Monday, 25 March 2013

should you cut back on pasta for your kids?

On Saturday (23/03/13) there was an article in The Times called 'Five foods you must cut back on' by Rachel Carlyle and Melissa Little. This was in the Child Health section. Number one of these five foods is 'Refined carbs'. They are including pasta and white rice as among refined carbs. It is true that some starchy foods are not so good to eat. They are digested rapidly whereas it is better to have starches that are digested more slowly.

I agree with them about mashed potato and white bread. However, I do not agree with them about pasta and rice. It is not true that eating pasta or white rice (if it is long-grain) is 'a bit like tipping a packet of sugar straight into the bloodstream'. Pasta and rice are cheap foods that a lot of parents rely upon to feed their children and themselves. They are quick and easy to prepare and do not require any skill. Children love them. So if they are telling the parents of Britain to stop feeding their children pasta and rice that is a big deal.

The way that we can see how rapidly a carbohydrate is digested is by looking at the Glycemic Index. The higher the number on the Glycemic Index of a food the less valuable it is. Below I have given the GI values for a number of starchy food, with the lowest GI at the top.
  • pasta (depending on how cooked and shape) 40 to 60
  • brown rice 55
  • white long-grain rice 56
  • basmati rice 58
  • sugar (sucrose) 68
  • white short-grain rice 72
These figures are averages. It can be seen that white short-grain rice is indeed as bad as sugar. However, other forms of rice, and especially pasta are nowhere near as bad as sugar. I think that they are assuming that only wholegrains are good for you in terms of how rapidly a starch is digested. There is some truth in that, wholegrains tend to be digested more slowly, but that is not the only factor.

So, I would say to the parents of children don't stop serving pasta and rice to your children. Instead cook your pasta for a shorter time and choose a shape that is thicker. Choose brown/long-grain/basmati rice instead of white short-grain. A variety of different types of rice is more enjoyable anyway.

Pasta and rice are cheap and easy to prepare. It doesn't take much to make them palatable. You can use pasta sauce from a jar, but I have found out recently just how cheap and easy it is to make a pasta sauce from a tin of chopped tomato and a few other ingredients. I have made an arrabiata pasta sauce - the recipe is widely available on the web.

The big problem that I have with this article is that people are always saying that healthy foods are expensive. They recommend wholegrain pasta and brown rice. These are more expensive, although not always as expensive as you might think. Ordinary pasta and (long-grain) white rice are fine though, and they are cheap and children love them.

Another thing that they recommend is small amount of carbohydrate (of any kind). I disagree with this. I think that the bulk of our calories should come from low-GI starches. If not from them, where are most of our calories going to come from? They mention fats. They say saturated fats are bad but unsaturated fats are good. Not all unsaturated fats are good though. Omega-6 rich fats are not a good thing even though they are unsaturated.

They seem to be a bit confused about guidelines. They state 'The guidelines say that fat should make up approximately 35% of your calorific intake' and 'Children do need a bit of saturated fat, but only 10 per cent of the total fat intake should be saturated'. In fact, the guidelines say that total fat limits for children/adolescents from the age of 4 to 18 should be 25% to 35% of total calories. So they should be having less than 35%. The guidelines say consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fats. So these figures of 35% and 10% are upper limits and not how much we should be eating. We should be having less than these amounts, considerably less. Children don't need any saturated fat, but 10% should be the upper limit.