Which South Indian breakfast dishes like upma, pongal, idli, dosa, etc.. will affect you the most if you are a diabetic? What is an optimal low-glycemic breakfast choice if you are a prediabetic or watching your sugar levels? Let us look at the numbers to help us decide….
To learn the basics about Glycemic Index, check out part 1 of this series, where I discuss all about GI, its pros, its cons and a deep dive into Indian rice varieties.
Quick Recap regarding GI value:
- High GI: Above 70
- Medium GI: 55-70
- Low GI: Below 55
So Lower GI is better, higher GI is not good!!
South Indian Breakfast/ Tiffins
So, how do South Indian Breakfasts score? Here are some typical South Indian Breakfast GI values based on TN Agritech GI index :
- Pongal 55
- Pesarattu 60
- Upma 75
- Idli 80
Here are the values from a study done by Dr. Asna Urooj, University of Mysore:
Mean Values for healthy subjects
- Chapathi 44
- Dosai 55
- Idli 60
- Pongal 45
- Poori 57
- Upma 69
When tested on subjects with diabetes (non-insulin dependent), here are the numbers:
- Chapathi 81
- Dosai 77
- Idli 77
- Pongal 90
- Poori 82
- Upma 67
Ok, what do you notice? I agree it is a little disappointing if you are watching your sugar levels. Some of the beloved South Indian dishes like idli, dosa have high GI‘s.
In a study by Mohan et. al., he explains why this happens – “The particle size of foods has been shown to influence the glycemic response. For example, cooking ground rice results in a significantly higher glycemic response compared with whole rice. Broken rice has a high GI (86±8) mainly because of an increase in the amount of cracking within the grain resulting in increased gelatinization and digestibility. The particle size of rice as most of the breakfast food choices (idly, upma, oothappam, and kitchidi) are made out of rice grits, whereas whole rice served in lunch meals results in lower rise in sugar levels.”
GI of typical Kerala Breakfasts:
So, Kerala breakfasts did not fare any better!!
- Puttu 79
- Idiappam 86
- Appam 90
- Boiled Tapioca 93
Kerala breakfasts, while delicious, can be pretty tough for your sugar levels, especially if you are a vegetarian.
Ok, as western options better – cornflakes, wheat cereal, etc? Not necessarily!!
Here are some good and bad GI values for common cereals or cornflakes. Look up more details from the GI center:
- Cornflakes cereal 80
- Cocopuffs (Puffed Rice Cereal) 77
- Raisin Bran Cereal 61
- High fiber Bran cereal 43
If there is more bran/fiber in the cereal, it is better. But, if you choose puffed, flakes or popped cereals from low-fiber grains (eg white rice, corn), the GI is higher.
Low GI breakfast Ideas
Here are some ideas for low GI breakfasts:
- Oats Porridge 51
- Pearl Barley 35
- *Rice porridge made from black rice 42
- *Rice porridge made from rice bran 19
- Besan Cheela b/w 36-45
- High fiber Bran cereal 43
*The GI of Rice porridge is 88 (like kanji) which is high, but if you use the black rice, or rice bran instead, you get low GI porridge)
Based on these numbers, here are my main recommendations I would like to leave you with:
- More fiber!! – Obviously, if you eat 100% bran, it will have super-low GI. But, it will also be super- tough on your stomach. A compromise – Either add rice bran/wheat bran/oat bran with your breakfast or add lots of high fiber vegetables. Side note – Always step up fiber incrementally, your system cannot handle a binary overload :)!!
- Stick to the original grain size if possible!! For eg – steel cut oats > rolled oats >instant oats. Also rice grain > rice grits >rice flour when it comes to GI. Make the body do some of the digestion work, not just your blender :). Try my steel cut oats Bahala Bath recipe!!
- More Daals!! Legumes and pulses have lower GI than grains. You know from my earlier post on lentils, I love Bengal gram aka chana dal. They are so full of fiber and so low in glycemic index. Make cheela, adai etc using Bengal gram.
- Use Barley!! Man, I keep telling every body I know about barley (GI 35), but nobody listens!! Make Barley Ven pongal like I did. Another super-simple but very tasty idea – I cook pearl barley, add a little jaggery and coconut milk and give to my kids. They love it!! Use it instead of rice – it is a great substitute!!
There are a few more low-GI foods that we have not yet covered.
Are you curious to find out what they are?? What about millets, rajgira etc…Are they low-GI? To get your answers, read the final Part 3 of this GI series.
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What are your thoughts on breakfasts and GI?? Chime in below!!
I am not a nutritionist/nurse/doctor. I just study numbers and report them. Consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.