Monday, November 30, 2009

Introducing sorghum

Climate and weight friendly grain
Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world after wheat, rice, corn and barley. And it's easy to understand why - sorghum is highly drought and heat tolerant plus lab tests have found it has higher antioxidant activity than other cereals and fruit.

Typically a stock feed, with the majority of Australia's harvest used as feed grains to the beef, dairy, pig, poultry or pet food industry, sorghum is not used widely as a food for human consumption in Australia. Sorghum is highly drought and heat tolerant, with about 60% of Australia's crop grown in the hot regions of Queensland and Northern NSW. Able to grow without much water, sorghum is generally very economical and also a good rotation crop. With constant reminders of climate change a concern amoungst scientists, politicians and everyday Australian's, sorghum could be utilised as a sustainable crop for human consumption.

Food chemist and researcher Stuart Johnson from Curtin University is working with food manufacturers Sanitarium and George Weston Foods who are already using sorgham in some products like breads and breakfast cereals, to help boost the use of this former stock-feed grain in the Australian food industry. This idea is not new in some parts of the world, where sorghum is relied upon as a staple food crop in Africa, Central America, and South Asia. Foods prepared with sorghum include popcorn, porridge, flour for baked goods and it is even brewed into beer. As sorghum is naturally gluten free, it is a great alternative to gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley and rye for those people with coeliac disease.

Although more research needs to be done, lab studies have found that wholegrain sorghum has a higher antioxidant activity compared to other cereals and fruits. It has a lower protein content than other cereals, but is a good source of B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin b6, biotin and niacin; important for many vital body processes including energy metabolism. Also relatively high in potassium and phosphorus, like most other wholegrains sorghum is also high in dietary fibre.

Coloured varieties of sorghum (red, brown and black) are particularly rich sources of various phytochemicals, and animal studies have shown encouraging results for the use of this grain to help in the fight against type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers via its antioxidant properties, and obesity by suppressing appetite.

According to some, sorghum has huge potential, given its agronomic properties in favour of climate change and cost effectiveness, in addition to the emerging science behind its promising benefits in human health and disease. Whilst currently limited to health food shops and a small range of supermarket product lines, stay tuned as prospective clinical research trials are expected to give support to sorghum becoming more widespread in our food supply to aid in the battle against chronic disease.

Santa should eat more wholegrains

Wholegrains associated with smaller waistlines

If more kids left Santa a wholegrain cookie and a glass of low-fat milk perhaps his waistline would be somewhat trimmer. Recent research from the US in over 400 older adults has found that in those who ate wholegrains there was an association between lower percent body fat mass and lower percent waist fat mass (measured by dual-energy-X-Ray-absorptiometry). The researchers found a dose-dependent response in 60-80 year olds who enjoy wholegrain foods such as wholemeal & mixed grain bread, wholegrain breakfast cereals with greater than 25% wholegrains, brown rice, popcorn, porridge and other grains; ever more reason to eat more wholegrains. The authors state the dietary fibre from predominately wholegrain cereals appears to be more protective against the development of chronic disease compared with fruit or vegetable fibre.

The result of this study add to the growing body of evidence from other epidemiological studies that have shown middle-aged adults who eat more wholegrains have a lower body mass index (BMI) and central obesity, and tend to gain weight less significantly than those who eat mainly refined grains.

With abdominal adiposity a major risk factor for many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers, the Australian government recommends Australian women keep their waist circumference under 80cm and men under 94cm to reduce the risk of these chronic health problems.

Like many other studies, the average intake of wholegrains in this study population was low suggesting we should all be eating more wholegrains to help combat growing waistlines and chronic health problems. Switching your breakfast cereal or bread to one containing wholegrains is one of the easiest things you can do to increase your wholegrain intake.

In this study, the association between wholegrain intake and abdominal body fat remained significant after adjustment for refined grain. So the take home message is - you can still include refined grain foods such as pasta, white rice and white bread as part of a healthy and varied diet when you include wholegrains too. Do Santa's waistline a favour and offer wholegrains this Christmas.

Go Grains Health & Nutrition recommends all Australian adults eat a least 48g of wholegrains every day. Click here to visit the wholegrains page of the Go Grain website, where you will find loads of helpful information on wholegrains; including some common examples of wholegrain foods and their approximate wholegrain content, a visual guide of how to reach the 48g daily target for wholegrains and information on the health benefits of choosing wholegrain.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gluten free

Trend, friend or foe?

