It’s well known the types of fats you eat are very influential on your cholesterol levels but less well known that carbohydrates are no longer neutral in the cardiovascular risk equation. Choosing the wrong carbs increases your risk of heart disease. This was demonstrated in a study published by the Harvard Group in 2015. They compared the effect of saturated fats, unsaturated fats and sources of carbohydrate on the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) in two large cohorts: the 84,628 women nurses and 42,908 male health professionals followed up over 24-30 years. They found the typical result that saturated fats increased risk and unsaturated fats (especially polyunsaturated fats) were protective. Also unsurprising was their finding that wholegrains were also protective. But the real newsflash came with their finding that refined starches and added sugars were positively associated with CHD. Oh dear: refined starch and sugar are just as bad as saturated fats for the risk of heart disease. While the message is well and truly out about reducing added sugars, refined starches are what GI expert Dr Alan Barclay calls ‘the dark continent of nutrition’- we’re clueless. You can read more about this in a previous issue of GI News here.
If this sounds like an added complication you could have done without, relax. What this means in terms of everyday food choices is the stuff we’ve been banging on about for years and very much within your reach. It’s a matter of choosing quality carbs.
Here’s your three step plan to better quality carbs:
1. Ensure at least half your grain foods are wholegrain
- Choose wholegrain and high fibre breakfast cereals
- Use wholegrain bread and crispbread
- Buy wholemeal pasta, noodles, couscous and brown rice
2. Choose lower GI carbs as often as possible
- Look for dense grainy breads, breads with with seeds or soy, or sourdough
- Buy lower GI rices such as basmati, Doongara, wild rice
- Include pulses and legumes in your meals (eg chickpeas, kidney beans, soy beans)
- Choose lower GI potatoes and starchy vegetables (eg Carisma, Nicola, taro, kumara, parsnip)
3. Limit added sugars and refined starches
- Leave sugary drinks such as soft drinks, flavoured waters and sports drinks to special occasions
- Enjoy confectionary such as candy (lollies) and chocolates occasionally and in small amounts
- Enjoy cakes, biscuits (cookies), pastries, sweet buns and donuts sometimes and in small amounts
- Limit the quantity and frequency of white bread, white rice (and rice crackers), regular potatoes and low-fibre breakfast cereals (eg puffed rice, flaked corn)
- Limit highly processed food products with high levels of refined starches such as potato crisps, rice crisps and crackers, extruded savoury snacks (potato thins, cheesy puffs, twists etc)
- Limit foods with high levels of added refined starches such as maltodextrin (check the label) and all the food additives with the term ‘starch’ in the name (additive code numbers 1400-1451). Remember, the ingredients are listed in order by weight on the label so starches near the top of the ingredients list are present in the largest proportion.