The truth about carbohydrates

25 - 05 - 2018

“Plenty of untrue rumours are circulating about carbohydrates.” Carbohydrates are our most important energy supplier. But are they best obtained from bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, couscous etc.? Wholemeal grain products and potatoes are also rich in dietary fibres and micronutrients, in particular minerals and vitamins. Depending on the method of preparation and the addition of fats and sugar, they may or may not be healthy and they have an effect on the number of kilocalories.

Do we need carbohydrates and are they healthy?

Hilde De Geeter, project manager at NICE (Nutrition Information Centre) says: “Traditionally, a hot meal is accompanied by starchy food. The enormous choice has increased even more in the past years, but how does one choose the ‘healthy’ option? Our native potatoes, originally Italian pasta, eastern rice, or more recent trends such as bulgur and quinoa? They all have specific characteristics.”

The most important energy source for muscles and the brain

“Plenty of untrue rumours are circulating about carbohydrates.” They make one fat and listless, they are bad for the blood sugar level and so on. Only recently, in its newest dietary recommendations, the Belgian Higher Health Council confirmed yet again that carbohydrates are the most important source of energy, essential for the functioning of muscles and the brain.”
“With healthy people, they should in principle cover 50% to 55% of the total energy demand. Depending on age, physical effort etc. this means an average daily intake of 2,000 kilocalories for women and 2,500 for men, with 250 and 320 grams of carbohydrates respectively.

Choose food with carbohydrates and dietary fibres, vitamins and minerals

“The best option is food which contains not only carbohydrates, but also dietary fibres, vitamins and minerals. Wholemeal bread and pasta, brown rice, wholemeal bulgur and quinoa, but also potatoes, vegetables and legumes all satisfy these conditions. Products with plenty of added sugars and heavily processed or refined foods, such as biscuits, sweets, soft drinks and fast food also contain carbohydrates, but are not recommended. They do deliver energy, but little or no useful nutrients.”

Potatoes

Boiled potatoes do not contain any fats

“Boiled potatoes are a good source of dietary fibres, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium and they do not contain any fats. There is no scientific evidence that boiled potatoes are bad for one’s health or stimulate certain disorders such as diabetes. The Vlaams Instituut voor Gezond Leven (Flemish Institute for Healthy Living) arrived at this conclusion after a thorough study of all current scientific insights for the development of the new nutrition pyramid. This categorised boiled potatoes in the dark green zone along with foods of plant origin, which have a favourable effect on health and which we could well eat more of. An extra advantage for potatoes: they are suitable for those who may not, or do not want to, eat glutens (due to coeliac disease).”

Belgians eat a third less potatoes than ten years ago

“A normal serving of boiled potatoes is about 200 grams. The latest food consumption survey shows that on average, Belgians do not eat enough potatoes or alternatives such as pasta and rice, only some 138 grams. Moreover, they eat a third less potatoes than ten years ago. In a hot meal, boiled potatoes may well be replaced with cereal-grain products, but potatoes are no replacement for vegetables. The classic dish in our eating culture with ¼ meat, fish, poultry or a substitute product, ¼ potatoes or an alternative and ½ vegetables is a good foundation for a healthy hot meal.”

Cereal-grain products

Plenty of varieties

“In the contemporary kitchen, we regularly replace potatoes with various different cereal-grain products. The most established alternatives are rice and various types of pasta. In the Mediterranean kitchen, couscous has traditionally been used; which is a product made from wheat. Other grain types, such as quinoa or other types of wheat such as boiled wheat flakes or bulgur are gaining in popularity. Mixtures of different grain types are also on the increase. Cereal-grain products such as pasta, bulgur, couscous and boiled wheat, which are all wheat-based, contain gluten and are unsuitable for people with gluten intolerance (coeliac patients). Fortunately, gluten-free variants are now also widely available.”

Too often cereal-grain products

“The wholemeal variants deliver not only carbohydrates, but also dietary fibres and B-vitamins and minerals. As opposed to potatoes, cereal-grain products do not contain vitamin C. The white variants have been refined, resulting in the loss of many nutrients, and they contain less dietary fibres. Fibres ensure proper digestion and contribute to a longer feeling of satisfaction. Wholemeal cereal-grain products are said to protect against bowel cancer and possibly against diabetes type 2 and cardiac and vascular diseases.”

Source : FoodServices