Vitamin D Intake During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

vit DAbstract
At least 2 billion people worldwide are currently affected by micro-nutrient deficiencies and despite the UK being a developed country with high food availability, some British children still suffer deficiencies. During pregnancy and childhood where physiological growth occurs at a rapid rate, its well known an intake of Vitamin D is required in sufficient amounts during these crucial periods of growth. Mothers with low 25-OHD serum levels who fail to intake or supplement the recommended amounts of vitamin D during pregnancy and who breastfeed past 6 months without supplementation are the biggest causes of childhood vitamin D deficiency. Other factors that affect vitamin D status in children is inadequate UVB exposure and/or low intake of dietary sources include fortified foods or supplements. Vitamin D deficiencies seems to be a problem of our awareness about the importance of nutrition and of the availability of supplementation or food sources that could be improved with fortification rather than a problem of race and age.

Micro-nutrients are organic and inorganic substances composed of vitamins and minerals that we need from our diet which are necessary for cellular function, physical growth and tissue repair during all stages of life (Merson, Black and Mills, 2012). At least 2 billion people worldwide are currently affected by micro-nutrient deficiencies (, 2016) and despite the UK being a developed country with high food availability, some British children still suffer deficiencies. Currently many children and adolescents across the whole of Europe including Britain have all shown the same consistent deficiencies of at least six micro-nutrients (Kaganov et al., 2015).

Micro-nutrient deficiencies can affect all age groups but children are a particularly vulnerable group, especially those from low income families (Casey et al., 2001). The social and economic costs of micro nutrient deficiencies in women and children are also thought to be significant (Darnton-Hill et al., 2005). During pregnancy and childhood where physiological growth occurs at a rapid rate, it is well known an intake of micro-nutrients are required in sufficient amounts during these crucial periods of growth. Adverse effects from nutrient deficiencies are well documented (Viteri and Gonzalez, 2002) (SCN.,2004) and the effects of a prolonged deficiency is catastrophic.

One micro-nutrient deficiency that has made a come back since the industrial revolution is vitamin D. Deficiencies in vitamin D results in serious physical growth deformities (Abrams., 2002). Vitamin D deficiencies (VDD’s) are now being frequently observed children as a result of poor intake, inadequate sunlight exposure or because of a deficiency in the mother during pregnancy or breastfeeding. The long term outcomes from these deficiencies can lead to limitations in the quality of a childs future. So the importance of an adequate intake of vitamin D during pregnancy and childhood cannot be overstated, although requirements are often not being met. Therefore the focus of this review will be based on the prevalence and causes of vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and among British children. This review will derive from recent research mainly within the last 15 years.

Vitamin D intake and recommendations
Two main forms of vitamin D exist as vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) which can be attained predominantly from animal foods and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) which is photochemically synthesised cutaneously in human and animal skin. Vitamin D converts into one of its active forms 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25-OHD) of which serum levels can be measured and is the main clinical method used for assessing vitamin D status. Clinical deficiency is classed as a 25-OHD serum level of <25 nmol/L and a vitamin D insufficiency <50nmol/L, both inadequate levels for good health (Thurston et al., 2015). VDD (vitamin D deficiency) is now proving to be associated with many health problems (Macneil, 2008) (Gominak and Stumpf, 2012) (Zoler, 2012) (Reid, 2015) but is more widely known for effects on bone metabolism. This is important particularly for children and adolescents as 90% of bone density is laid during the first two decades of life (, 2014).

Vitamin D measurements and recommendations of intake can be confusing too as food labels and recommendations often use both µg and IU of units of measurements, which both have different equivalences. To avoid confusion it’s important to remember that every 1µg of vitamin D is equivalent to 40IU of vitamin D. Recommendations on vitamin D intake was set out by the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA) in 1991. It was based on the assumption that the population would receive sufficient vitamin D intake in the summer resulting in sufficient stores for winter. Therefore, reference nutrient intakes (RNI’s) were only issued for vulnerable groups such as Infants and children aged under 4 years, who were advised an intake of 7-8.5µg/day (280-340IU/day), and pregnant women and breastfeeding women, advised an intake 10 μg/day (400 IU/day) via supplementation (Panel on Dietary Reference values of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy., 1991). However, these dietary values are not being met by these groups today and may also not be in line with the lifestyle and cultures of today’s population who spend more time indoors or out of sunlight exposure and inactive than is recommended (Matsuoka et al., 1993) (Certain and Kahn, 2002).

