By Leish Kilpatrick
Core grain foods are a key component of the Australian diet, providing crucial nutrients for the maintenance of good health and longevity(1). Despite this, Australian intakes of core grain foods fall well below levels associated with favourable nutrition and health outcomes, with many Australians wrongly believing that grain foods are not an important part of a healthy diet(2). GLNC’s recent comprehensive audit of core grain foods available in major Sydney retailers debunked this misconception and highlighted the nutrition credentials of a wide variety of core grain foods currently available to Australians(3).
Core grain foods encompass all grain products made from whole or partially processed cereal grains such as breads, breakfast cereals, rice and pasta and are split into two categories. Refined core grain foods include white breads, pasta and rice and lower fibre breakfast cereals. Comparatively, whole grains are minimally processed grains like oats, rye, brown rice, quinoa and buckwheat, which can be found in whole grain bread, brown rice, brown pasta and whole grain crispbreads.
The 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines recommends different amounts of grain foods depending on age and gender. These recommendations are based on the amount of essential nutrients they contain as well as a review of all the studies about grain foods and health. For all ages and genders these grain foods should be mostly whole grain or high fibre grain foods.
|Age (years)||Recommended Minimum Serves|
*Higher when pregnant or lactating
However, the 2011-12 National Nutrition Survey showed that only 33% of men and 24% of women met the recommended number of serves of core grain foods for their age, and only 30% of adults met the recommendation to consume ‘mostly whole grains’(6).
A secondary analysis of the 2011-12 National Nutrition Survey showed that adults who achieved current grain food recommendations and ate six or more serves of core grains per day had the highest intakes of essential nutrients such as iron, magnesium, zinc, iodine, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folate. Increasing core grain food intake was directly linked to increases in total fibre intake, with adults who ate six or more serves of core grain foods each day having almost double the fibre intake of those who ate less than two serves(4).
As well as being nutrient dense, research also shows that people who choose whole grain, high fibre and low glycemic index grain foods are less likely to develop chronic disease. Large population studies show that people who eat at least three serves of whole grain and high fibre grain foods each day, such as bread and breakfast cereal, are less likely to gain weight over time or to develop type 2 diabetes or heart disease(5). In a recent comprehensive review, whole grain and high fibre grain foods were found to offer the greatest protection against diet-related disease, and were more protective than other plant-based food groups(1).
Reap the Rewards of Core Grain Foods
In 2015-2016 GLNC conducted a grain food product audit examining the nutritional profile of 1,890 core grain products available in four different retail supermarkets in the North Sydney/Cremorne area of Sydney. This information was collated into a comprehensive database of core grain foods and used to assess the percentage of products that were a source of fibre, protein and whole grain, as well as the percentage of products which were below benchmarks for sodium and sugar.
Breakfast cereals were shown to deliver essential nutrition, with almost 9 out of 10 providing a source of fibre and 65% providing a source of whole grain. While some are sceptical about the sugar and salt content of breakfast cereals, 95% met the Australian Government’s benchmark for sodium reformulation, under 400mg per 100g, and 63% met the National Healthy School Canteens Guidelines for sugar content, under 20g per 100g.
Furthermore, the humble household staple bread was shown to be more nutrient dense than many people think, with 76% of loaf breads being a source of fibre (70% of white and 94% of wholemeal), 31% a source of whole grain and a surprising 81% a source of plant-protein. While some Australians believe that everyday sliced bread contains sugar, the GLNC audit showed that 95% of white and wholemeal loaves were low in sugar, containing less than a teaspoon in total.
What about other grain products such as pasta, noodles, couscous and rice?Well, the audit found that nearly half (45%) of pasta, noodles and couscous, and almost a third (29%) of rice products were a source of fibre. A massive 91% of grains such as quinoa, freekah and buckwheat provide a source of whole grain. The majority of these grain products were low in both sugar and sodium, making them a great choice at any meal.
Finally, the audit showed that whole grain goodness also makes a satisfying snack with 42% of crispbreads and more than half of rice cakes and corn cakes being considered a source of whole grains. Crispbreads are also a great way to boost your fibre intake with almost half (45%) being a source of fibre.
Many Australians may be missing out on the nutrients and health benefits associated with eating core grain foods, particularly whole grain and high fibre varieties. Ongoing innovation and development of these core grain food categories means that there is a huge selection to choose from to suit all individual tastes and preferences.
By meeting the recommended number of core grain food serves and opting for whole grain options more often, Aussies could enjoy higher fibre intakes and a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes(4).
Eating six serves of grain foods in a day is as easy as a bowl of high fibre breakfast cereal in the morning, a whole grain sandwich at lunch and a meal with a cup of cooked brown rice at dinner. Visit the GLNC website for the full 2016 Grains for Health Report and for great core grain meal ideas.
- Fardet A, Boirie Y. Associations between food and beverage groups and major diet-related chronic diseases: an exhaustive review of pooled/meta-analyses and systematic reviews. Nutrition reviews. 2014;72(12):741-62.
- GLNC. 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2014.
- GLNC. GLNC 2015-2016 Grains and Legumes Product Audit. Unpublished: Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council 2016.
- Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. Grains for Health Report 2016. Available from: https://www.glnc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Grains-for-Health-Report-FINAL.pdf.
- NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. 2013 Accessed online January 2014.
- ABS. 2011-2012 Australian Health Survey: Consumption of food groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines, 2011–12 — Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016.