A nutritional scoring system for carbohydrates has been developed by the Quality Carbohydrate Coalition-Scientific Advisory Council (QCC-SAC).
The Carbohydrate Food Quality Score (CFQS) displays a more accurate representation of the nutritional quality of carbohydrate foods, while also being more practical for use across a variety of foods.
The new scoring system was published in a report put together by researchers from the University of Washington, La Timone University Hospital, Marseille (L’hôpital de la Timone), Nutritional Strategies Inc., St. Catherine University, Minnesota, the University of North Florida, the University of Minnesota, the University of Virginia, and OMNI Nutrition Science, California.
Up until now, the metrics used to assess carbohydrate food quality have used fibre-to carbohydrate and free sugar-to-carbohydrate ratios. These metrics say carbohydrates with a high nutritional value are those which contain more than 10% of fibre, and less than 10% of added sugar per 100g.
While this specific metric style has been used for more than 10 years, the researchers believe it does not allow for the nutritional value of all healthy carbohydrates to be accurately recorded, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and beans.
As the report notes, “carbohydrate food quality metrics need to be applicable across these diverse food groups.”
To improve the current system, the new food score will still show the content of free sugar and fibre, but it will also reveal the content of sodium, potassium, and whole grains in carbohydrate food products.
Monitoring the intake of these three dietary elements is important for our health, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). Sodium, potassium and whole grains are most commonly found in carbohydrate foods.
Two models have been developed to assess carbohydrate food quality to be used in the new scoring system – the CFQS-4 model, which is based on the level of fibre, added sugar, sodium, and potassium in a product; and the CFQS-5 model, which includes whole grains as well as the other four components.
Both models can be applied to solid foods where more than 40% of their total calories comes from carbohydrates. With CFQS-4, foods are given a score of between zero and four points. Meanwhile with CFQS-5, a score is given between zero and five points, with grain-based foods able to receive an extra point if they have a whole grain content of over 25%.
The CFQS has a strong resemblance to other well-known nutrient scoring systems, which gives it validation, researchers say. These include the controversial European Nutri-Score model, an alphabetically coded score which ranks the nutritional quality of foods from A to E, and the Nutrient Rich Food (NRF9.3) index, an algorithm used to show levels of nutrient density in foods.
Adam Drewnowski, PhD, University of Washington, QCC-SAC member, and inventor of the NRF9.3 index said: “We can say with great confidence that the CFQS is assessing the quality of carbohydrate foods in an accurate and meaningful way.
“This system is already much more comprehensive than previously published metrics, but it’s also designed to continue evolving with the science. As new data become available, the CFQS models can expand to reflect other measures of carbohydrate quality, such as the food’s prebiotic or polyphenol composition, degree of processing or aspects of fortification or enrichment.”
People are currently consuming levels of sodium and sugar that go way over the daily recommendations from the DGA, according to the report, while potassium, whole grains and fibre are not consumed enough.
Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, University of Minnesota commented: “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.
“While fiber 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.”
QCC-SAC hopes that this more comprehensive scoring system will be able to help consumers meet the 2020-2025 recommendations from the DGA, as well as those from the World Health Organisation, and approximately 50% of other food dietary guidelines worldwide.
“Other systems to define carb quality exist, and many rely heavily on the glycemic index; however, research increasingly shows GI has far too much inter-individual variability to offer meaningful real-world utility,” said 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.”
Following the publication of the report, researchers are now working to show how the CFQS can be used for a diverse range of dietary patterns.
QCC-SAC member Judith Rodriguez, PhD, RD, University of North Florida commented: “We need tools that help people apply nutrition science to an array of cultural dietary traditions, socioeconomic contexts and personal needs and preferences.
“That’s the ultimate aim of this work: to develop a metric that can be applied to build healthy dietary patterns for everyone.”
The QCC-SAC is made up of six experts in carbohydrate research, epidemiology and nutrient profiling. It was established by the Quality Carbohydrate Coalition and is funded by the potato marketing and research group Potatoes USA.
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