Young women in the UK, from mixed ethnic backgrounds, also only average a daily intake of only 3μg of vitamin D and less than 1% of young women consume more than the RNI of 10μg/day (Marriott and Buttriss, 2003). This is worrying considering 10μg/day is the recommended intake advised during pregnancy and breastfeeding to prevent deficiency which can lead to growth impairments or osteoporotic bone injuries later on in life. Mothers with low 25-OHD serum levels who fail to intake or supplement the recommended amounts of vitamin D during pregnancy and who breastfeed past 6 months without supplementation are the biggest causes of childhood VDD (Thomas et al., 2011) (Aljebory, 2013). Nutritional rickets is regarded as a disease of VDD which results in serious bone deformity and the prevalence of rickets, is currently at its highest since 1963 (Goldacre, Hall and Yeates, 2014).

Vitamin D deficiency in cultural and ethnic groups
Culture and ethnicity are other factors that exacerbate childhood VDD prevalence in the UK, especially when dietary intake of vitamin D is already low and British weather is notoriously unreliable as a sustainable source of sunlight (UVB) exposure. Six Infants aged 10-28 months born in the UK of mothers that failed to supplement vitamin D during pregnancy and during breastfeeding were referred to a paediatric clinic. All infants presented with low serum 25-OHD levels and were subsequently diagnosed with florid rickets as a result of VDD. Some of the mothers were postgraduate students and some were immigrants but most of the mothers were traditional Muslims who concealed their skin in public for religious reasons (Mughal et al., 1999).

Since VDD is particularly prevalent among sunlight deprived individuals, such as women practising religions that require skin concealment, the current dietary recommendations may be inadequate for these individuals to attain sufficient 25-OHD levels who receive little to no UVB exposure (Glerup et al., 2000). Results from a UK study on 78 women aged 18-36 of South Asian origin showed 94% of these women to have VDD evident by low serum 25-OHD levels (Dobson, 2007). Further research supports the UK recommendations of UVB exposure in the summer to be inadequate for adults of South Asian ethnicity (Farrar et al., 2011) which means compensations must be made through dietary intake. Repeated research has also shown children of ethnic minority groups tend to be at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than caucasians (Shaw, 2002) (Brenner and Hearing., 2007) with high prevalence of VDD among Somali children (Modgil et al., 2010) and asian children (Zlotkin and Blumsohn, 1999). This obviously raises concerns for children born in the UK of mothers who are of a particular religion or ethnicity and of Mothers who are likely to have VDD before, during and after pregnancy while breastfeeding, unless of course specific dietary needs are met.

Vitamin D deficiency in Caucasians and general population
Many Caucasian women and children of the population however despite differing levels of ethnic susceptibility to VDD are still vitamin D deficient and studies have even shown even those in sunlight rich countries are susceptible to VDD (Bettica et al., 1999) (Gannagé-Yared et al., 2000) .

A study involving 1414 Caucasian women has shown females in the UK with fair skin have lower serum 25-OHD levels than Caucasian females with dark skin (Glass et al., 2009). This outlines variability in responsiveness to UVB exposure which ultimately affects vitamin D status and since the effects of VDD on bone health in Caucasian and non-Caucasian women are the same (SA, 2011) the prevalence of VDD in Caucasian women should not be overlooked either.

A longitudinal study involving 99 British Caucasian women who were pregnant showed 44% of the women were vitamin D deficient (25-OHD <25nmol/L) at 20 weeks gestation and 96% of women were vitamin D insufficient (25-OHD <50nmol/L) at 12 and 20 weeks . All women seemed to have improved vitamin D status by 35 weeks compared to 12 weeks gestation, but even then 16% were still vitamin D deficient and 75% still had insufficient levels. Some women also took vitamin D supplements which led to higher serum 25-OHD levels than those who didn’t, but vitamin D insufficiency was still present even with supplementation (Holmes et al., 2010).

