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Panic stock piling has seen the supermarket shelves running low on pasta and rice (as well as toilet rolls!), as Covid-19 threatens to swamp the country. But are starchy foods making their way back into our diets and becoming more popular in general, asks NHD Blogger Louise Edwards RD. 

A recent article in The Telegraph stated that, ‘bread, pasta and rice sales’ have increased for the first time in three years. The author reports that the drop in bread sales in previous years was attributed to popular low-carbohydrate dietary trends such as the Atkins-low-carbohydrate diet.

Working as a dietitian for nine years, I can say that individuals often come to clinic reporting ‘bad press’ about carbohydrates. It can take time to talk through these false health claims and reiterate the importance of dietary sources of ‘carbs’. I explain that carbohydrates break down to glucose, which is used as a source of energy by our body. Carbohydrates should feature regularly in our day as part of a healthy balanced diet to provide energy to sustain us throughout the day.


Bread, rice and potatoes form our ‘complex starchy’ carbohydrates group. The variation of foods within this group still varies significantly, with there being highly refined products such as white bread, or less refined such as wholegrain bread. These complex starchy carbohydrates will break down more slowly than simple carbohydrates (free sugars).


I discuss that carbs are not “evil”, but it’s the cooking methods and portion sizes of the carbohydrates that can contribute to weight gain. All foods are a source of energy and it is the imbalance of energy intake and output that leads to weight gain. Our portion size of carbohydrates has increased over the years. People are often shocked that a ‘fist’ size amount of pasta (approximately three tablespoons of boiled pasta) is the recommended portion size. Often dishes involve us doubling up on our carbohydrates as well, for example, spaghetti Bolognese with garlic bread. What we add or do to the starchy carbohydrates can contribute to excess calories. We should be considering using healthier fats on carbohydrates such as using an olive oil-based spread on bread and on jacket potatoes and low-fat milk on cereal, etc.


The Telegraph article also states that there is a significant increase in sales of artisan bread and that retail experts believe it to be the recent trend for ‘gut health’ that has contributed to this increase.  In relation to gut health, increasing our fibre intake and the variety of sources of fibre will be beneficial in promoting gut bacterial diversity.

We should be considering choosing the less refined high-fibre options of cereals, bread, pasta, etc, to support a healthy balanced diet. Wholegrain breads and those containing linseeds and chia seeds are great sources of fibre. Choosing these wholegrain varieties of starchy carbohydrates will support in lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer. This will also be beneficial in preventing/managing constipation by producing a softer stool that is easier to pass.


Waitrose has reported that sales of sour dough bread have risen by 30% over the last three years. This could be due to the increasing trend of ‘fermented foods.’ Sourdough is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. It has a slower digestion process, which will contribute to optimising glycaemic control.

The sourdough bread could also be a popular choice to those following a low-FODMAP diet (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). This is due to the long fermentation process reducing the FODMAP levels in comparison to modern yeasted bread where the production process is much faster. The sourdough bread is also lower in gluten and with many people choosing to restrict their intake of gluten due to it providing relief of gastrointestinal symptoms, this could potentially account for the ‘growth’ of sourdough sales.

Whilst new food trends and popular diets are what usually influence the sales of certain foods, at present, we are seeing a highly infectious virus affecting our shopping behaviour. In the long-term, it remains to be seen whether sales of high-carb foods will continue to rise. As dietitians, we are in the best position to inform our clients and patients on the best way to include carbs in a healthy balanced diet.

Louise Edwards
Community Team Lead/Specialist Dietitian
Central Cheshire Integrated Care Partnership


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