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New Australian Food Consumption Data

Grain food and legume intakes from 2009 – 2011

A new national consumption tracking study commissioned by Go Grains Health & Nutrition has just been completed by research group Colmar Brunton, comparing grain food and legume consumption from 2009 to 2011. A 2-day food diary was kept by over 1200 participants in 2011 and over 1700 participants in 2009, followed by a series of online questions to understand consumption, awareness and attitudes towards grain foods and legumes.

The study concluded Australians are not eating enough legumes or core (staple) grain foods such as bread, breakfast cereal, rice, pasta and noodles for health and wellbeing as recommended by Australian Dietary Guidelines. Australians are not meeting the recommended minimum ‘4 serves a day’ of core grain foods, with the average intake only 3.2 serves in the 2011 survey compared with 4.1 serves in 2009. For females and children the picture is even worse with neither subgroups reaching above 3 serves of core grain foods a day on average, significantly lower than 2009.

There was a decrease in bread (15.3 to 11.9 serves/wk), equal to almost 1 slice a day, breakfast cereals (3.8 to 2.99 serves/wk), pasta/noodles (0.27 to 0.21 serves/wk) and rice (0.21 to 0.17 serves/wk) consumption over the 2 years. One serve is equivalent to approximately 2 slices of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal/ pasta/ rice/ noodles as described in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

In 2011, there was a significant increase in takeaway/mixed meals (1.2 to 0.9 serves/wk) compared to 2009. Over a quarter (28%) of grain-based food intake came from non-core (“extra’s”) foods like cakes, biscuits, pastries and takeaway foods (like hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza), which has significantly increased from 2009. This indicates that Australians need to swap non-core grain-based foods for core grains with an emphasis on wholegrain, high fibre and low GI grain types.

The study estimates that Australians are eating just over 1 serve of wholegrains a day, less than 1.4 serves in 2009 and a long way from the Go Grains recommendation of at least 48g of wholegrains a day for good health (equivalent to approximately 2 serves, or ½ grain intake as wholegrain). This is consistent with the recently launched 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which recommend half of grain intake as wholegrain (equivalent to 1.5 serves ‘Australian’ serves).

Declining consumption appears to be as a result of misperceptions and lack of understanding about the importance of grain foods in the diet. The study indicates there is a lack of awareness of the health benefits of grains and poor understanding of the recommended amount that should be consumed per day. When asked how many serves would fall with dietary recommendations, only 15% of participants correctly answered 4 or more, as per the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. Of concern, 42% of females thought “4+ serves a day” is too many serves of grain foods.

There is also lack of knowledge about the foods that contain wholegrains. 9-17% of people surveyed thought vegetables, brown sugar, white rice were wholegrain, and only half thought oats/porridge was wholegrain. The study found people may also limit grain foods as they are concerned about weight management or dietary intolerance.

The findings are a major concern for public health and require supportive action from policy makers to address the issue of declining core grain food consumption. In the 1995 National Nutrition Survey, breads and cereals were the leading source of fibre, thiamin, magnesium and iron and secondary source of folate, niacin, zinc and protein in the diets of Australians. Go Grains is concerned that many Australians may be missing out on these essential nutrients as a results of declining consumption across 2009-2011. We look forward to the results of the Australian Health Survey expected in 2013, however there is a need for realistic quantitative recommendations for the proportion of wholegrains and refined core grain foods in a healthy diet in the upcoming review of the Dietary Guidelines to ensure communication is clear and consistent amongst health care professionals and manufacturers. Helping consumers identify core grain foods will reduce confusion between the nutritious refined grain foods like white rice, white bread, white pasta and lower fibre breakfast cereals and non-core refined grain foods like cakes, biscuits and pastries and takeaway foods with significant amounts of added fat, sugar and salt.

Go Grains recommends an evidence-based guideline: “Eat “4+ serves a day” of grain foods (including breads, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals and noodles), with at least ½ wholegrain”.

Australians need to eat more core grain foods and include more wholegrain and high fibre foods in the diet. Australians should limit their intake of non-core refined grain-based foods such as cakes, pastries, biscuits and takeaway foods.

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