A study conducted on children born of vitamin D deficient mothers showed all children were born deficient in vitamin D. However, vitamin D status in the infants quickly normalised after receiving an intake of 10μg/day (400 IU/day) at 2 weeks of age (Bergström, Blanck and Sävendahl, 2013) which intake is the RNI recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Research shows that when baseline serum levels from groups were < 75 nmol/L, for every 1μg of vitamin D supplemented 25-OHD levels are raised by 2 nmol/L. However, when groups were clinically deficient (<25nnmol/l 25-OHD) or insufficient (<50nnmol/l 25-OHD) in vitamin D, there was significant value in providing an additional 10μg per day of vitamin D.

In a longitudinal UK study nearly a third of women studied had insufficient maternal 25-OHD levels (<50nmol/L) and 18% had maternal levels of 25-OHD levels indicative of deficiency (<25nnmol/L). These low 25-OHD levels during pregnancy resulted in reduced bone mass in their children at the age of 9 (Javaid et al., 2006). A cohort study showed the same results of reduced bone density observed in their offspring at 20 years of age born of mothers who were vitamin D deficient during pregnancy (Zhu et al., 2014). This highlights the need for national preventative and educational strategies aimed at the entire population with particular focus towards UK women of child bearing age.

Maternal supplementation
Given the current rise in VDD It seems logical to make vitamin D supplements available to pregnant women through their GP in the same way folic acid is, although it was concluded by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in 2003 that vitamin D should not be routinely administered to all pregnant women (NICE, 2003). Since then though clear relationships between maternal 25-OHD status and offspring health have been made apparent (Sabet, 2012) (Young et al., 2012) (Rebecca et al., 2013). Research has shown doses of 50μg/day of vitamin D supplementation taken by mothers during pregnancy and during breastfeeding has shown to protect infants from being born into deficiency and up until 8 weeks of age (March et al., 2015). Firm recommendations on vitamin D supplementation intakes as high as the maximum upper tolerable level (UL) to prevent deficiency has also been suggested (Holick et al., 2011). However others state the evidence is still insufficient to support definitive clinical recommendations of vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy (Harvey et al., 2014) even though supplementation does raise serum 25-OHD levels to recommended amounts, larger randomised controlled trials have been prompted (Pérez-López et al., 2015).

Vitamin D status among children
Apart from mothers with low maternal vitamin D status during pregnancy and breastfeeding and ethnic susceptibility, other factors that affect vitamin D status in children are inadequate UVB exposure and/or low intake of dietary sources including fortified foods or supplements (Hartman, 2000). Excessive sunscreen use has been recognised as a factor in causing VDD in Caucasian children (Galibois, Rhainds and Gagné, 2001) which unfortunately mimics the same problem ethnic groups face who have low UVB absorption rates due to dark skin pigmentation and its use on children has been put into question (Norval and Wulf, 2009). This makes dietary intake or supplementation of vitamin D seem like the only plausible option for achieving ample vitamin D status. Although intakes of dietary sources among children are poor especially in countries where optional or no mandatory fortification policy is in place (Prentice, 2008). The diets of 755 children aged 18 months-3.5 years from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPC) in the UK were analysed. It was found that all of the childrens diets were low in dietary sources of vitamin D and were all below the recommended intake for vitamin D. It also found that milk was the main source of what little vitamin D they did consume and it was suggested that an increase in fortification levels of vitamin D would most likely help children receive adequate intakes (Cribb et al., 2014). In a study involving 252 Irish children and adolescents, more than half had 25-OHD serum levels at <50nmol/L which is considered insufficient (Carroll et al., 2014). Educational methods and health promotion have proven effective at increasing intakes of dietary sources of calcium and vitamin D among children (Spence et al., 2013) (Pampaloni et al., 2015) and may work in concert with a similar educational programme aimed at parents that could reinforce what’s being taught in children.

