Friday, December 7, 2012

Legumes and chronic disease

Evidence of the health benefits of legumes builds

The science supporting the health benefits of legumes is stacking up with two large intervention studies indicating the importance of eating legumes regularly for older people and people with diabetes. Only one in five Australians eat legumes regularly and so with rising rates of chronic disease, Australian’s stand to benefit more than ever from the health benefits associated with increasing legume intake.

Legumes and Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is one of Australia's largest health problems and is the term used for heart, stroke and any disease of the blood vessel. The Heart Foundation estimates that this disease accounts for approximately 33% of deaths each year, “killing one Australian every 11 minutes”.1 A recent study compared risk factors for cardiovascular disease for individuals aged 50 years and older following their regular diet versus a legume based diet. The legume based diet included 150g dry weight (250g wet weight) per day of foods prepared with lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas. The authors concluded that a legume based diet reduced total and LDL-cholesterol in individuals aged 50 years and older, an age at which the risk of cardiovascular disease is elevated. These observations were estimated to reduce coronary heart disease by 17-25%.2

Legumes provide a range of essential nutrients including protein, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins. The component in legumes which may account for their cholesterol-lowering effects may be dietary fibre, through its action of binding bile acids in the intestine and preventing their reabsorption. This recent study found that participants ate approximately 36% more fibre during the pulse based diet compared with the regular diet.2

Legumes and Diabetes

Nearly one million Australians have diabetes, surprisingly it is estimated that about half of those are not aware that they have the condition. As poorly controlled diabetes is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease it is no surprise that around 75% of Australian’s with diabetes die from cardiovascular disease.3

Legumes are among the lowest glycemic index (GI) foods. Low GI foods are digested slowly and they have been shown to improve blood glucose control in people with diabetes. A recent Canadian study compared a low GI diet which encouraged individuals to eat at least one cup (around 190g) of cooked pulses per day with a high wheat fibre diet were whole wheat cereals, breads and brown rice were emphasised. The authors concluded that eating legumes as part of a low GI diet improved blood glucose control and reduced risk of coronary heart disease in individuals with diabetes.4

These findings support current recommendations for individuals with diabetes to include legumes to decrease the overall GI of their diet. The mechanism behind improved blood glucose with higher legume intake may not only be accounted for by the low GI of legumes. Legumes contain soluble fibre and vegetable proteins which may contribute to improved blood glucose control observed with higher intake of legumes.

How much should we eat?

In the studies discussed the participants were encouraged to eat around 250g & 190g of cooked legumes daily, respectively. On average Australians only eat 18.5 grams of legumes per week.5 This average is deceptive because actually most Australian’s are not eating any legumes regularly. Aiming for at least two serves of legumes a week is a good start, but keep in mind the health benefits associated with higher intakes of legumes.

One serve = 75g or ½ cup cooked beans, peas or lentils.

For more information on legumes visit our website to download copy of ‘Lifting the Lid on Legumes’ and ‘Tips and Tricks to enjoying legumes more often’ as well as our recently developed fact sheet “Heart Health with grains and legumes”. While you’re there pick up some ideas from our legume recipe pages.


1. The Heart Foundation. Accessed online 13th November 2012.
2. Abeysekara, S et al. A pulse based diet is effective for reducing total and LDL cholesterol in older adults. British Journal of Nutrition 2012, 108, pp S103- S110
3. Diabetes Australia. Accessed online 13th November 2012.
4. Jenkins, D et al. Effect of legumes as part of a low glycemic index diet on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: a randomized controlled trial. Archives of Internal Medicine 2012. Published online.
5. Project Go Grain, Colmar Brunton 2011

Surviving the festive season

Healthy tips and tasty ideas

With the festive season approaching we are all looking forward to celebrating good food among good company. With all of the celebration and excitement around this time of year it can often become all too easy to depart from your usual healthy eating habits and so it’s no wonder they call it silly season. Our team of dietitians have therefore put together some simple tips and tasty ideas to you get through the festive season.

Balance it out

Tis the season, so be sure to enjoy your favourite treats in moderation. While enjoying the celebrations don’t forget to balance out your food choices and aim to include a variety of core grains foods and legumes as well as lean protein, low fat dairy, fruit, salads and vegetables to get all of the nutrients you need.

Keep your eating routine

This time of year often means changes in your daily routine, it is important to maintain a regular eating pattern to get the most out of time away from work or study. By eating regularly you can maintain your energy levels and prevent yourself from overeating at the next meal and feeling as stuffed as the Christmas turkey. Check out these quick and easy meal & snack ideas:

Crispy Chickpea Snack

Tuna Delight

Rye Bread Crostinis

Plan to perform in the Christmas crowds

Plan a nutritious meal before heading out to do your Christmas shopping. If you are planning a big day of bargains why not bring some healthy snacks with you. Base your pre shopping meal or snacks on core grain foods or legumes to provide you with lasting energy to get through the Christmas crowds.

• Whole grain (wholemeal or mixed grain) toast, crumpets or English muffins

• High fibre or whole grain breakfast cereal or natural muesli

• Porridge or bircher muesli

• Sandwiches, rolls or wraps made with high fibre bread and your favourite filling

• Salads made with grains like brown rice and cracked wheat (bulgur), or legumes like four bean mix, kidney beans and chickpeas

Be innovative

Experiment with some not so familiar grains and legumes. Why not try some of these easy to make snacks and side dish ideas:

Beetroot hummus

Mung bean dip

French style lentil and quinoa salad

Wheat berry and quinoa tabouleh

Greenwheat FreekehTM kibbeh skewers

Faba bean salad

Keep the fibre up

Avoid putting on the Christmas kilo’s by eating adequate fibre. Research shows that high fibre diets can help manage hunger levels and decrease the desire to eat soon after a meal. Studies show the average effect of increasing dietary fibre intakes may achieve a decreased kilojoule intake which is a vital part of weight control. To increase your fibre intake choose high fibre grains foods and legumes as well as other sources of fibre which include fruit, vegetable and nuts so aim to include a variety of these foods in your diet. To learn more about the additional benefits of dietary fibre check out our fact sheet here.


1. Slavin JL and Green H. Dietary fibre and satiety. Nutrition Bulletin. 2007; 32 (suppl 1), 32–42.
2. Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr Rev. 2001; 59:129-139.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Snapshots from ICD

Three sessions reviewed
Two thousand dietitians converged on the Sydney Convention Centre in September for the International Congress of Dietetics. With so much to see it was hard to decide which sessions to attend. We have put together a summary of three interesting presentations from the conference.

Food Insulin Index Presentation Overview

Kirsten Bell from Diabetes Australia presented the results of an intervention trial investigating which foods stimulate insulin secretion and the relative differences as indicated by the Food Insulin Index (FII). Unlike the Glycemic Index (GI) which indicates the effect of carbohydrate in a food on blood glucose levels, the FII is a measure of the normal insulin demand of a whole food. The FII is determined by taking 1,000kJ portions of food and measuring the insulin response relative to a reference food. Similar to GI, the higher Index numbers indicates greater response. It appears from the results that all three macronutrients affect insulin secretion, not just carbohydrate.

Some example values:

Mars bar 89
White bread 73
Apple 43
Grain Bread 41
Beef 37
Chicken 19

Kirsten explained that the FII is an emerging area of research and so it is not recommended that dietitians use this in counselling of patients until more research has been conducted. Current research is investigating if following a lower FII diet can lead to reduced risk of glucose intolerance and so help with blood glucose control.

GoScan Presentation Overview

GoScanTM is a new smart phone app that will allow Australians to scan the barcode of products on the shelf to access information about the product including ingredients, allergens and nutrients. There will be a controlled release of the app in October and the general release is planned for March 2013. A total of 15,000 products will be able to be scanned, representing 60% of the products on shelf. The company is working with organisations such as the Heart Foundation Tick and the Healthy Kids Association to also provide information about the products that meet the criteria for these programs.

Are our kids fibre recommendations a little rough? Presentation Overview

The current Australian recommendations for fibre intake for children are based on population studies. This assumes that children are eating enough fibre to maintain healthy bowel function because there is not a high prevalence of digestive health issues in Australian children. However, at a breakfast seminar hosted by Kellogg Nutrition, Professor Terry Bolin from the Gut Foundation shared the results from a survey of Australian children in 2011 which found that 40% of Australian children (8-12 years) do regularly suffer pain, constipation or diarrhoea. The mothers surveyed reported recommending their child drink water to ease constipation rather than increase fibre in the diet. So perhaps the current recommendations are not enough. Professor Joanne Slavin, a fibre expert from the University of Minnesota, pointed out that unfortunately there is not enough research on the amount of fibre children need for good gut health.

The Gut Foundation is also currently conducting research looking into the effect of high fibre breakfast cereal on digestive health. It is hoped this 14-day trial will add to the evidence for the benefit if fibre in the diet of children. Professor Bolin highlighted that as we tell people to eat fewer calories fibre intake reduces, so it is important to help people, including children, make smarter choices.

Final word....

My favourite quote from the conference: ‘We live in an era where people die by their own hand, by their fork’, Julian Cribb, author.

Food for thought

Enjoy a healthy diet today for an active mind tomorrow

It seems we are just waking up to the idea that what we eat may affect our mood, our risk of depression or even our risk of developing dementia in old age. New research indicates that our health in mid-life may affect our mental health both now and later in life. This emerging area of science was one focus of the recent Food Industry Forum for Nutrition Research in Sydney.

Mood and anxiety disorders affect a large number of people and affect people from a very young age. One Australian study found that 35% of women reported having had a mood or anxiety disorder at some stage during their lives.1 The average age of onset of anxiety disorders is 6 years old and depression is 13 years old. Given these figures it is not surprising depression is anticipated to be the second highest cause of disability in the world by 2020. What may be surprising though is that these mental disorders appear to be linked to the choices we make in the food we eat.

At the Food Industry Forum in September, Associate Professor Felice Jacka gave a presentation of the latest research in this area including a number of studies conducted in Australia. In an Australian study of 1,000 women a ‘traditional diet’ consisting mainly of vegetables, fruit, beef, lamb, whole grains and fish was linked to lower risk of both anxiety and depression. A ‘Western diet’ characterized by high intakes of fast food and junk food increased risk of these conditions.2 A/Professor Jacka explained there are now a large number of population studies that indicate a less healthy diet is linked to higher risk of mental disorders, even when taking into account other factors such as social situation, income, age or family history.

Interestingly studies in teenagers show similar results. In one example an Australian prospective cohort study of adolescents found that teens whose diet became less healthy were more likely to have deteriorating mental health. Given the young age of onset of mental health disorders, the authors suggest it is possible a healthier diet could help prevent common mental health disorders in adulthood.

Our physical health in our early years may also affect our mental health later in life. At the Forum, Professor Kaarin Anstey from the Australian National University presented the findings of a systematic review of the link between mid-life obesity and increased risk of late-life dementia. The review found that people who are overweight or obese in mid-life are more likely to suffer Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later in life. It appears that abdominal adiposity (carrying more weight around the belly) in particular increases risk.

Professor Dye from Leeds University in the UK explained that changes in cognition may be due to foods having direct effect on the brain. Alternatively, changes in the food we eat may also lead to better health by lowering blood pressure, losing weight, improving blood sugar control or blood flow. Better health may help to improve brain function as trials have shown that people who are obese, have type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance do not do as well in tests of memory and concentration.

So, a healthy diet now is not just important for your physical wellbeing, it may also help keep your mind healthy well into old age. To reduce your risk of declining mental health due to gaining weight, or developing chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease enjoy a variety of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes every day.


Presentations from the Food Industry Forum for Nutrition Research
  • Associate Professor Felice Jacka, Deakin University: Diet as a modifiable risk factor for depression
  • Professor Kaarin Anstey from the Australian National University: The association between obesity, cognitive decline and dementia from middle age to late life
  • Louise Dye, University of Leeds: Foods for cognitive performance
Presentations may be viewed here:

1. Williams L, et al. The prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders in Australian women. Australas Psychiatry. 2010 Jun;18(3):250-5.

2. Jacka F, et al. Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Mar;167(3):305-11.

3. Jacka F, et al. A Prospective Study of Diet Quality and Mental Health in Adolescents. PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24805

Monday, August 6, 2012

For the love of legumes

Why aren't Australians eating enough legumes?

The recent draft Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend enhancing dietary variety by increasing the intake of alternatives to meat, including legumes1. Legumes are well-placed to fill this role as they are nutritious, sustainable and inexpensive alternatives. However, while dietitians and journalists talk up the health benefits, it seems we’re not getting the message. So why aren’t Australians eating legumes?

On average Australians eat 18.5 grams of legumes, or a quarter of one serve, per week2. But this average is deceptive because actually most people are not eating any legumes. In 2011, the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council commissioned a survey to track consumption of legumes in Australia which found only one in five Australians eat legumes regularly. Despite health professionals recommending legumes this hasn’t changed since 2009 when the first survey asked this same question. In the 2011 survey, the top three reasons reported for not eating legumes were lack of knowledge of how to prepare them, a poor understanding of the health benefits and concern over side effects such as bloating and flatulence2.

So let’s take a look at these issues.

What is a legume?
Legumes, also called pulses, are from the Fabaceae botanical family. Some Australian-grown legumes include chickpeas, lentils, mung beans and lupin. They can be eaten whole, used as flours in baking, or even sprouted.

What’s so good about legumes?
Legumes are an important part of the Mediterranean Diet, an indication of their part in a healthy dietary pattern. Observational studies suggest regular consumption of legumes is linked to longer life and reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer3,4,5. This correlates with comprehensive reviews of intervention trials that indicate legumes can help manage both cholesterol and blood glucose6,7. In addition, emerging evidence indicates legumes may help in weight management8.

Legumes are one of the most sustainable sources of protein in the world. Although Australian evidence is limited, international studies indicate that legumes use the least land and have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions compared to other sources of protein including meat, eggs and dairy. Legume crops also contribute to sustainable food production by improving soil through nitrogen fixation9,10.

Legumes are also a great bang for your buck as they’re more cost effective than meat or fish11. So bringing down the cost of your family meal is as easy as replacing some meat with kidney beans, lentils or chickpeas.

And if you needed more reasons to add a legume to your day, if you want to buy Aussie-grown, then look no further than your humble legume. Australia grows more than 12 different types of legumes and we are the world’s leading chickpea exporter as well as in the top five producers of faba beans12.

How much do I need?
Aiming for at least two serves of legumes a week is a good start, but evidence indicates people who eat legumes four times or more times a week are less likely to develop cardiovascular disease13.

One serve = 75g or ½ cup cooked beans, peas or lentils.

Aren’t legumes difficult to cook?
Most dried legumes need to be soaked to make them easier to digest and absorb the nutrients. If you need them in a hurry you can opt for a ‘quick soak’ method where you bring them to a boil then let them stand for one hour. Alternatively, use split peas or lentils which don’t need to be soaked at all, just boil them for about 20 minutes or add them directly to your casserole as it cooks.

No time to soak? You can buy canned legumes like kidney beans, chickpeas or lentils which can be added straight into stews, soups or salads. The sodium can be reduced by half just by rinsing them thoroughly14. They even come in single serve sizes which are flavoured or mixed with tuna or vegetables, perfect for work or school.

Won’t they give me gas?
A recent study suggests not everyone gets gas from legumes and most people adjust after about 8 weeks15. So, just like any high fibre food, don’t rush in and eat legumes three times a day. Start off slowly by eating them once a week then gradually eat more, drink plenty of water and exercise regularly.

Gas is caused by the galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) in the legumes. These can be reduced by different preparation methods.

Try these tips to reduce gas:
  • Change the water once or twice while they soak.
  • When you’re ready to cook, drain the soaked legumes and use fresh water for cooking
  • If you’re using canned legumes, rinse them before adding to your meal.
For more information on legumes visit our website to download copy of ‘Lifting the Lid on Legumes’ and ‘Tips and Tricks to enjoying legumes more often’. While you’re there pick up some ideas from our legume recipe pages.

1. NHMRC. Draft Australian Dietary Guidelines for public consultation. 2011.
2. Colmar Brunton. Project Go Grain. 2011
3. Darmadi-Blackberry I, et al. Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004;13(2):217-20.
4. Flight I and Clifton P. Cereal grains and legumes in the prevention of coronary heart disease and stroke: a review of the literature. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006;60(10):1145-59
5. Villegas R, Gao Y, Yang G, Li H, Elasy T, Zheng W, and Shu X. Legume and soy food intake and incidence of type 2 diabetes in the Shanghai Women’s Health Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008;87:162-167
6. Bazzano LA, et al. Non-soy legume consumption lowers cholesterol levels: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2011 Feb;21(2):94-103.
7. Sievenpiper J,et al. Effect of non-oilseed pulses on glycaemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled experimental trials in people with and without diabetes. Diabetologia. 2009;52:1479-1495
8. McCrory MA, et al. Pulse consumption, satiety, and weight management. Adv Nutr. 2010;1(1):17-30.
9. Health Council of the Netherlands. Guidelines for a healthy diet: the ecological perspective. The Hague: Health Council of the Netherlands, 2011; publication no. 2011/08E.
10. Zentner R, et al. Pulse Crops Improve Energy Intensity and Productivity of Cereal Production in Montana, USA. Soil and Tillage Research. 2004; 77 (2):125–136
11. Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. Meat and alternative product audit. 2012
12. Pulse Australia
13. Bazzano LA, et al. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study.Arch Intern Med. 2001 Nov 26;161(21):2573-8.
14. Duyff RL, et al. Sodium Reduction in canned Beans after draining, rinsing. J Culinary Science and Technology. 2011;9(2):106-112
15. Winham DM, Hutchins AM. Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies. Nutr J. 2011 Nov 21;10:128.

Think you know your freekeh from your millet?

Visit our stand at ICD to find out!

Calling all dietitians attending the International Congress of Dietetics in September: Test your knowledge of Australian-grown grains and legumes at our "MasterDietitian" Challenge. Guess the three grains and three legume types correctly and you’ll be in the running to win a copy of the e-cookbook 'The Tired and Hungry Cook'.

The Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council is looking forward to the International Congress of Dietetics (ICD) in Sydney from the 5th - 8th of September. For the first time in 34 years this international conference will be held in Australia and over 2,000 attendees from around the globe are expected.

Some of the sessions we are particularly looking forward to are the symposium on 'What helps people lose weight and keep it off, a summary of the evidence' from several leading Australian dietitians, as well as the presentation ‘Food fortification: the evidence, ethics and politics’ by the Australian APD Associate Professor Mark Lawrence.

We are also very pleased to have an exhibition stand at a dietetics conference for the first time. To celebrate we’re holding a "MasterDietitian" competition on the stand sponsored by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC). More than nine different grains and twelve types of legumes are grown in Australia. Do you think you would recognize a mung bean or know the difference between a grain of wheat and a grain of barley? Visit us on our stand at ICD to find out and test your skills against other dietitians in our "MasterDietitian" competition.

Each session we’ll have three types of grains and three types of legumes hidden under tagines for you to lift the lid and guess their identity. Guess correctly and you go into the draw to win one of 18 e-cookbooks from StoneSoup blogger Jules Clancy ( There will be a new chance to win each session as the grains and legumes will be different every session. For the Tweeps among you, we will be providing hints and announcing the winner via twitter so stay tuned to out hashtag #masterdietitian. To follow us on twitter click here.

We will also have all of our resources available for you to pick up, including our latest scientific updates on the benefits of grains and legumes in the diet. Our whole team will be there so please do stop by and say ‘hi’. We would love to meet our e-news subscribers face-to-face.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Plant-based nutrition

Shifting to a more plant based diet

Dietary Guidelines around the globe recommend the inclusion of grain foods and legumes as part of a healthy diet. Despite this, there is a common belief that a diet including larger amounts of plant-based foods may not provide adequate nutrients. New Australian research has demonstrated that it is possible to achieve adequate nutrient intake on a diet that is dominated by whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables.

According to Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM, “Diets dominated by whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables are almost certainly the way of the future.” Dr Stanton is the editor of a supplement of peer-reviewed articles dedicated to plant-based nutrition was published this week with the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA). The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council is pleased to be associated with this extensive review of the science demonstrating the contribution of plant-based foods to the Australian diet.

Comparisons of population intakes with dietary recommendations indicate that to meet dietary intakes people need to shift toward a more plant-based eating pattern. The recently published draft Australian Dietary Guidelines indicates that to satisfy recommended dietary intakes, adults need to increase grain foods in the diet by 30%, and in particular high-fibre and wholegrain products by 160%. In addition Australians would need to consume 40% more fish, poultry, seafood and eggs, or legumes / beans, nuts or seeds.

International recommendations also indicate a similar shift. At the recent Wholegrain Summit in the USA, Dr Eric Rimm from Harvard University and a member of the advisory committee for the US Dietary Guidelines, explained that one of the key principles of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines was to encourage a diet that includes more plant foods such as whole grains, legumes, nuts and fruit and vegetables.

The MJA supplement includes articles on the adequacy of a diet dominated by plant foods and highlights the contribution of plant foods such as grains and legumes to key nutrients in a healthy diet. Plant-based foods such as grains and legumes, along with nuts and seeds, are a source of a range of nutrients including protein, iron and zinc.

Plant foods contribute significantly to the protein intake in the Australian diet. While most grain and legume foods have limited amounts of some amino acids, the review found that a varied plant-based diet can easily meet protein requirements as long the diet meets energy needs.

A diet rich in whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, iron-fortified cereals and green leafy vegetables provides an adequate intake of iron. The paper in the MJA Supplement on iron requirements explains that this is because a person eating a more plant-based diet will adjust to absorb iron more readily. In fact, most of the iron in the Australian diet comes from plant foods.

Phytate is a known inhibitor of zinc absorption. However, the inhibition can be reduced by processes used to make or prepare most grain foods legumes such as soaking, heating, fermenting and leavening. Plant foods high in zinc include cooked brown rice (1.9mg in 1 cup), tofu (1.7mg/100g), and cashews (1.7g/30g handful).

This research demonstrates that it is possible to achieve adequate nutrient intake on a diet that is dominated by whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council recommends Australians follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines and eat a variety of foods including high fibre and whole grain foods as well as legumes.

The 40 page supplement is available online via the MJAOPEN website

National Health and Medical Research Council. Revised Draft for Public Consultation:

Australian Dietary Guidelines & Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. 2011, Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra

Grain foods for health

Working towards healthier grain foods for everyone

Public health as the key outcome of primary industry, a global definition for whole grain food, and ways to change consumers of health care into consumers of health. These were all hot topics of discussion at a recent global meeting of international leaders in the field of grain research, policy and communication. As scientists, policy makers, food manufacturers, health care professionals and interested individuals we all have a role to play.

Robyn Murray, CEO and Michelle Broom, Nutrition Manager
Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council attending the conference

In May the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council partnered with a number of organisations from around the world for the 2012 Whole Grains Summit in Minnesota USA. The Summit brought together scientists as well as business and health professionals from around the globe working in the area of grains and grain foods to discuss how to improve the availability of healthier grain-based foods for everyone. Presentations ranged from breeding grains to improve nutritional benefit through to regulations and communication strategies to encourage the next generation to include more nutritious grain foods in their diet.

Dr Eric Rimm, from Harvard University and a member of the advisory committee for the US Dietary Guidelines, explained that one of the key principles of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines was to encourage a more plant-based diet. However, he stressed it is important that these are plant-based foods with high nutritional value.

At the first step, breeding, researchers are exploring ways to improve the nutrient quality of the grain we eat while also addressing the challenge of meeting the needs of an increasing global population. Current projects range from ultra low gluten barley to lower GI wheat as well as plant-based sources of EPA and DHA omega-3 fats. A number of speakers explained how flour millers and food manufacturers are working to ensure the integrity of this improved nutritional value is maintained through processing. However, John Finley, from the US Department of Agriculture, pointed out that the current focus for wheat breeding is productivity not health. He suggested that one way to change the paradigm to produce grains for health is to connect breeders and nutritionists.

Moving from grain to food, a key theme that emerged from the Summit was the need for a definition of a whole grain food. Several countries have a definition of ‘whole grain’ as containing the same fraction of endosperm, germ and bran. However, whole grain foods currently contain a broad range of whole grain content. For example bread may contain anything from 1 gram to 20 grams of whole grain per slice. It was agreed that a minimum whole grain content to call a food ‘whole grain’ would help not only people buying food but also researchers and policy makers. As 48g per day of whole grain has been adopted as a target intake in several countries, including Australia, it was suggested that a minimum of 8 g/serve would useful minimum. By having the recommended six serves of grain food with 8g of whole grain would allow a person to meet the 48g daily target.

To help change consumers of health care into consumers of health a number of speakers suggested we look to the next generation. A hangover from the recommendation for low fat, high fibre foods may be part of the problem when it comes to the idea many adults have that high fibre foods don’t taste good. A whole new generation may be more open to trying high fibre foods, made with good fats and so help the family make more nutritious grain choices. One way this is being attempted is by introducing whole grain-rich foods to school lunches across the US. Starting on July 1st 2013, all grain foods in school breakfasts and school lunches must be whole grain-rich.

It was agreed that a strategic approach is needed for research, policy, food manufacture and communication in the area of grain foods. From breeding better grains, producing a greater variety of good quality food choices through to helping people make those choices we all have a part to play in making nutritious foods more accessible for everyone.

For more information on the Summit visit\

Recordings and slides from a selection of the presentations will be available in the coming months on the Grains for Health Foundation website

Whole Grains Summit 2012. Whole Grains & Health from theory to practice. May 20-22, 2012. Minneapolis, MN USA.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Good news for bean lovers

Beans, beans are good for your heart

Despite the fact that legumes like kidney beans and lentils are linked to lower risk of heart disease and some cancers, many people don’t eat them for fear of increased gas. But a new study from the US suggests that not everyone is affected and most people adjust after just a few weeks of eating them.  

In a recent study, data from three randomized controlled trials was analysed to determine if the levels of gas and discomfort people experienced when they ate legumes changed when they ate them regularly for a number of weeks.

Healthy adults were asked to eat half a cup legumes (pinto beans, black-eyed peas or navy beans) or carrots each day for 8-12 weeks. They were also asked to complete weekly questionnaires about perceived flatulence, bloating and stool frequency or consistency.

 In the first week of each intervention the percentage of subjects reporting increased flatulence varied by bean type (baked beans 47%, pinto beans 50%, black-eyed peas 19%) and all were significantly higher than those eating carrots (3%). However in all three studies this percentage declined steadily with time so that by week 8 only 3% of participants still reported increased flatulence. Seventy percent or more of participants who experienced flatulence no longer felt it by the second or third week.

Reported stool changes were fewer than for flatulence, with only 10% reporting changes in the first week, which also declined with time.  Reports of bloating also varied by bean type but declined over time to a level equivalent to controls (3%) by week 7. The highest reports of bloating were from pinto beans, followed by baked beans and then black-eyed peas.

For each of the symptoms, black-eyed peas (with a lower fibre content) resulted in generally lower responses than the pinto or baked beans.  Age, BMI and macronutrient intake were not associated with symptoms, but more women than men reported increased bloating and stool changes. A small proportion of subjects reported increased flatulence even on control diets.

The authors conclude that people’s concerns about excessive flatulence from eating beans may be exaggerated, and varies by bean type across individuals. They state: “After a few weeks of daily bean consumption, people perceive that flatulence occurrence returns to normal levels”, although “a small percentage of individuals may be bothered by increased flatulence regardless of the length of time they consume legumes”.

The Australian dietary guidelines recommend eating legumes regularly and the research suggests there are many long-term health benefits to eating 2 – 3 serves per week. As with any high fibre food, it is best to eat small amounts at first and remember to drink water and get exercise to help reduce the chance of gas. For ideas on how to add more beans to your week, click here.   

Winham DM, Hutchins AM.Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies. Nutrition Journal 2011;10:128.

A twist on traditional grains

Wheat but not as you know it

You may have noticed a new ‘ancient grain’ popping up on the menu of restaurants and cafes lately: freekeh (pronounced free-ka). It looks a little like burghul and has a nutty, roasted flavour. But the freekeh on the menu is actually a grain that is more familiar than you might think...

Freekeh has been a part of the diet in Egypt and the Middle East since ancient times where people harvested grain early, burnt it and then rubbed the grain to remove the husk. ‘Freekeh’ comes from the Arabic word meaning “to rub”, so it is not the name of the grain but the name of the process. While wheat is the grain usually used, other grains may also be used.

So, the grain in your freekeh salad is in fact wheat which has been harvested when it is green, roasted and then rubbed.  An Australian company based in Adelaide has developed a modern system for producing freekeh and it is this Greenwheat FreekehTM that you can buy in the supermarket. The manufacturers of Greenwheat FreekehTM are working on using the same process on other types of grains such as barley and triticale.

Two different varieties of Greenwheat FreekehTM are available: wholegrain and cracked. According to Tony Lutfi, owner of Greenwheat FreekehTM, both are technically wholegrain as they contain the bran, the germ and the endosperm. The cracked variety cooks more rapidly but, both varieties are low GI.

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that people with intolerance to gluten may be able to tolerate Geenwheat FreekehTM. Tony Lutfi  explains that, “Research has indicated that early harvesting and roasting techniques denature the wheat gluten”. However, the effect on people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance has not yet been proven by clinical trials.

Greenwheat FreekehTM is higher in fibre than regular wheat. A study by the CSIRO of 20 adults found that, compared to white rice or cous cous,  Greenwheat FreekehTM improved markers of bowel health including increased numbers of healthy bacteria. In particular it increased the production of butyrate, which is formed when the healthy bacteria in the bowel break down fibre in food.1 Butyrate is thought to promote the death of colorectal cancer cells and so lower risk of bowel cancer.2

Freekeh can be cooked in the same way as rice and it can be added to salads, soups or stews. Just like brown rice, the wholegrain variety takes a little longer to cook.

1. CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition. Effects of Greenwheat FreekehTM on biomarkers of bowel health and cardiovascular health.
2. Bird et al. Resistant starch, large bowel fermentation and broader perspective of prebiotics and probiotics. Benef Microbes. 2010; 1(4):423-31

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cereal Fibre - beyond roughage

New research highlights importance of grains in the diet

A new review has provided more evidence of the importance of including a range of different fibre sources in a healthy diet, including grain foods. The meta-analysis of cohort studies reports that fibre from grain foods and particularly wholegrains is associated with reduced risk of bowel cancer, but fibre from fruit and vegetables does not have a significant association. Grain foods may be one key to help unlock the puzzle of our rising rates of bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer. It’s not really dinner time conversation, but maybe it should be. Colorectal cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in Australia, affecting 1 in 12 people under the age of 85 and leading to the death of almost 80 people every week.

The good news is that if it is found early there is a high chance of survival, and even better news is that making smart choices about what you eat today could help reduce your chances of developing bowel cancer later.

Previous research has shown that people who eat higher-fibre foods, like fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, are less likely to develop a range of diseases, including bowel cancer. Recently, a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of 25 prospective cohort studies went one step further to determine if some high-fibre foods were better choices than others when it comes to preventing bowel cancer.

From an analysis of the eight cohort studies that reported on cereal fibre intake, the review found that for every 10g of cereal fibre, the risk of developing bowel cancer was reduced by 10% (RR=0.90 CI 0.83 – 0.97). The study also considered the effect of wholegrain foods including wholemeal bread, oats, wholegrain breakfast cereal, wholegrain rye bread, and brown rice. People who ate 3 serves of wholegrain foods per day were 17% less likely to develop bowel cancer than those people who didn’t eat wholegrain foods. Interestingly, the study found that fruit and vegetable fibre did not significantly help protect against bowel cancer (RR= 0.93, CI 0.82-1.05 and RR=0.98, CI 0.91-1.06 respectively).

The way in which fibre helps reduce the risk of colorectal cancer is due to several effects in the gut, but the precise mechanism is not yet fully understood. We know that fibre helps keep you regular which has many health benefits, but more recent research has also linked fibre in some grain foods to higher levels of bacteria in the bowel that produce short-chain-fatty-acids including butyrate. Recent research by the CSIRO found that increasing the intake of rye bread lead to significantly high levels of butyrate which is believed to help prevent cancer cell proliferation in the bowel.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund scientific review in 2011, other foods that may help fight bowel cancer are garlic, milk, and calcium. Other ways to reduce your chances of getting bowel cancer is to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day, and to limit the amount of processed meat (like salami) in your diet.


Out Now: Revised Australian Dietary Guidelines

Let’s help communicate the benefits of grain foods

Go Grains is concerned that the reduction in the serve size of grain foods in the revised Dietary Guidelines will send the wrong message to Australians – to limit core grain foods in the diet. We are recommending that the serve sizes remain the same and that the NHMRC considers a target number of wholegrain foods each day. Rather than suggesting people reduce core grain foods, Go Grains believes it is more important to encourage people to limit grain foods that are high in saturated fat and sodium and swap back to core grain foods.

A revision to the current Australian Dietary Guidelines is currently available in draft form for public comment (until February 29th). While most Australians are not aware of the Dietary Guidelines they are an important guide used by health professionals, policy makers, educators, food manufacturers, food retailers and researchers, to help improve the diets of Australians. So it is important that they send effective, evidence-based messages.

While Go Grains supports the revision to the Dietary Guidelines and acknowledges the huge amount of work that has gone into their development, we do have concerns about several of the key messages on grain and legume foods.

A reduction in serve size of grain foods

One of our key concerns is the change in serve size of grain foods from the recommendation in the 1998 Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, in most cases halving the serve size. For example a recommended serve of muesli is ¼ cup (30g) rather than ½ cup.

Go Grains is concerned that reducing the recommended serve size for grain foods will suggest Australians should reduce their core grain food consumption when our Consumption Study in 2011 indicates that Australians are already reducing their intake of core grain foods (1 slice of bread less per day than in 2009). Sending a message to reduce core grain foods is counter to the five evidence statements in the Guidelines that outline the benefits of core grain foods including reducing risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer.

Also, if food manufacturers change their recommended serve sizes to align with the new recommendation, many products will no longer be labelled high in fibre and the ability to communicate the benefits of high fibre foods will be lost.

We recognise the need to encourage a major shift in the form in which people consume cereal foods towards core forms such as breads, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals and away from pastries, cakes and biscuits. To support this, we believe the Dietary Guidelines should be careful not to send the wrong message to reduce intake of core grain foods.

A target number of wholegrain serves

Guideline 1 states ‘Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods including grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain'. While the scientific evidence is growing on the benefits of wholegrain foods and high fibre grain foods, our Consumption Study in 2011 suggests that Australians are choosing wholegrains only once per day, which is less often than they were just two years ago. To help encourage Australians to eat more wholegrain foods and high fibre grain foods, Go Grains would like to see a recommended number of serves of wholegrains per day that reflects the evidence statements of 3 – 5 serves.

To align with the diet models which were used to develop the Guide to Healthy Eating, we suggest a recommendation that 2/3 of grain foods be wholegrain. For example for adults (19 – 50 years) ‘4 of the 6 serves of grain foods are wholegrain’.


Go Grains believes that the benefits of legumes have been under-rated in the draft Dietary Guidelines. Legumes are not consumed regularly by many Australians despite their benefits in terms of nutritional quality, chronic disease risk reduction and environmental sustainability. To help encourage Australians to increase their intake of these unique foods we suggest that a weekly recommended intake be considered, based on scientific evidence. Studies indicate eating 2 – 4 serves of legumes per week are associated with reduced risk of heart disease, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

For these reasons Go Grains will be recommending that:

• the serve sizes of grain foods are kept the same as the AGTHE 98
• the recommendation of mostly wholegrain include a target number of wholegrain serves per day (eg: 4 of the 6 serves are wholegrain)
• a recommendation to eat legumes at least 3 times a week is added

We will be commenting on these draft Guidelines and we urge you to do so as well. To review the draft documents and make a submission visit the dedicated website before February 29th


Project Go Grain, Colmar Brunton 2011

Bazzano, L.A., et al., Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med, 2001. 161(21): p. 2573-8.

Adebamowo, C.A., et al., Dietary flavonols and flavonol-rich foods intake and the risk of breast cancer. Int J Cancer, 2005. 114(4): p. 628-33