Grain foods for health

Working towards healthier grain foods for everyone

Public health as the key outcome of primary industry, a global definition for whole grain food, and ways to change consumers of health care into consumers of health. These were all hot topics of discussion at a recent global meeting of international leaders in the field of grain research, policy and communication. As scientists, policy makers, food manufacturers, health care professionals and interested individuals we all have a role to play.

Robyn Murray, CEO and Michelle Broom, Nutrition Manager, Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council, attending the conference

In May the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council partnered with a number of organisations from around the world for the 2012 Whole Grains Summit in Minnesota USA. The Summit brought together scientists as well as business and health professionals from around the globe working in the area of grains and grain foods to discuss how to improve the availability of healthier grain-based foods for everyone. Presentations ranged from breeding grains to improve nutritional benefit through to regulations and communication strategies to encourage the next generation to include more nutritious grain foods in their diet.

Dr Eric Rimm, from Harvard University and a member of the advisory committee for the US Dietary Guidelines, explained that one of the key principles of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines was to encourage a more plant-based diet. However, he stressed it is important that these are plant-based foods with high nutritional value.

At the first step, breeding, researchers are exploring ways to improve the nutrient quality of the grain we eat while also addressing the challenge of meeting the needs of an increasing global population. Current projects range from ultra low gluten barley to lower GI wheat as well as plant-based sources of EPA and DHA omega-3 fats. A number of speakers explained how flour millers and food manufacturers are working to ensure the integrity of this improved nutritional value is maintained through processing. However, John Finley, from the US Department of Agriculture, pointed out that the current focus for wheat breeding is productivity not health. He suggested that one way to change the paradigm to produce grains for health is to connect breeders and nutritionists.

Moving from grain to food, a key theme that emerged from the Summit was the need for a definition of a whole grain food. Several countries have a definition of ‘whole grain’ as containing the same fraction of endosperm, germ and bran. However, whole grain foods currently contain a broad range of whole grain content. For example bread may contain anything from 1 gram to 20 grams of whole grain per slice. It was agreed that a minimum whole grain content to call a food ‘whole grain’ would help not only people buying food but also researchers and policy makers. As 48g per day of whole grain has been adopted as a target intake in several countries, including Australia, it was suggested that a minimum of 8 g/serve would useful minimum. By having the recommended six serves of grain food with 8g of whole grain would allow a person to meet the 48g daily target.

To help change consumers of health care into consumers of health a number of speakers suggested we look to the next generation. A hangover from the recommendation for low fat, high fibre foods may be part of the problem when it comes to the idea many adults have that high fibre foods don’t taste good. A whole new generation may be more open to trying high fibre foods, made with good fats and so help the family make more nutritious grain choices. One way this is being attempted is by introducing whole grain-rich foods to school lunches across the US. Starting on July 1st 2013, all grain foods in school breakfasts and school lunches must be whole grain-rich.

It was agreed that a strategic approach is needed for research, policy, food manufacture and communication in the area of grain foods. From breeding better grains, producing a greater variety of good quality food choices through to helping people make those choices we all have a part to play in making nutritious foods more accessible for everyone.

For more information on the Summit visit http://www.cce.umn.edu/Whole-Grains-Summit-2012/

Recordings and slides from a selection of the presentations will be available in the coming months on the Grains for Health Foundation website http://www.grainsforhealth.org/

Whole Grains Summit 2012. Whole Grains & Health from theory to practice. May 20-22, 2012. Minneapolis, MN USA. http://www.cce.umn.edu/Whole-Grains-Summit-2012/index.html

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