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Wholegrain oats and barley offer dietary promise

Oats and barley present significant opportunities for Australian grain.
Photo: Shutterstock

Australia is a world leader in the production of high-quality grains, particularly wholegrain oats and barley, which have known cholesterol-lowering properties.

New research by accredited practising dietitians Jaimee Hughes and Dr Sara Grafenauer from the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) was published in the international journal Nutrients in August and has shone a light on the use of oats and barley in the local and global markets and on-pack cholesterol-lowering health claims.

Almost 2500 grain food and beverage products in Australia and 45,000 products from selected global markets were analysed, demonstrating that of all products in the Australian market, 25 per cent were made with wholegrain oats (or oat bran), eight per cent contained wholegrain barley and fewer than two per cent of products contained BARLEYmax® – a wholegrain barley rich in resistant starch and beta-glucan.

Daily consumption of three grams of beta-glucan from wholegrain oats and barley can significantly reduce circulating blood cholesterol.

Oats were mostly found in grain-based muesli bars (79 per cent of subcategory) and breakfast cereals (68 per cent of subcategory). Wholegrain barley was mostly found in breads (14 per cent of subcategory), breakfast cereals (13.4 per cent) and a smaller proportion of savoury biscuits, grain-based muesli bars and plant-based milk alternatives.

In the global market, 24 per cent of products were made with oats and/or oat bran. Europe had the greatest number of oat-containing products, followed by the United States (7068 and 1926 products, respectively). Fewer than three per cent of products were made with wholegrain barley and nine products contained BARLEYmax®.

This data suggests there is limited variety and use of wholegrain oats and barley in products other than breakfast cereals and grain-based muesli bars, presenting an opportunity to expand the use of oats and barley in other market sectors.

Preventable risk factors

Cardiovascular disease is a major health problem in Australia, affecting 1.2 million adults, yet is largely preventable through the modification of certain risk factors such as elevated blood cholesterol. It is well known that daily consumption of three grams of beta-glucan from wholegrain oats and barley can significantly reduce circulating blood cholesterol.

In Australia and other countries around the world, food manufacturers can utilise on-pack claims related to beta-glucan to communicate the cholesterol-lowering benefits of wholegrain oats, oat bran and barley, but fewer than two per cent of the local and global market do so. Given the high prevalence of elevated cholesterol globally and in Australia, beta-glucan health claims are an opportunity to assist in communicating the beneficial role of food in the management of health and disease.

A range of wholegrain oats and barley products are available in the Australian and global markets, including intact grains and as ingredients in a range of food products, such as breakfast cereals, grain-based muesli bars and breads.

Increasing intakes in line with dietary recommendations may have powerful impacts on individual and population health, and wholegrain oats and barley are well-placed to contribute to nutritious products for the future, presenting a significant opportunity for innovation using Australian wholegrains.

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