The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition recently launched a Call to Action on the role of carbohydrates in the Mediterranean diet. After a stakeholders workshop in September in Parma, Italy, scientists and experts from six countries compiled the call-to-action document asking other experts from around the world to submit more evidence of how carbohydrates can contribute to a healthy and sustainable diet.
The workshop highlighted the importance of maintaining proper carbohydrate intake, rather than eliminating them altogether. The problem is two-fold. There’s a lack of understanding among consumers about what carbohydrates are and how to recognize quality. In addition, there is, unfortunately, no scientific agreement on how to define quality in carbohydrates.
“Like all nutrition, it’s about the quality, not the quantity,” John Sievenpiper, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto, said at the workshop. “There are many ways to characterize the quality of carbohydrates. Part of the issue has been a lack of consensus within the scientific community as to what represents a good marker of carbohydrate quality.”
The Call to Action defines the gaps that exist in research and communication on carbohydrate-based diets, including more research with a stronger focus on the mutual relationship between food and the environment, better dissemination of research, and improved health education. The Call to Action focuses on food rather than nutrients. For example, they suggest eliminating specific foods with bad carbohydrates rather than generalizing all carbohydrates as bad and ignoring the nutrient completely.
“We should get half of our calories from carbohydrates,” Joanne Slavin of the University of Minnesota said at the workshop. “The message is carbohydrates need to be appropriate for your activity level. If you look at the data, higher-carbohydrate diets are protective because of some of the important components that are in high-carbohydrate foods, so obviously dietary fiber.”
The participants of the workshop look to the Mediterranean diet for solutions, as it’s a sustainable and balanced model for proper carbohydrate intake.
“The recommendations that we are seeing coming out of countries include a more Mediterranean diet—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes as the base of that diet,” Slavin said. “This will get the message to consumers that it’s foods, not nutrients, that we want them to consume.”