‘There is a lot of carbohydrate bashing going around’: Calls for new carb scoring system

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/alle12
Image: Getty/alle12

Related tags Carbohydrate

A team of world-renowned experts in carbohydrate research is proposing what it calls ‘a novel, innovative approach’ to measuring the quality of dietary value of carbohydrate foods.

The new carbohydrate quality scoring system claims it is the first of its kind to include an assessment of sodium, potassium and whole grain content in addition to sugar and fibre.

Called the Carbohydrate Food Quality Score (CFQS), and outlined in a paper recently published in Nutrients, ​the system is proposed by the Quality Carbohydrate Coalition-Scientific Advisory Council (QCC-SAC), which is made up of a team of world-renowned experts in carbohydrate research, nutrient profiling, cultural competency and epidemiology. The group was assembled by the Quality Carbohydrate Coalition, which was spearheaded and is funded by Potatoes USA. 

The group said that that the measurement represents ‘a significant step forward’ in the evolution of the analysis of carbohydrates, and by including three components typically consumed in western nations at below recommended levels, the CFQS will better reflect the nutritional contribution of carbohydrates.

According to the group, the dietary value of carbohydrate foods has come under increased scrutiny in recent years. While so-called good-carb/bad-carb designations are hotly contested, standardized methods for assessing CF health quality currently do not exist, it said.

“While long-standing evidence clearly establishes that carbohydrate-containing foods are essential to building healthy dietary patterns, people need better tools to identify higher quality choices that can be balanced in a healthy dietary pattern,”​ said Joanne Slavin, from the University of Minnesota and QCC-SAC member. “While fibre and sugar content have been the focus in previously proposed systems, and they’re important pieces of the puzzle, there needs to be more nuance in our recommendations given the breadth of foods and food groups that fall into the carb category.”

“Other systems to define carb quality exist, and many rely heavily on the glycaemic index; however, research increasingly shows GI has far too much inter-individual variability to offer meaningful real-world utility,”​ added QCC-SAC member Siddhartha Angadi, PhD, University of Virginia. “A truly effective measure of carbohydrate food quality is one that is both accurate and practical. By capturing a broader set of dietary parameters with relevance to public health, the CFQS aims to offer relevant, real-world recommendations to potentially improve nutrient intake and public health.”

The new system builds upon previously validated measures of carbohydrate quality, namely ratios of carbohydrate to fibre (i.e., at least one gram of fibre for every 10 grams of carbohydrate) and carbohydrate to free sugar (i.e., less than one gram of free sugar for every 10 grams of carbohydrate). The addition of potassium, sodium and whole grains to the algorithm was further validated by demonstrating a high correlation with two other scientifically substantiated nutrient profiling systems: The Nutrient Rich Foods (NRF) Index, a scoring system that ranks foods on the basis of their nutrient content, and European Nutri-Score, another model used to assess foods’ nutritional value.

Potential global use

The CFQS was developed in the US database, but "can be applied to European foods​", said Matthieu Maillot, a QCC-SAC member based at Aix-Marseille Université in France. 

Julie Miller Jones, an emeritus professor of nutrition at St. Catherine University in the US, told FoodNavigator the scoring system ‘clearly has real-world utility within the context of all types of cultural diets, including those in the UK and elsewhere’.

“There is a lot of carbohydrate bashing going around,”​ she said. “In fact, some diets recommend consumers avoid them or eat only a minimal amount. This recommendation is a mistake, unless for very special diets prescribed for conditions such as intractable seizures, because those who eat about 50% of their calories as carbs are associated with greater longevity than those who eat either higher or lower percentages.”​ 

The UK Eatwell Guide, for example, highlights carbohydrate staple foods and suggests recommended amounts. These carbs provide important components of a healthy diet in the form of fibre, vitamins, minerals and some protein. 

Jones said the CFQS can help consumers better choose foods rich in nutrients, fibre and whole grains and minimise salt and sugars.  

Breakfast items such as porridge, ready-to-eat cereals such as whole wheat flakes or biscuits, some mueslis or granolas would score well with the CFQS,”​ she said. 

Meals containing potatoes, squashes and other starchy vegetables along with chickpeas or dals are other examples of foods that would score highly with the CFQS, she added.


Clarifying carb confusion: experts propose evidence-based scoring system to assess the overall healthfulness of carb-containing foods


DOI: 10.3390/nu14071485

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