Updates and opinions on topical issues from our team and from recognised experts
Time for more whole grains
Whole grains are approaching a tipping point and we hope they are finally due to get some long-overdue attention from Australian consumers. Ironically, it may be thanks to a completely new way of looking at behaviour change to encourage healthy eating that this is going to happen.
After all, why would consumers ignore important science like whole grains’ association with reduced risk of non-communicable diseases (such as T2D, CVD and cancer) and all-cause mortality? Or identification of their low levels of intake as one of the leading behavioural risks contributing to the global burden of disease (ahead of low fruit, nuts and seeds, vegetables and seafood omega-3)? Or the fact that a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruit and beans was recently recognised as one of the Top 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations?
Perhaps consumers don’t understand that whole grains are more than just fibre, with their accompanying plethora of bioactive compounds including vitamins (B, E, K), minerals (Fe, Mg, Zn, Mn, Cu, Se, P, Ca, Na, K), antioxidants (carotenoids, anthocyanins, isoflavonoids, polyphenols [phenolic acids, flavonoids, lignans]) proteins (sulphur amino-acids and glutathione), enzymes, phytosterols and omega-3 fatty acids.
Perhaps consumers find it difficult to overcome taste barriers, are unsure of how to identify and use whole grains or think they require longer cooking times.
Perhaps, they find it difficult to understand how much they need to eat, as this is not specified in the Australian Dietary Guidelines, and they need to be aware of the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council’s™ 48g/day recommended daily target intake and how to go about reaching this goal through the foods they eat.
The bottom line is that whole grains are complicated to understand and their importance has been overlooked to date, which would explain why average whole grain intake is at 21 g/day in Australia and almost one third (29%) of adults are not consuming any whole grains on a given day. Not only is this short-changing them on future health benefits, but it is actually costing the economy in terms of healthcare and lost productivity: do you know that adding 2-3 serves of high fibre grain food to our diet each day could save the economy AUD 3.3billion?
If we want to increase whole grain consumption at a public health level it is going to take a collaborative food systems approach incorporating its multiple stakeholders, all the way from policy including specified target intakes in dietary guidelines, through the various food environments and supply chains to ultimately lead to consumer behaviour change. Nevertheless, demand must meet supply if we are looking towards a sustainable outcome and ultimately it is going to depend on consumer demand to drive the success of any intervention to increase whole grains.
However, I digress. Astute readers may be wondering why I have not tapped into the microbiome in this post and the emerging health benefits on its host –you. After all, whole grains, still have their outer bran layer intact and it is here where the fibre is found and guess what: fibre survives the digestive system intact and goes on to feed the good bacteria in our gut. If they are fed, they will grow and thrive, and voila – benefit to you.
Could nurturing our good gut bacteria be the key to driving behaviour change? By looking after Bifidobacterium spp., Lactobacillus spp. and our other little passengers could we bring about a win:win situation whereby if we look after them, they may look after us?