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Are carbohydrates the real issue?

DR CLAUDETTE MITCHELL Wednesday, January 11 2017

PERHAPS you might agree that consuming too many calories or even starchy foods, and on the other hand participating in little or no physical activity over a period of time can probably have a negative impact on health. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is the calories you get from the macronutrients, e.g. one gram fat yields nine kcal, one gram carbohydrate yields four kcal, and one gram protein yields four kcal.

Therefore, making wise food choices and having knowledge of balanced meals using the Caribbean Food Groups as a guide, portion control, as well as the sources of nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water) may aid you in being better able to maintain your health.

Basic role of nutrients and good sources Each nutrient plays a specific role in the body. For example, carbohydrates provide the body with energy to do work, and also work together with the other nutrients such as the B vitamins; protein is essential not only for growth, repair and maintenance, but also is needed for the formation of hormones, antibodies, and enzymes, helps to transport other nutrients, regulate fluid balance and maintain the acid-base balance in the body; fats provide the body with a concentrated supply of energy, acts as a buffer, protect the vital organs of the body, and aids in the utilisation of carbohydrates and protein efficiently; vitamins in general aids in maintaining health, and boost the immune system; minerals have various roles, e.g. calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium maintain the structural framework of the body (aid in the formation of bones and teeth), iron - transports oxygen, a component of haemoglobin in red blood cells, and is needed for reactions involving energy formation, zinc – activate enzymes involved in the reproduction of proteins, potassium – regulates acid-base balance in body fluids, and maintain water balance in body tissues; and water – hydrates the body, transports nutrients, helps with energy transformation, and promotes regular bowel movement (Whitney & Rolfes, 2011, Brown, 2011).

Moreover, good sources of nutrients are needed for proper functioning of the body. In review having knowledge that nutrient content of food will be helpful; for example, staples which include ground provision, starchy fruits (plantain, green banana, bluggoe, breadfruit), roti, bread, bake, rice contain carbohydrates; fruits and vegetables rich sources of vitamins and minerals; foods from animals – eggs, meat, fish, poultry, milk and milk products are good sources of protein; legumes and nuts – contain protein, nuts also a good source of fat; fats and oils – provides the body with fat.

Carbohydrates, our friend A brief overview of carbohydrates shows that it is widely distributed in plant foods, while milk belonging to the foods from animal group contains carbohydrate (which is lactose). Carbohydrates are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen; this macronutrient can be divided into two groups (a) simple carbohydrates, and (b) complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates (easily broken down by the body and provides energy) which include monosaccharides and disaccharides, and complex carbohydrates include the oligosaccharides and polysaccharides (Gropper et al. 2009).

You should note that simple carbohydrates are usually found in fruits, milk and milk products, candy, sugary drinks, syrups, and refined sugars. Whereas, ground provision, starchy fruits, whole grains, legumes, and whole grain products contain complex carbohydrates; these foods also provide the body with energy, and they also contain starch and dietary fibre. Dietary fibre is the part of the plant that cannot be digested by humans, but studies show that fibre in the diet is essential for good health. There two types of fibre: (a) soluble fibre, and (b) insoluble fibre. Generally, the consumption of foods moderate to high in dietary fibre provide a feeling of fullness, aids with weight management, alleviates constipation, as well as the management of blood sugar (blood glucose), and lowering of cholesterol levels.

Fresh veggies and fruits are also good sources of dietary fibre, and low in calories. Overall, besides dietary fibre, plant foods contain antioxidants and phytochemicals (Gropper, et al 2009).

Daily meal plan From these brief facts you can conclude omitting staples from your meal plan is not a good idea.

Carbohydrates are essential in the diet, but the choice of sources containing complex carbohydrates will provide added benefits. For your menus (breakfast, lunch, and supper) select foods moderate to high in dietary fibre which include e.g. whole wheat bake/bread/roti, brown rice, cassava, yam, dasheen, eddoes, breadfruit, plantain, moko (bluggoe), green banana, quinoa, couscous, kamut, oats, whole grain products, peas and beans, vegetables, and fruits. Keep in mind that persons who may be prescribed special diet by their medical doctor e.g. low fibre, renal, renal diabetic should visit with a registered dietitian and schedule nutrition education sessions. Also, limiting concentrated sweets which contain simple carbohydrates should be noted.

The nutrition message is to eat a balanced diet including good sources of complex carbohydrates.

Drink water, instead of sugary beverages; the recommendation is six – eight glasses per day. Include fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks, salads or desserts as part of your meal plan. Aim to incorporate most of the food groups daily.

Cafeteria operators, caterers, and chefs should be encouraged to add these foods on the menus, helping clientele to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Claudette Mitchell, PhD, RD – Assistant Professor, University of the Southern Caribbean, School of Science, Technology, and Allied Health

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