Towards the top of food trend prediction lists over the past few years, gluten free products have made a grand entrance, but are they here to stay? This once niche market, come latest food trend, is taking up more space than ever on supermarket shelves with statistics from the US suggesting the gluten free market has grown exponentially by 30% each year, for the past 5 years.
A gluten free diet is an essential part of the management of coeliac disease (pronounced seel-ee-ak) and non-coeliac gluten intolerance, but it offers no specific benefit for the average healthy consumer. Coeliac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder which, in the presence of gluten, causes the small intestine to become inflamed and lose its ability to absorb nutrients from food. Gluten is the protein found in foods containing wheat (and wheat-related grains such as spelt), barley, oats and rye.
Around 1 in 100 Australians have coeliac disease, but many more may be unaware they have it - the Coeliac Society of Australia estimates 75% of people with the condition remain undiagnosed. Correct medical diagnosis by small bowel biopsy is the first step in deciding if a life-long strict gluten free diet is necessary.
In addition to those with coeliac disease, the number of people believing they are gluten intolerant appears to be growing. Whether this represents a true increase, or is due to more people being tested, better technology, and/or larger numbers of people being misdiagnosed or self-diagnosed remains unclear.
Gluten free diets are often claimed to assist in the treatment of disorders such as autism, multiple sclerosis and attention deficit disorder. While there are proponents of such treatments, the scientific evidence to support the use of gluten free diets for situations other than coeliac disease or gluten intolerance is generally lacking.
Whatever the reason, interest in gluten free diets has 'boomed', fuelled by the combination of much greater availability of gluten free products (resulting from food manufacturers responding to market opportunity) and increased media attention on the issue. This increasing interest may be falsely interpreted to imply that gluten free foods are better for us, whereas in fact, these products do not offer any additional health benefits over regular products for people who are not gluten intolerant.
From a dietary perspective, gluten free products can be expensive, are often lower in dietary fibre and wholegrains, and bread made from these grains will not be fortified with folic acid. Gluten free grains such as rice, corn, quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), buckweat and amaranth provide dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, (especially in their wholegrain form) but it can be challenging to achieve a nutritionally adequate diet using ingredients that are less familiar and that may not have the same functionality in cooking. Check out the recipes section of the Go Grains website for some delicious recipes using rice and quinoa.
Australian dietary guidelines recommend that a diet for healthy adults, teenagers and children should include 'Plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain'. Whether you are four, fourteen or forty, aim to include at least '4+serves a day' of grain-based foods in your diet.
If you suspect you may have coeliac disease, it is best not to self-diagnose. Don't go 'gluten free' before you see your doctor to confirm the diagnosis. If the diagnosis is positive, arrange to see an accredited practising dietitian (APD) who will help plan a balanced diet.
Useful references:

Bread to boost brain performance

Bakers required to use iodised salt in bread

In last month's E-News we wrote about the new mandatory addition of folic acid to wheat flour for bread-making, introduced to help reduce the incidence of neural tube defects in babies. This month we can report that bread has also become a source of iodine - 3-4 slices (100g) of bread now provides around 46ug of iodine. A seemingly micro amount, this is actually almost one third of the daily requirement of iodine for Australian adults and over one third of the recommended amount for children. This is a step in the right direction to help combat the world's most preventable cause of mental retardation - iodine deficiency.

Mandatory fortification of all commercial breads (except organic bread) with iodised salt came into force on 9th October 2009. No additional salt is being added to bread, bakers will simply use iodised salt instead of standard salt hoping to reduce a re-emergence of iodine deficiency amongst many Australians. We only need about 1 teaspoon in a lifetime, however iodine is an essential trace mineral needed for regulation of normal growth and metabolism and is crucial at certain stages of foetal development during pregnancy and early childhood. The body can only store a small amount and regular top ups are needed from a variety of foods in a healthy balanced diet. Iodine is naturally found in foods such as oysters, fish, tuna, sushi (seaweed), dairy products and eggs.

