BEST FOOD FORWARD
CARBS AND YOUR HEART, FOR WOMEN
Perhaps you’ve heard of Go Red for Women, the movement to end heart disease and stroke in women? Unfortunately, we need a movement because while heart disease is our greatest health threat, women are too busy looking after others to take personal prevention seriously. This needs to change and we can start with choosing heart-friendly food, including good carbs.
Despite the anti-carb hype in the pop-diet world, carbohydrates like dietary fibre and resistant starch are nutritional superstars. They not only keep your gut healthy, but they also help reduce your risk of developing heart disease. We know you show plenty of love to your family, but we encourage you to show your own heart some love, and ‘keep calm and eat good carbs’.
It’s well known the types of fats you eat greatly influence your cholesterol levels, but it’s 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 (84,628 women nurses and 42,908 male health professionals) followed up over 24-30 years. They found saturated fats increased risk and unsaturated fats (especially polyunsaturated fats) were protective. This was a result consistent with previous studies. Wholegrains were also protective. But the real newsflash came with their finding that refined starches and added sugars were positively associated with coronary heart disease. While the message is well and truly out about reducing added sugars, we’re clueless about refined starches. Here’s our three-step plan to help you choose good carbs.
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
CHOOSE LOWER GI CARBS AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE
- Look for dense grainy breads, breads with seeds or soy, or sourdough breads
- Buy lower GI rices such as Basmati, or Doongara
- Include legumes (beans, split peas and lentils) in your meals
- Choose lower GI potatoes (Nicola, Carisma) and starchy vegetables (carrots, parsnips, butternut pumpkin and orange-fleshed sweet potato)
LIMIT ADDED SUGARS AND REFINED STARCHES
- Leave soft drinks, flavoured waters and sports drinks to special occasions • Enjoy confectionery such as candy 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 (e.g. 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.
Thanks to Rachel Ananin AKA TheSeasonalDietitian.com for her assistance with this article.
Nicole Senior is an Accredited Nutritionist, author, consultant, cook, food enthusiast and mother who strives to make sense of nutrition science and delights in making healthy food delicious. Contact: You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or check out her website.