food is a danger to responsible processors avoiding such marketing deviousness as a "Low-GI" label or similar.

Some carbohydrate experts deem the very act of creating such elaborate definitions errant. "This is 'overscience,'" says Mark Anthony, Ph.D., adjunct professor at St. Edwards University, Georgetown, Texas. "It's an attempt to take a very simple fact - starch that gets digested into sugar molecules that are absorbed and used as energy or stored can be measured - and make it into numbers that are predictive. Carbohydrates have already proven easy targets for a generation of nutrition confusion. Do we need to make them more confusing by overdefining them like this?"

And it does beg the question of why such involved definitions were deemed necessary. After all, the glycemic index is simply a measure of the glucose content of a food, independent of the nutritive value of that food. Wouldn't that have done it? By declaring a need for weighty definitions, convening panels to develop them and formally announcing the conclusions, the AACC is acknowledging current and future misuse of the terms.

Nutrisystems Inc. provides an excellent example of blatant profiteering on public ignorance. The company currently is plastering national television with the, in my opinion, deceiving claim its meals and diet plan "are based on the Glycemic Index - the science that separates 'bad' carbs from 'good' carbs." It is precisely this type of deviousness groups such as the AACC, processors and nutrition writers must seek to halt.

To the AACC's credit, the group went on record to "urge caution in (the) use for labeling and other aspects until effective in vitro measurement systems have been developed and health outcomes have been clearly established and agreed upon by the scientific community."

The problem is, by the time that happens we may have stood idly by while an already confused and frustrated population finds itself emptying pockets to the unscrupulous sorts who stand to reap hundreds of millions of dollars from pushing GI as a weight-loss tool. Has the Atkins fad been so quickly forgotten?

Stuart Craig, a member of the ad hoc Glycemic (Net) Carbohydrate Definition Committee of the AACC, stated that "making health recommendations goes beyond what the AACC does." I disagree. Cereal scientists are exactly those with the most credibility to take a stand against the abuse of cereal science.

It would have been more laudable had the AACC taken the stand of: "Until the science of carbohydrate metabolism as relates to weight management is more definitive, the use of glycemic index, glycemic response, glycemic impact, glycemic load or any similar statement in the marketing of food or diet plans should be considered misleading."

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