Children pay the price because of their Mothers inadequate nutritional intakes during pregnancy and breastfeeding and largely because of their Mother’s lack of awareness about the importance of vitamin D. Awareness and education early on in pregnancy may lay the foundations for a vitamin D sufficient future for future generations in the hope that the message of vitamin D importance is passed on to prevent an issue of the past and present becoming an issue of the future. An improved national fortification policy aimed at frequently consumed foods may help resolve vitamin D deficiency, as will national supplementation recommendations on vitamin D during pregnancy and breastfeeding which has shown to improve vitamin D status. Research is showing vitamin D deficiencies and rickets to be on the rise and vitamin D deficiency is clearly being observed in pregnant and breastfeeding women and in children of all ages and ethnicities. Vitamin D deficiencies seems to be a problem of our awareness about the importance of nutrition and of the availability of supplementation or food sources that may be improved with fortification rather than a problem of race and age.


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Nutrition Basics


Nutrition consists of the functional components in food that an organism must obtain in order for it to grow and flourish. Nutrition simply put is a collective term for all of the nutrients required by an organism to sustain life and promote health.

“Nutrition is the intake of food, considered in relation to the body’s dietary needs. Good nutrition – an adequate, well balanced diet combined with regular physical activity – is a cornerstone of good health. Poor nutrition can lead to reduced immunity, increased susceptibility to disease, impaired physical and mental development, and reduced productivity.” – (World Health Organisation)

Nutrients are the organic and inorganic substances found in plant and animals material deemed biologically functional to an organism’s physiological demands. Simply put, nutrients support the functioning of an organism on a cellular level. There are two types of nutrients; Essential nutrients, of which the body cannot biosynthesize (or can but in inadequate amounts) which must be obtained from diet and non-essential nutrients, of which the body can biosynthesize in sufficient quantity.

“Food provides a range of different nutrients. Some nutrients provide energy, while others are essential for growth and maintenance of the body. Carbohydrate, protein and fat are macronutrients that we need to eat in relatively large amounts in the diet as they provide our bodies with energy and also the building blocks for growth and maintenance of a healthy body. Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients which are only needed in small amounts, but are essential to keep us healthy. There are also some food components that are not strictly ‘nutrients’ but are important for health, such as water and fibre.” – (British Nutrition Foundation)

There are six main essential nutrients carbohydrates, fats, protein (the macronutrients), vitamins, minerals (the micronutrients) and water which is also considered an essential nutrient.

Macro-nutrients are generally obtained from the diet in amounts ranging anything from tens of grams to hundreds of grams. For example the protein requirements are based on the “RNI” (Reference Nutrient Intake) and for an average UK adult is 0.75g per kg of body weight, which is 53g for a 70kg adult. Compare this to carbohydrate requirements, based on “DRV’s” (Dietary Reference Values), which are 50% of total energy intake which would be 313g on a 2500 kcal diet.

Micronutrients however, are required in far smaller amounts and are measured in milligrams and micrograms. Intakes are based on the RNI’s and are based. The dietary recommendations for intakes of B12 for example are so small the amount needed would fit on the tip of a pin since only 1.5 micrograms is required.

Non-essential nutrients are nutrients which do not need to be directly obtained via the diet since they are indirectly obtained via substrates and can be synthesised endogenously (within the body). Non-essential nutrients mainly consist of the non-essential amino acids, but also nutrients such as inositol (vitamin B8) and certain minerals are also considered non-essential, although this does not undermine the importance of these nutrients for our health.

There are of course very important components of foods that do not get official recognition as “essential nutrients” although their exclusion from this category might mislead one to think they’re not as important. They are, and arguably more so when the aim is to optimise health. Phytochemicals are beneficial non-nutritive components of foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, herbs, nuts and seeds. These plant chemicals include phenols, terpenoids, sulfurs compound, pigments and other antioxidants, all of which have shown to promote significant health benefits and may have specific preventative implications for certain disease including cancer and cardiovascular disease.  

Is diet enough to obtain all the nutrition we need?
Absolutely. Most people should be able to get all the nutrients they need by eating a healthy, varied diet, including multiple colours and fruit and vegetables. However, there are a few exceptions where supplementation may be wise or even necessary. For example, if a woman is planning to conceive a child it is recommended they take a folic acid (vitamin B9) supplement to prevent congenital birth defects. Unless of course you can consistently consume at least 300 mcg of dietary folate, supplementation is a sensible option. Spina-bifida can occur in Mothers whose B9 intake is insufficient before conception and particularly during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Vitamin D is another vitamin in which it is difficult to obtain in sufficient amounts all year round from food and sunlight alone. This is even more the case for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, the elderly, Muslims who veil the skin, those with dark pigmented skin such as Asians and Africans, children and also Caucasians with fair skin. Current research now supports the idea that most people would benefit from vitamin D supplementation as current intakes and levels of UVB exposure are inadequate, especially for building reserves for winter. Moderate to high dose supplementation may also be a necessary requirement for those or are clinically deficient as to consistently raise serum levels from deficiency status into adequate ranges, which even then could take months.



