The recent reports concerning the poor quality of rice from certain local suppliers may have encouraged some people who are worried about food safety to look for alternative sources of carbohydrate.
Brown rice is a healthier source of carbohydrates because it contains additional nutrients and a lot more fibre than regular white rice.
But if one gives up rice, what can serve as a stand-in?
"I'd say we could substitute sweet potatoes for rice as a serving of either has about the same concentration of carbohydrates," said Assoc Prof Visith Chavasit, director of the Institute of Nutrition at Mahidol University. "Sweet potatoes are actually the leading source of carbs in the diet of many African people."
Carbohydrates, he explained, come in different forms including sugars and starches. One of the healthiest sources are unmilled grains like whole wheat and brown rice that still have their bran layer intact and so provide vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre and phytonutrients. Whole grains come way down on the glycemic index, a way of ranking foods containing carbohydrates based on their ability to raise blood-sugar levels. While easier for the body to digest, refined carbohydrates such as white wheat flour and white rice also rank higher on the glycemic index.
When we eat carbohydrates, Visith explained, the body's digestive system breaks them down into a form of sugar so that their nutrients can be absorbed. Sugar from fruit is relatively easy for the body to digest, but it takes much longer for the body to convert grains into sugars.
According to Sujit Saleepun, a nutrition expert at the Ministry of Public Health's Bureau of Nutrition, a spoonful of cooked rice, a slice of bread and a spoonful of fermented rice noodles (khanom jeen) all deliver nearly the same amount of energy _ approximately 80 kilocalories (kcal).
"Bread is tasty and easy to enjoy so we tend to indulge in it a lot," she said.
What about eating vegetables instead of rice? Well the first thing to be aware of, Sujit said, is that a serving of vegetables deliver a much lower level of energy than an equivalent amount of rice. One spoonful of cooked pumpkin or carrots gives about 25kcal compared to 80kcal for the same quantity of cooked rice.
"So that means we would need to eat a larger amount of cooked pumpkins or carrots in order to equal cooked rice in energy value. And I'm not sure if many people could do that," she said
Corn might be a better option since corn and rice are almost interchangeable, according to Sujit.
An average-sized ear of corn has almost as much as energy value to a spoonful of cooked rice, according to Nutrition Flag, which is a booklet with dietary guidelines for Thai people and seeks to promote a better understanding of what constitutes a proper diet.
Nutrition Flag notes that the average person consumes about 2,000kcal per day and that the ideal daily intake of cooked rice is 10 spoonfuls, or about three spoonfuls at each meal.
"But corn is chewy and for that reason not everyone enjoys eating it," Sujit pointed out. "So I'm not sure how many people would be able to finish three ears of corn in one sitting."
It is imperative to eat enough carbohydrates every day to provide sufficient fuel to allow the body to function well, she said, going on to recommend that people consume between 50% and 65% of their total calorie intake per day in the form of carbohydrates. Those who lead very physically active lives might need to increase the amount of carbs in their diet, she added.
Eating desserts on a regular basis, Visith noted, can significantly boost the amount of carbohydrates consumed in the form of sugar. A bar of chocolate weighing 51g, for instance, could contain as much as 25g of sugar. People should restrict their sugar intake to about 10% of the total calories consumed in a day, he said.
The key to healthy consumption of carbohydrates, he continued, is to limit one's daily intake and to consume a variety of them.
"Eating a variety of carbs means that you will also get the benefit of the different kinds of nutrients found in these different food," he said "Fill most of your plate with healthy carbs and indulge in fewer sweets and processed foods since these often contain added sugar."
Carbohydrates are neither all bad nor all good, he said. Over-consumption of beans can lead to bloating, for instance, he said, while overdoing vegetables for long period of time can affect the absorption of iron in some people. And people who go overboard with refined carbohydrates tend to have problem with their weight.
"Above all, try to eat a mixture of carbohydrates so that you get enough energy while also taking advantage of the nutrition and fibre they supply," Visith said.
"Personally, I don't think there's any need for us to give up rice. It's a good way of getting complex carbs into our daily diet."
Eat a mixture of carbohydrates for optimum results.
About the author
- Writer: Sukhumaporn Laiyok