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UAEU research project gets its teeth into food health

Research led by United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) has produced new insights into how traditional Emirati foods affect blood sugar levels, with the aim of helping to encourage healthy eating and provide dietary guidance.

The study has analyzed 18 commonly-consumed delicacies – from bread and main courses to entrees and sweet dishes – to assess their glycaemic index (GI) and glycaemic load (GL) values, which are pivotal to understanding the impact of a particular food on a person’s blood glucose.

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Led by Dr Ayesha Al-Dhaheri of the Nutrition and Food Department within UAEU’s College of Food and Agriculture, the team tested each food by asking at least 15 healthy participants – drawn from the UAEU student body and the university’s staff - to eat small portions and then taking blood samples.

The GI indicates whether foods raise blood glucose levels quickly, moderately, or slowly, helping diabetics to manage their condition and their diet. Previous research has shown that low-GI foods can particularly help those with Type 2 diabetes to keep their glucose levels under control.

The results of the study, which have been developed into comprehensive value tables and published in the British Journal of Nutrition, found:

  • Seven of the test foods had low GI: Chebab bread, Khameer bread, Harees (beef), Biryani (chicken), Leqemat, Khanfaroosh, and Habba Hamra.
  • Six were classified as medium GI: Arabic bread, Chami, Machbous (fish), Khabisa, Batheetha, and Balalet.
  • Five had high GI values: Regag bread, Muhalla bread, Fendal, Thareed (beef), and Arseyah.
  • Seven test foods had a high glycaemic load (a measure for working out how different-sized portions of different foods compare in terms of raising blood glucose levels), with six being ranked as ‘medium’ and five as ‘low’.
  • 14 of the 18 foods tested had a different GI classification – high, medium, or low – to their GL classification.

Although the first GI international table was published in 1995 and updated versions have since been produced, the research paper for this study said: “The majority of the published GI and GL values are from Western countries, and not much data is available about the GI values of Arabic foods, particularly Emirati foods.

“This study provides GI and GL values of previously-untested traditional Emirati foods, which could prove a useful guide on dietary recommendations for the Emirati population. Determining the nutritional composition and glycaemic response of Emirati traditional foods is important in assessing the dietary intake of the population, which could be useful for health promotion and disease prevention.

“In addition, these tables could be used as a guide for nutrition therapy planning and dietary management for dieticians in the UAE and other GCC countries, and knowing the GI and GL values of traditional Emirati foods helps in developing better dietary guidelines and food choices for individuals living with diabetes and/or obesity.”

88 volunteers participated in the study – which also involved researchers from Yong Loo School of Medicine in Singapore and the University of Oxford in the UK – with baseline blood samples being taken, followed by further samples before consumption and at six different intervals after consumption.

The research team also produced insights into why the test foods may have a particular GI value, adding: “Food choice should not solely depend on the GI value, as high fat content – especially saturated fats – defeats the purpose of choosing low-GI foods.

“The findings of this study advocate attention to the nutritive value and health aspects of traditional desserts when establishing dietary guidelines for the UAE. Traditional desserts should be consumed in moderation, due to their medium-to-high glycaemic response.”

They also said that, while the majority of the test foods were classified as “high GL” – which takes into account the amount of carbohydrate in a portion of food, as well as how quickly it raises blood glucose levels – this was dependent on portion sizes “which tend to vary greatly between countries, and even within a country.”

Aug 14, 2017