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A role model for healthy eating

Who do you think are the best role models for your child’s eating habits? Can you do anything to change your child’s stubborn eating ways? Well, if any of these questions intrigue you, we may have some advice for you. But brace yourself, it may require some fancy-dress, Yoda like patience and persistence more stubborn than your child’s resistance to embrace the plant side…


Research has specifically investigated who are the most influential role models for your child’s eating habits. Its was found that Mothers are better models than strangers (harpers and sanders 1975) which should come as no surprise. Older children are better models for your child than other younger children (birch 1980), but fictional superheroes, not even limited to the child’s favourites, are better models for shaping child eating behaviour than all of the above! (birch 1999). Okay now I’m not suggesting that you ask Spider-man to have dinner with your children every night. I’m also not suggesting you dress up as your kid’s favourite superhero every night either (although that certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea). I am however trying to highlight how important it is to have responsible eating models around your children. Remember these models can play a role in promoting healthy and unhealthy food…


Very few kids actually are fussy eaters. Many children who repeatedly turn down their greens do so because of an evolutionary innate fear of consuming poisonous vegetation. Simply put many children are naturally fearful of vegetables for evolutionary reasons. This trait would’ve served children well some 20,000 years ago, but now, unfortunately for parents who are trying to get Timmy to eat his veggies, it’s just an vestigial annoyance that often results in wasted food. Good news is, research has given it a name and found solution. The term neophobia is given to describe a fear of novel foods (new foods). Parents will often try feeding novel foods, often the form of vegetables but may give up after only 3 or 4 tries prematurely concluding that their child dislikes X food. However, researchers found that children will refuse novel foods (often in the form of green vegetables) from anywhere between 9-15 times before perceiving the food as safe. That’s a lot of turning down veggies before they accept the food as a part of their food preferences. So the take home message is persist with veggies in small amounts on the plate each day until your child deems the food as safe…

Certainly a child’s reluctance to eat certain foods can be both frustrating and worrying but by following our weekly tips you can help transform your kids eating habits from fussy to veggie in no time!

“Good” carbs vs “Bad” carbs



For many people and particularly dieters, carbohydrates have had a sinister stigma attached to them for many years now. Their reputation has evolved from the understanding that they are a significant contributing factor in the cause of weight gain, as well as their association with promoting disease conditions. Because of this it has led to many misconceptions and fear of consuming Carbohydrates. In this article the differences between the generic terms of “good” carbs and “bad” carbs will be discussed using complex carbohydrates and simple sugars as prime examples will be discussed. In particular the physical states and physiological responses to both types will be discussed outlining key points for health and improving body composition.

Key factors when it comes to carbohydrates

  • choose low G.I carbohydrates
  • choose the ones highest in fibre
  • look for the ones rich in minerals, vitamins and if possible protein
  • go for natural and whole not refined and processed
  • refrain from over cooking and over boiling them
  • add protein or fat to your carbohydrates to lower its G.I rating

The dark side of carbohydrates

The reality is that in today’s society, lifestyle and dietary related diseases are on the rise with diabetes being the leading threat to human health along with heart disease. Right now more than 3.7 million UK people are suffering with type II diabetes. The ironic thing about this fact is that type II diabetes is a completely self inflicted condition caused by bad dietary habits, specifically from the excess consumption of refined carbohydrates. The sad thing about this is that type II diabetes is completely reversible if tackled early enough and yet unfortunately it is on the rise and is estimated to hit 5 million people by 2025 [1]. Our current high refined carb diet may have been encouraged by much earlier warnings about the increasing rate of ischemic heart disease caused by the high consumption of saturated fats at the time. The warnings encouraged a decrease in the intake of fats in favour for eating more complex carbohydrates [2]. This has resulted in mass confusion as many people today still believe the complex and simple carbohydrates term is an effective way to distinguish between “good” and “bad” carbohydrates. Unfortunately the truth is, excuse the pun, less simple and more complex then that.