A recent study published by Gordon et al in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that iodine supplementation can improve cognition in even mildly deficient children. This is good news considering the National Iodine Nutrition Study conducted in 2003-04 found that mainland Australian children on average are borderline iodine deficient, with NSW and Victorian children being mildly iodine deficient. Although the amount supplemented in this study was three times greater than the amount now found in 100g of bread (fortified with iodised salt), Food Standard Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) expects mandatory iodine fortification to reduce inadequate iodine intakes from 43% to less than 5% in the Australian population.

Useful references:

Creswell et al. Are Australian children iodine deficient? Results of the Australian National Iodine Nutrition Study. MJA 2006;184:165-169.

Gordon et al. Iodine supplementation improves cognition in mildly iodine-deficient children. AJCN 2009;90(5):1264-1271.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Folic acid now mandatory in bread

Neural tube defects in babies set to fall

There is now another reason for Australian's to enjoy the goodness of bread! To reduce the incidence of neural tube defects in up to 50 babies a year, as of the 13th September 2009, folic acid fortification of wheat flour for bread making is now mandatory in Australia.

Folate, occurring naturally in green leafy vegetables, is a B-group vitamin essential for growth and development of cells and a healthy nervous system. Especially important during times of rapid growth, it is recommended women planning to or who may become pregnant should consume an additional 400 micrograms of folic acid daily to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects in the newborn baby such as Spina Bifida.

Public health education initiatives have failed to help women of child-bearing age reach folic acid targets. So, now Australian flour millers are required to add between 2-3mg/kg of folic acid per kilogram of flour, which equates to around 120 micrograms of folic acid per 100g of bread (2-3 slices), which can help provide the additional protection against neural tube defects. To reach higher targets associated with pregnancy, women are still encouraged to consume a daily folic acid supplement at least 1 month before and 3 months after conception, as well as 'eating their daily bread'.

Folic acid fortification of wheat flour for bread making will include all plain, fancy and sweet breads and rolls, bagels, foccacia, English muffins, flat breads (containing yeast) and flour mixes for home bread-making. Other products that might be made with bread-making flour include crumpets, scones, pancakes, pikelets, crepes, yeast donuts, pizza bases and crumbed products. Packaged flour sold for domestic use, organic bread, or bread made from grains other than wheat are not required to contain folic acid, however, manufacturers may add folic acid if they wish.

Mandatory folic acid fortification has been used safely in the United States and Canada for over 10 years and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) will be monitoring the effectiveness of the increased levels of folic acid in the food supply.

Keep an eye out for another great reason to eat bread in October, when the use of iodised salt for bread-making will become mandatory.

Already one of the leading sources of fibre in the diets of Australians, low in fat, a source of protein, thiamin, niacin and now folic acid, there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the goodness of bread!


Research proves wholegrain benefits

Cereals & snacks provide antioxidant boost!

Dietitians often recommend green tea, red wine, nuts and fruits (especially berries) for their antioxidant boost! New research has discovered that many wholegrain breakfast cereals, and wholegrain snacks like popcorn and wholegrain crispbreads, have surprisingly large amounts of polyphenols, regarded as great antioxidants.

Researchers investigated the total polyphenol content of around 40 breakfast cereals and 20 snacks and found that wholegrain products have comparable antioxidants per gram to fruits and vegetables. The study revealed higher antioxidant levels than previous studies because the researchers analysed total polyphenol content rather than focusing on free antioxidants, which are not bound to sugar.

Ready to eat, cold breakfast cereals made with oats were found to have the highest antioxidants, followed by corn and wheat. Popcorn was at the top of the snack list, blitzing the competition with as much as five times as many antioxidants as the nearest rival.

Packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre along with polyphenols, scientific studies have found that regular consumption of wholegrain foods can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and even help you to manage your weight. So jump on the wholegrain train!


  • Try air popping your own corn kernels and use herbs to replace salt. Garlic powder, chilli powder, basil and oregano work well.
  • Did you know plain popcorn, without added butter or sugar, contains around 4 times less saturated fat and 5 times more fibre than you average potato crisps? So choose low fat or homemade popcorn next time you feel like a snack.
  • Popcorn is a wholegrain! One 20g serve of plain popcorn contains around 15g of wholegrains - that's 30% of your daily target intake for wholegrains! (as recommended by Go Grains Health & Nutrition).