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Studies highlight wholegrain link to human health

Low dietary intake of wholegrains poses a health risk.
Photo: Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council

Studies have highlighted the link between health and consumption of wholegrains.

Several recent studies and public health bodies have highlighted, once more, the importance of wholegrain consumption for good health.

Landmark research, updated in early 2019, showed low intake of whole grains was second only to high intakes of sodium on the scale of health risk factors in diets.

The Lancet Global Burden of Disease study measured consumption of major foods and their impact on non-communicable disease, mortality and morbidity across 195 countries.

Its findings showed that consumption of almost all healthy foods and nutrients was below globally agreed recommendations.

The biggest gaps observed were for intake of wholegrains (at just 23 per cent of recommended consumption), nuts, seeds and milk.

Compounding this, intake of unhealthy foods and nutrients exceeded optimal levels.

Its findings showed that consumption of almost all healthy foods and nutrients was below globally agreed recommendations. - The Lancet Global Burden of Disease study

These dietary patterns have major consequences for global health, with three million deaths and 82 million Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) occurring as a consequence of low wholegrain intake - reinforcing the importance of messages encouraging people to 'swap' refined grain for wholegrains.

Disease risk factors

The 'Health Burden of Preventable Disease in Australia: a systematic review', published this year in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, looks at Australian risk factors for preventable disease which mirrored these findings.

The study found more deaths were associated with low intake of appropriate quality foods, including wholegrains, rather than too much discretionary food and other dietary risks, such as high sodium intake.

Low wholegrain intake was the greatest dietary risk factor identified in the review, causing an estimated 7400 preventable deaths, ahead of low intake of:

  • Fruit (5500 preventable deaths)
  • Nuts and seeds (4900 preventable deaths)
  • Vegetables (4400 preventable deaths).

Also promoting the benefits of wholegrain intake are policy changes.

This year, for example, the updated 2019 Canadian Dietary Guidelines amended its grains statement from 'Enjoy grains, mostly wholegrain' to simply 'Enjoy wholegrain', suggesting wholegrain consumption has become the default recommendation.

Canada has also placed more emphasis on the benefits of consuming plant-based, instead of animal-based, sources of protein, such as legumes, nuts, seeds and tofu, which is consistent with the increasing global plant-based dietary trend.

With more evidence supporting wholegrain consumption, it's likely other countries could follow Canada's example, highlighting the health benefits of wholegrains.

GRDC Research Code GOG0009

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