Good or bad carbohydrate?

As I will explain in another article there is no good or bad carbohydrate per se, there can be a time and a place for both particularly for those participating in sports. But there are some key differences and reasons as to why one type is generally considered to be “bad” and one is considered to be “good” and I’d like to address the differences between the two.

Simple sugars, as the name implies, have simple chemical structures made of monosaccharides (single sugar units). Simple sugars like glucose for example are said to be “bad” as they are absorbed through the intestinal tract quickly promoting a hormonal response (releasing insulin) that causes weight gain, fatigue and sugar cravings. Complex carbohydrates due to their complex chemical structure as the name implies, is made up of a complex chain of disaccharides and polysaccharides, (two or more sugar units combined). Complex carbohydrates like the sugar lactose for example is a disaccharide its made of two sugar units glucose and galactose and is said to be “good” as they are absorbed and digested slowly. Very little insulin is released from complex carbs and the conventional understanding goes that complex carbs provide a slower release of energy from the food and they help improve fat burning. But why is insulin bad and how does it cause weight gain? Well this depends entirely on ones insulin sensitivity.

If your muscle cells are insulin sensitive at the time of consuming simple carbs the muscles are primed to absorb the glucose and convert it into its stored form, glycogen. If your not insulin sensitive when consuming simple carbs the path way for glucose storage in skeletal tissue is closed and the flood gate is open to fat cells. This is how and why people get fat from simple carbs like sugary sweets and this is why its best to consume complex carbs at times when insulin sensitivity is low.

The answer to the next question, how do you know whether your muscles are insulin sensitive or not, depends on many factors. Your insulin sensitivity will be higher if you are in an active state, a fasted state or if your glycogen levels are depleted. For example first thing in the morning and after an intense workout your insulin sensitivity will be higher so consuming simple carbs will actually help with recovery and will refill depleted muscle energy. On the contrary if you eat the same type of simple carbs late at night in an inactive and rested state, insulin sensitivity will be low which as mentioned will promote fat storage. Consistently high insulin levels (on top of causing weight gain, fatigue and sugar cravings) can eventually lead to insulin resistance and type II diabetes. So in conclusion the conventional understanding goes simple = fast digesting and complex = slow digesting. However relying solely on this simple and complex classification is not wholly accurate and can often be confusing and misleading and here’s why…

Simple doesn’t always mean fast digesting, complex doesnt always mean slow digesting

Fruits are considered sources of simple sugars and yet some types of fruit despite their simple chemical structure release their glucose slowly into the blood stream which keeps insulin levels low. This contradicts the simple = fast digesting mantra. Conversely waxy maize starch is a complex carbohydrate yet it digests so fat its comparable to glucose. Insulin and glucagon compete with each other, insulin is a storage hormone, glucagon breaks down energy stores, when you have high levels of circulating insulin your body is in storing mode and glucagon will be low therefore you are not in energy burning mode. Some fruits which are considered a simple sugar, don’t actually impact insulin dramatically because of the slow release of energy which of course equates to steadier sugar levels, reduced cravings and appetite, better mood and enhanced fat burning. This would be considered by many to be a positive hormonal response, if your health and body weight is of any concern. In fact fructose the simple sugar found in fruit despite it being simple has even shown to be useful in treating people with type II diabetes due to its slow digesting nature [3].

In contrast some types of complex carbohydrates, white rice for example, despite its complex chemical structure is broken down and absorbed quicker then some simple carbohydrates and would technically put them in the category of being a “bad” carbohydrate based on the negative hormonal response from the body. Basically because white rice considered a complex carbohydrate causes high amounts of insulin to be released which blunts glucagon production meaning no fat burning or burning any stored energy, energy spikes and crashes, sugar cravings and weight gain, all despite the fact it is complex which is considered “good”. This of course is why it causes what is considered to be a negative hormonal response.

