FAQ: How can I reduce salt in cooking without losing flavour?

It can take some time for your taste buds to adapt to a lower salt intake but low-salt cooking certainly doesn’t need to be tasteless.

The key is adding flavor from different herbs and spices, many of which have the added benefit of providing important antioxidants and phytochemicals.  Lemon and lime juice are also great additions to low-salt meals.

Here are a few tips for adding flavor to meals with herbs and spices:

  • Add fresh coriander, lemongrass, chilli and lime juice to Thai stir-fries or salads.
  • Add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme to roasted vegetables.
  • Combine garlic with fresh basil, pine nuts, olive oil and grated parmesan to make pesto for use in pasta dishes or as a topping for chicken or fish.
  • Add freshly chopped basil, oregano and garlic to no-added-salt canned tomatoes for a quick and tasty tomato pasta sauce.
  • Make your own salad dressings from extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar and some freshly chopped herbs such as parsley, chives and mint.
  • Replace Indian curry pastes with a combination of turmeric, ginger, cumin and coriander.
  • Combine fresh chillies and coriander with no-added-salt canned kidney beans and crushed tomatoes to make a tasty Mexican meal eaten with wraps and salad.

FAQ: Sugar versus carbohydrate on food labels- what should I be looking for?

The value for carbohydrate on a food label tells you the total amount of carbs from both starches and sugars.  If you are watching your blood glucose and insulin levels, it is the total carbs that really matters.

If you have diabetes, spreading your carbohydrate intake over the day, avoiding large serves at one meal and eating a similar intake of carbohydrate from day to day will help in managing your blood glucose levels. If you take insulin it’s important to match your carbohydrate intake with your insulin doses.

An Accredited Practising Dietitian can provide you with individualised advice regarding your specific needs.

The sugar content on a food label doesn’t actually refer to added sugar, as many people believe, but tells you the total amount of sugar which includes both added sugars and those naturally occurring (e.g. lactose in milk products and fructose in fruit).  So dairy foods like plain milk and yoghurt, and foods containing fruit or dried fruit may appear to be high in sugar, but this is from the natural sugars these foods contain rather than added sugar.

In general, products with less than 5g of sugar per 100g are considered low in sugar but some healthy products may not fit into this category due to the naturally occurring sugars they contain – the ingredient list can help you in determining the source of sugar in a food product.

If a food is high in sugar and doesn’t contain fruit or milk products it should probably be left on the shelf!

It’s also important to realise that the sugar content of a food doesn’t predict the effect a food has on blood glucose or insulin levels.  In fact, the only way to know this is to know the glycemic index (GI) of a food (a measure of the rate of digestion and absorption of a food) – foods with a low GI will increase blood glucose levels more slowly than high GI foods and are a better choice for most people, particularly if you have diabetes or insulin resistance.  For more information on GI visit www.glycemicindex.com

FAQ: What is the difference between glycemic index and glycemic load?

Image courtesy of glycemicindex.com

While most people are now familiar with GI and the benefits of eating more low GI foods, the difference between glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL) is something many people get confused about.

The GI is essentially a way of ‘ranking’ carbohydrate foods according to the speed at which they cause our blood glucose levels to rise and fall. High GI foods are those which are more quickly digested and absorbed while low GI foods break down more slowly, gradually releasing glucose into the bloodstream.

However the overall effect that a food has on blood glucose levels is dependent on both the nature (GI) of the carbohydrate it contains and the amount you eat (i.e. the grams of carbs).  Glycemic load takes both of these factors into account and is calculated by multiplying the GI of the food by the amount of carbohydrate per serve and then dividing by 100. For example an apple has a GI of 40 and contains 15 grams of carbohydrate so has a GL of 6 (40 x 15)/100.

While foods with a high carbohydrate content and those with higher GI values will generally have the highest GL, this also means that small amounts of a high GI food may have only modest effects on blood glucose levels while large amounts of a low GI food can still raise blood glucose and insulin levels significantly.

What this means in practice, is that there is no need to totally avoid foods that have a high GI but are low in carbohydrate and nutrient-dense – a good example of this would be watermelon. On the other hand, just because a food is low GI, it doesn’t mean you can eat as much as you like, particularly if you are watching your weight or your blood glucose or insulin levels. If you are choosing lower GI foods and being  mindful of portion sizes, then you are already taking GL into account.

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