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UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SCAN) – Health Benefits of Carbohydrates

In 2008 the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SCAN) was requested by the UK Food Standards Agency to provide clarification of the relationship between carbohydrate foods, including grain foods and health. In June 2014, SCAN published its draft report which provides a comprehensive evaluation of the available scientific evidence on the health effects of total carbohydrates and carbohydrate foods. Here GLNC outlines the key findings reported on the health benefits of whole grain and high fibre grain foods.

In developing this report the SCAN only reviewed evidence from prospective cohort studies and randomised controlled trials (RCT). As such the Carbohydrates and Health Report 2014(1) report provides the highest level of available evidence from observational and interventional studies respectively.

Not surprisingly the findings of this comprehensive report align directly with the findings of the review of the scientific evidence which underpins the Australians Dietary Guidelines(2), indicating that a number of biologically significant health benefits can be achieved through making healthier grain food choices, particularly choosing whole grain and/or high fibre grain foods more often. Here is a top line summary of the key findings of the Report in relation to chronic diseases which are of public health importance:

Cardiovascular disease

  • Higher intakes of whole grain and high fibre grain foods is linked with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease – which includes a wide range of diseases that involve the heart, the blood vessels or both.
  • In particular, higher intake of whole grains, total cereal fibre and higher fibre breakfast cereals are also associated with a reduced risk of coronary events – any severe or acute heart condition.
  • Higher intake of whole grains is also associated with a reduced risk of stroke and incidence of high blood pressure.
  • Higher intakes of oat bran and β-glucans, found in whole grain oats and barley is associated with lower blood pressure, lower total cholesterol, lower LDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides – each a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Type 2 Diabetes

  • Higher intakes of whole grains, whole grain breads, total cereal fibre and higher fibre breakfast cereals are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Bowel Cancer and Digestive Wellbeing

  • Higher whole grains and total cereal fibre intakes are associated with lower risk of bowel cancer which is Australia’s second biggest cancer killer.
  • Cereal fibre from whole grains and high fibre grain foods also promotes digestive regularity and reduces the risk of constipation.

In support of the international and Australians Dietary Guidelines GLNC recommends all Australians enjoy grains foods 3-4 times each day, choosing at least half as whole grain or high fibre. Following this recommendation will help ensure you increase or meet your daily whole grain needs and reap the health benefits of a balanced diet rich in whole grains.

A note on whole grain foods…
It is important to note that while many people think of ‘whole grains’ as intact, rolled, flaked or cracked grains (i.e. rolled oats, bulgur, barley or brown rice), whole grain foods also includes wholemeal breads, whole grain breakfast cereals, whole grain crispbreads and wholemeal pasta.

In fact, based on GLNC’s 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Study(3), whole grain breads and whole grain breakfast cereals are the greatest contributors to whole grain intakes in the Australian diet.(3) As these common whole grain foods are the greatest contributors to whole grain intakes in the Australian diet it is likely they are making the most significant contribution to disease risk reduction from whole grains in Australians’ diets.

So while choosing a variety of whole grain or high fibre grain foods is important as part of a balanced diet, don’t discount the benefits of whole grain from commonly enjoyed foods such as breads and cereals.

The full draft report can be viewed at:
http://www.sacn.gov.uk/pdfs/draft_sacn_carbohydrates_and_health_report_consultation.pdf

References:

  1. SCAN. Draft Carbohydrates and Health report. 2014.
  2. NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. 2013 Accessed online January 2014.
  3. GLNC. 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2014.

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