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Wholegrain foods and legumes

Your daily dose for disease prevention?

When it comes to grain foods, wholegrains are shining stars. Wholegrain foods and legumes are a fundamental part of a balanced diet and scientific studies consistently show that they can play a major role in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases that burden our society today. Wholegrains may even be more important than first thought, with new research collected as part of “The Grains & Legumes Health Report – A Review of the Science” finding that wholegrain foods could help prevent asthma and gum disease, and may also improve mood and cognitive function.

The Grains & Legumes Health Report is a review of the latest scientific evidence on the health benefits of grains and legumes, co-authored by Associate Professor Peter Williams, University of Wollongong and Go Grains Health & Nutrition, with the report’s foreword written by Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO Food Futures National Research Flagship, Dr David Topping.

Wholegrains contain all the goodness of the grain – however, it’s the fibre-rich outer bran layer and nutrient-rich inner core (germ) that makes them so special. They contain plenty of vitamins (particularly B-group vitamins and vitamin E), minerals (notably iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus), fibre and protective substances (like antioxidants and phytonutrients). The most commonly eaten wholegrain foods include wholemeal and mixed grain breads and crispbreads, oats, wholemeal pasta, brown rice and pop corn. Wholegrain foods can contain grains that are whole (visible grains), or milled into finer pieces (wholemeal). Therefore, wholemeal foods are also wholegrain.

Eating the equivalent of 2-3 slices of wholegrain bread a day (or 1½ cups of wholegrain breakfast cereal, brown rice or wholemeal pasta) can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and obesity by up to 20-30%. Wholegrain foods may even be as powerful as cholesterol lowering medication, with 2-4 serves of wholegrain foods a day lowering the risk of heart disease by as much as 40% – equal to the effect of statin drugs.

Research studies show a diet high in wholegrain foods can help to lower blood pressure. One particular study found that replacing white rice with brown rice, white bread with wholegrain, and low-fibre cereals with barley or whole wheat cereals, significantly reduced blood pressure in overweight patients with high cholesterol in just 5 weeks.

For those at risk, but who have not yet developed type 2 diabetes, wholegrains may be the solution. Research has shown the progression of impaired glucose tolerance to type 2 diabetes can be reduced by almost 60% and insulin resistance improved, by simple lifestyle changes such as frequently eating wholegrain foods.

In addition to the more established benefits of wholegrains in the prevention of chronic disease, there is also emerging science about the benefits of wholegrain consumption for prevention of periodontal disease and asthma, as well as suggestive evidence for improvements in mood and cognitive function. Further research will help confirm these promising findings.

What is it about wholegrains that makes them so impressive? The complete package of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients work together – research suggests there is no one single component in wholegrains which accounts for their beneficial effect to health.

There is very little research data available on wholegrain consumption in Australia but we understand adults and children are not eating enough. A recent survey conducted by Go Grains Health & Nutrition found that on average Australians aged 5 – 70+ are eating less than 1½ serves of wholegrain foods a day, falling short of international recommendations that at least half of all grain consumption should be wholegrain. Children should increase the amount of wholegrains in their diets as they grow.

Legumes are an economical, easy to prepare and nutritious food that Australian’s are not eating enough of. Research shows that less than a quarter of Australians eat legumes every day while data from the latest National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey in 2007 revealed only 5-7% of Australian children aged 2-16 years are eating legumes each day.

Legumes provide a range of essential nutrients including good quality protein, low glycaemic carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. They are generally low in fat and contain no cholesterol. Among the well known legumes are navy beans (baked beans), chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, red kidney beans, cannellini beans, butter beans and split peas.

Epidemiological studies consistently show that eating legumes can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, as well as improve gut health. One study found that consumption of legumes four or more times per week, was associated with a 22% lower risk of coronary heart disease and 11% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

A seven year longitudinal study of older people from different dietary cultures (including Japan, Sweden, Greece and Australia), found higher legume intake was the most protective dietary predictor of longevity, with a 7-8% reduction in risk of death for every 20g increase in daily legume intake.

Recent science suggests there may be a stronger role for legumes in helping to protect against prostate, breast and colorectal cancer than previously thought. Two large international cohort studies report; a lower incidence of colorectal adenoma’s in women who consumed four or more servings of legumes a week, and a 33% lower risk of colorectal cancer in women who ate the most legumes, although much of the evidence is limited to soy intake as there are generally low intakes of other legumes in most free-living populations.

There is consistent scientific evidence for the role of wholegrains, and suggestive evidence for the role of legumes, in protecting against cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and obesity. The risk reduction (20-30%) from just three serves of wholegrain foods (equivalent to 3 slices of wholegrain bread) a day could theoretically translate to health expenditure savings of over $1.2 billion a year.

Start by switching to a wholemeal / mixed grain bread or wholegrain breakfast cereal.

To download a copy of The Grains & Legumes Health Report, visit www.gograins.com.au

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