So as you can see, it’s this inaccurate classification of carbohydrates that has led to a huge misconception about what’s healthy and what isn’t. This somewhere down the line has contributed to the huge increase in refined carbohydrates leading to a continuous flurry of health problems worldwide.

The glycemic index scale

So how can we tell what’s good or not? The glycemic index is a reliable and practical way of determining a good choice of carbohydrate, it’s very basic and easy to use and understand. The glycemic index was devised for people who were diabetic and trying to manage their blood sugar levels. The G.I index is a measurement based on a percentage of how quickly 50g of a carbohydrate enters the blood stream compared to glucose which enters the bloodstream almost instantly and has a GI rating of 100. So say a baked potato has a GI rating of 85 it means the baked potato digests and releases its glucose into the bloodstream nearly as fast as glucose, only 15% slower, or in other words 0.85x the speed glucose would enter the blood stream. Since low glycemic index (low G.I) carbs are digested slow and release their energy slowly they are better for keeping sugar levels steady and healthy therefore should be the prime choice of carbohydrates for those managing diabetes and especially for those trying to avoid it [4]. High glycemic carbs on the other hand are digested quickly and therefore release their energy too quick and are not considered good choices for our health among many other things such as energy levels and appetite [5].

High GI vs Low GIexamples of low vs high GI foods

Carbohydrates that digest quickly, like white rice for example will have a high glycemic index (high G.I) that promote the release of insulin from the pancreas to regulate the high amounts of sugar rapidly entering the blood. This fast acting regulatory endocrine system is important to us because the sugar in excess will actually poison the blood. However insulin is a double edged sword since insulin is a storage hormone and is directly responsible for the deposit of glucose into adipose tissue leading to weight gain. Further more repeated and chronic insulin responses from the continuous consumption of high GI carbohydrates will lead to decreased insulin sensitivity. When this happens insulin no longer has the same effects on glucose metabolism it once had. Similar to taking a drug continuously your body eventually becomes tolerant to it, consuming refined high GI carbohydrates day in day out is the same thing but in this case you become resistant to your bodies own natural mechanism of controlling its blood sugar via the release of insulin. The end result at the very least is insulin resistance and clinical diagnosis of type II diabetes [6]. Low GI diets have long shown in studies on obese subjects that not only do they improve insulin sensitivity but they also increase fat oxidation and reduce waist circumference compared to those on high GI diets [7].

That excludes other benefits such as increased and sustained energy release, improved mood, less cravings and decreased cholesterol etc. Carbohydrates are certainly not the enemy but I would say misunderstanding them most definitely is.

What to look for

There are obviously a few components when it comes to determining what sources of carbohydrate are the best to consume but they can be summed up by a few simple differences. You should always choose more natural wholesome sources of carbohydrates that are high in soluble or insoluble fibre and are rich in nutrients like vitamins and minerals. The more wholesome and less refined a carbohydrate is generally the better. Refining of a carbohydrate really makes no sense because its a process of stripping a once wholesome and natural food that was full of fibre and nutrients down essentially to nothing but starch. The reason this is done is mainly to increase shelf life which of course benefits the companies selling it, as refined fibre reduced carbohydrates are less susceptible to go off. Cooking carbohydrates also changes its digestibility and therefore can increase its G.I rating, so a baked potato would have a higher glycemic index compared to a raw one, the same applies to food when you boil it too. In contrast adding fat and/or protein to a meal containing carbohydrates will actually lower its G.I rating. This is why consuming protein with every meal is recommended for fat loss.


  • choose low G.I carbohydrates
  • choose the ones highest in fibre
  • look for the ones rich in minerals, vitamins and if possible protein
  • go for natural and whole not refined and processed
  • refrain from over cooking and over boiling them
  • add protein or fat to your carbohydrates to lower its G.I rating


It’s clear from all of the evidence long term consumption of refined carbohydrates is a recipe for the decline in the future of human health. In summary as humans if we are to stay healthy, disease free and also wish to maintain a healthy weight, low G.I carbs should be the main source of carbohydrates for everyone looking to avoid insulin resistance, diabetes and especially for those who want to avoid unnecessary weight gain, feelings of fatigue and repeated sugar craving cycles. The long term consumption of high G.I carbs is a slippery slope and we must all work together to stay off for the good and the benefit of our future generations to come.