It is near impossible to discuss low carb without Glycaemic Index coming into the equation. Both approaches focus on carbohydrates, but low GI, instead of outlawing carbs, encourages less consumption of processed, refined ones, to better control blood-sugar levels and curb food cravings.
In the retailers’ eyes especially, GI is the accepted face of low carb. Tesco blazed a trail when it announced in January plans to put low and medium GI ratings on 1,000 products by the end of the year, followed by Sainsbury, which this month has also started to roll out the mark. Retailers were reluctant to endorse low carb but are keen to pin their colours to GI.
Kate Arthur, Sainsbury nutritionist and dietetics manager, says: “We are very supportive of GI. There is sound science to support a low-GI diet. We are not very supportive of low carb as it is nutritionally compromised.”
Arthur believes low-GI products will poach low-carb consumers. “A lot of media coverage around GI has been around weight loss. I think that people who were on a low-carb diet will move to a low-GI diet.”
Waitrose’s buyer for health and wellbeing, Nigel Sharp, says: “I am picking up a mindset change. More people on a low-carb diet will switch to GI as it is more credible.”
Yet, while the low-carb message is very straightforward, low GI is more complicated, admits Arthur. “A lot of
people knew about the Atkins diet. Awareness of GI is growing, but it needs to work harder.”
Hannah Sutter, founder of Go Lower, believes that, despite work to better inform consumers about GI, such as Tesco’s tie-in with The Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph, the message is arcane for the average consumer. “I have people coming to see me asking to explain what low GI is.The nation is completely confused,” she says.
James McCoy, senior market analyst at Mintel, also believes GI is too confusing. “We have seen a sea change in the perception of carbohydrates, but the wider public is still very confused. People don’t understand the notion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ carbohydrates.”
However, Hamish Renton, head of health and diet at Tesco, says that knowledge can be improved and he expects demand for low-GI products to outstrip low carb. Tesco has so far tested 270 products for GI, he says. “We wouldn’t be doing it if there was zero interest in GI.”