Eating by numbers

If you plan your menu following the glycemic index charts, your heart has a better chance of staying healthy.

A few months ago, Dr. Tamar Safra, an oncologist at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, told me during an interview that she believed that eating according to a low glycemic index (GI) was helpful in staying healthy. After reading up on it, I was surprised to discover that it not only made a lot of sense, it was also not really a diet; you just keep the concept in mind and use it as a frame of reference for choosing the foods you eat. The concept of the glycemic index was first developed by Dr. David Jenkins, a professor of nutrition at the University of Toronto in the early 1980s. Jenkins challenged the accepted belief that all simple carbohydrates caused a rapid rise in blood glucose levels and all complex carbohydrates released glucose more slowly into the blood. To test his theory, Jenkins and his colleagues gave a predetermined amount of frequently consumed carbohydrate foods to a group of test subjects and recorded their blood glucose levels after a particular period of time. The results were astounding. Rather than defining carbohydrates by their chemical structure as "simple" or "complex," researchers observed that equal quantities of white bread (a complex carbohydrate) raised subjects' blood glucose levels more than ice cream, in spite of its sugar (a simple carb) content. Within years, Jenkins and others tested even more carbohydrate foods and developed the GI. Why care? Remember the feeling of high expectation waiting to jump into a good, hot shower, only to discover the shock when you get in that the water is absolutely freezing? Rapid spikes in blood glucose levels and their accompanying quick falls may not only affect insulin secretion, concentration and energy levels, but also contribute to heart disease and diabetes. HOW TO BEGIN The Glycemic Index runs on a scale of 0 to 100 based on the impact of a carbohydrate on blood glucose levels after eating. Low glycemic foods like whole grains, legumes, dried apricots and prunes have a value of anything up to 55, medium glycemic foods range from 55 to 69, and high glycemic foods are anything rated over 70. Meat, fish, eggs and cheese are protein foods with little or no glycemic value, salad greens and vegetables have negligible amounts. "Al dente" pasta has a lower glycemic value than soft pasta, and whole-wheat and whole-grain pastas are low glycemic as well. Adding fat, nuts or fiber to high-glycemic dishes slows down digestion of carbohydrates and lowers its glycemic value. Check GI Internet sites for charts, and in the meantime, enjoy this delicious low-glycemic recipe. MOROCCAN-STYLE BARLEY Delicious! To add great colors to this dish, buy a box of multicolored carrots now on sale in open markets and Supersol. Chickpea flour is a great low glycemic thickener and is often sold by weight in spice stores and at the Spices chain. In a pinch, you can always grind some dried chickpeas to a powder in a coffee grinder or blender, or use cornstarch (though the latter will raise the glycemic value of the dish). Note: If you don't get a chance to try this recipe before Pessah, clip and save it to serve during the Omer period, which coincides with the barley harvest as it did in biblical times. Makes 4 servings 1 cup pearl barley 1 Tbsp. olive oil 1 large onion, sliced 1⁄2 cup chopped celery 2 crushed garlic cloves 1-2 zucchini, sliced 1 red pepper, cut into large pieces 1 cup cooked hickpeas, or frozen ones, thawed 3 1⁄2 cups water 2 tsp. soy sauce 2 tsp. lemon juice 1 tsp. coriander powder 1 tsp. ginger powder 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric Hot pepper to taste 2 Tbsp. chickpea flour (available in spice stores), to thicken 3 Tbsp. water 3 Tbsp. fresh coriander leaves Place the barley in a strainer, rinse and drain. Place in a pot with 4 cups of water and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil and cook over low heat, partially covered, for 30 to 40 minutes until the barley is soft and the water is absorbed. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat and sauté the onion, celery and garlic for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the chickpea flour, and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. In a small bowl, mix the chickpea flour and water and add to the pot. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. To serve: Pour the vegetable mixture in the center of a large platter and spoon the barley in a ring around the vegetables. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve.