Friday, January 25, 2013

Grains and legumes on the plate

The new Dietary Guidelines: know your serve sizes

The new Australian Dietary Guidelines were launched this week by the National Health and Medical Research Council.  It is good to see that the Guidelines continue to encourage Australians to eat a variety of grain foods and legumes as part of a healthy diet. But serve sizes and the number of serves recommended per day have changed which may create confusion. With people already choosing core grain foods less often, it’s vital health care professionals and others understand the changes.

The Dietary Guidelines summarise the best available scientific evidence to provide a guide to what makes a ‘healthy diet’. That is, they recommend food choices that provide the nutrients needed for optimal well being today and protect against chronic disease in the future.

The launch of the new Guidelines, which were last reviewed in 2003, have been keenly anticipated by many people who use them in range different settings such as health care professionals in giving advice to patients, Government agencies in developing healthy eating initiatives and the food industry in developing a healthier food supply.

The 300 page document is distilled down to five guidelines. The first Guideline encourages Australians to eat a wide variety of foods from five food groups.

Guideline 2
  • Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day
  • Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/bean
  • Fruit
  • Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
  • Lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/bean
  • milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years).
And drink water.

One significant change from the previous Guidelines is the change in recommendation for grain foods from ‘preferably wholegrain’ to ‘mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties’. This is based on the evidence that eating both whole grain and grain foods high in cereal fibre is linked to reduced risk of chronic disease and weight gain (2). Surveys conducted for GLNC indicate that Australians are not eating ‘mostly’ whole grain and high fibre grain foods but only choosing these foods a third of the time. To help get the message across, public health campaigns are needed to encourage these foods as well as work by the food industry to provide tasty options.  

Whole grain foods vary in the amount of whole grain they contain. To choose foods higher in whole grain check the ingredient list and choose foods with the higher whole grain percentage. GLNC is working towards a whole grain claim on pack that will make it easier to choose foods with more whole grain. We hope to launch this by mid 2013 so look out for it on food labels early in 2014.

It was good to see that legumes were encouraged as ‘valuable inclusions in the diet’ and ‘a cost efficient source of protein, iron, some essential fatty acids, soluble and insoluble fibre’.  The value of legumes as a nutritious food is reflected in their inclusion in both the ‘meat and alternatives’ food group as well as the vegetables food group.

However, it was disappointing that the Guidelines didn’t provide a recommended number of serves of legumes per week as was provided for other foods in the meat and alternatives group. A recommendation of serves per week would help encourage people to enjoy legumes more often, particularly as only one in every five Australians eats legumes regularly. GLNC recommends eating legumes 2 – 3 times a week to reduce risk of heart disease and help manage diabetes (3).

Australian Guide to Healthy Eating

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is what most people would think of as ‘the plate’ (or in some countries, the pyramid).  It translates the Dietary Guidelines into a simple how-to guide with recommendations for the number of serves of each food group the ‘average’ person should eat depending on their age and gender.

One concern with the new Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is the changes to serve size and the number of serves of grain foods. The serve sizes have decreased to levels that don’t reflect a realistic portion, such as one quarter of a cup of muesli (Table 1). With the reduction in serve size there has been an increase in the recommended number of serves to six per day.

Six serves of grain foods may seem a lot to people who take this to mean eating grain foods six times a day. This is likely to make it difficult for people to understand how much grain food to eat each day, particularly as many Australians are actively avoiding core grain foods believing that it will help with weight loss (4).

To help avoid the confusion, it is important that health care professionals and others using the Guide have a good understanding of the serve sizes. Looking at the serve sizes listed in the table below you can see that most people would eat at least two serves of grain foods in one meal. For example, two slices of bread as a sandwich is two serves.

Six serves in one day might include a bowl of high fibre cereal for breakfast, a wholemeal sandwich at lunch, a whole grain crispbread snack and cup of rice with your dinner.

Recommended serve sizes for grains and legumes

  • 1 slice of bread, ½ medium roll or flatbread
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or noodles
  • ½ cup cooked porridge, polenta, 2/3 cup wheat flake cereal, ¼ cup muesli
  • 3 crispbreads
  • 1 crumpet, English muffin or scone
  • ½ cup cooked barley, buckwheat, semolina or quinoa
  • ¼ cup flour

  • ½ cup cooked or canned legumes, when eating as a side dish with other vegetables
  • 1 cup (150g) cooked or canned legumes, when eating as an alternative to meat
  • 170g of tofu
To make the message a little easier GLNC recommends Australians enjoy grain foods 3 – 4 times a day and legumes 2 – 3 times a week.

The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council has a number of resources to help people understand how to follow the new Dietary Guidelines and the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. For information and recipes visit


1. Australian Dietary Guidelines and Australian Guide to Healthy Eating 2012.
2. National Health and Medical Research Council. A review of the evidence to address targeted questions to inform the revision of the Australian Dietary Guidelines. 2011, Commonwealth of Australia: Canberra
3. Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council. Lifting the Lid on Legumes: a guide to the benefits of legumes
4. Project Go Grain, Colmar Brunton 2011 (Unpublished, data available on request)

Grain of the Gods

The International Year of Quinoa

The International Year of Quinoa is here and the popularity of this unique ‘Pseudo-grain’ continues to soar. Increasing demand for quiona has been driven by its status as a nutritious health food, in Australia and developed countries around the world. Quinoa is also a remarkably adaptive crop with the potential to be grown in many regions around the world, and so from a global perspective quinoa has great potential to assist in addressing food security and malnutrition in the future.

Quinoa has been grown since 3,000BC in the Andes region of South America, where it has a demonstrated an ability to adapt to a range of growing conditions. With climate change and increasing populations many countries are faced with increasing difficulty in providing adequate and nutritious foods to their population. The declaration of The International Year of Quinoa is the first of many steps by the United Nations to highlight quinoa’s global potential and research is underway within Australia and internationally to find out which specific types of quinoa will be suited to various regions around the world.

This ancient grain has established a formidable reputation among the indigenous peoples of the Andes region, where it is traditionally referred to as “The mother grain”, “The grain of the gods” and “The golden grain”. More recently quinoa was labelled as, “One of humanity´s most promising crops” by the United Nations and it appears Australia's peak health and research body, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) agrees as the 2011 Draft Australian Dietary Guidelines include quinoa in the list of recommended grains.

“Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day including grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley” 2011 Draft Australian Dietary Guidelines1

Quinoa, along with amaranth and buckwheat are technically ‘pseudo-cereals’ as they belong to a different plant species to ‘true cereals’ like oats, wheat, rye, barley and others. Nutritionally pseudo cereals and true cereals are similar; however quiona has some unique features which have contributed to its recent success as a health food, including being:

• One of the few plants foods that are a complete protein, meaning it contains significant amounts of all of the essential amino acids necessary for health 2
• Higher in protein compared with other true cereals, yet not as high as legumes2
• Source of low glycemic index carbohydrates3
• Higher in fibre and unsaturated fats compared with other true and pseudo cereals4
• Containing a range vitamins and minerals including folate, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc4
• Containing a range of antioxidants5
• Most common varieties are gluten free

Extensive studies on the health benefits of quinoa have not yet been conducted, however the diverse range of nutrients found in this unique grain make it a great candidate to provide health benefits. As interest grows and people eat more qunioa we may soon see scientific evidence of quiona’s effects on the risk of chronic conditions such as such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and inflammation.

Not only is quinoa packed with nutrition it also tastes great with a subtle nutty taste that marries well with all kinds of ingredients. It is versatile and just like cooking rice the grain cooks quickly to create a light, fluffy side dish and it can also be added to soups, salads and baked goods.

Cooking Guide:

• To cook, add 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water, bring to a boil then simmer for 12 – 15 minutes until the water is absorbed.
• Like couscous, quinoa benefits from a quick fluff with a fork just before serving.

Tip: Rinse quinoa well before cooking as it has a bitter residue of saponins, a naturally occurring plant defence.

Quinoa has enormous potential in the food industry as Australians are looking for healthier options, so keep an eye out in your supermarket! Food companies are catching on, so as well as whole quinoa receiving more shelve space watch out for new and innovative products which include quinoa as an ingredient such as breads, readymade meals, side dishes, soups and even snack foods.


1. Jancurova M, Minarovicova L and Dandar A. Quinoa - a review. Czech J. Food Sci. 2009, 27: 71-79.
2. NHMRC. Draft Australian Dietary Guidelines for public consultation. 2011.
3. The University of Sydney. Glycemic Index Database.
4. Hager, A.-S., et al., Nutritional properties and ultra-structure of commercial gluten free flours from different botanical sources compared to wheat flours, Journal of Cereal Science (2012),
5. Vega-Gálvez A, et al. Nutrition facts and functional potential of quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa willd.), an ancient Andean grain: a review. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 2010 Dec;90(15):2541-7. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.4158.