Friday, December 5, 2014

Busting Myths about Grain Foods & Weight Loss

Want fast weight loss? Or has a new celebrity diet caught your eye?

Don’t fall for diet fads, or weight loss fast-fixes, is the health warning from the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC).

GLNC’s Michelle Broom, Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutrition Program Manager says: “People are often spurred on to lose weight by the impending need to fit into a dress, look good for a special occasion or be bikini ready for a beach holiday. It’s this urgency that finds them grasping at straws, looking for a quick fix.

“The truth is individual testimonials often make dramatic claims and don’t end up delivering promised weight loss for others.

“Weight loss can be achieved without the fads, or succumbing to movements which encourage cutting whole food groups from your diet. It’s true that sustainable weight loss won’t happen overnight, but by taking a sensible approach, you won’t just lose the weight but keep it off too,” she said.

GLNC debunks five common myths about fad diets, misconceptions about eating grains and going gluten-free. 

MYTH ONE: Eliminating whole food groups is the key to weight loss.

FACT: The best thing for a healthy body is a balance of foods from all food groups. For weight loss, limiting foods that are high in calories but lack essential nutrients is important, and portion control is also key to sustainable weight loss.

MYTH TWO: A low-FODMAP diet is a healthy diet for all.

FACT: A low-FODMAP diet is not for the long term. It is designed as a short term (2-6 weeks), therapeutic elimination diet, often used to control Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other gut-related issues.  It requires the supervision and support of an experienced Accredited Practising Dietitian and is not for the general population.

MYTH THREE: Carbohydrates make you fat.

FACT: Quality grain foods such as whole grain bread and high fibre breakfast cereals can help with weight management. These foods are linked with a smaller waistline and greater chance of being a healthy weight. In addition, if you’re hitting the gym to boost your weight loss, you need carbs in your diet. In fact, keeping grain foods in your weight loss diet will provide the nutrients to help your metabolism.

MYTH FOUR: A low carb, high fat (LCHF) diet is the secret to slimming.

FACT: LCHF diets are not a more effective way of keeping weight off long term.  LCHF diets are yet to be proven to provide adequate nutrition, be sustainable and prevent disease across the lifespan. In fact, LCHF diets represent a radically different eating pattern to the foods shown by an analysis of the whole scientific evidence base. Diets such as LCHF that restrict fibre and nutrient rich carbohydrate foods have been linked with a 30% increased risk of early death.

MYTH FIVE: A gluten free diet will make you thin.

FACT: Many gluten free foods contain more calories than gluten containing foods as they often contain higher amounts of fat and sugar to make them taste better. Gluten free products are often made with ingredients such as potato starch or tapioca flour, resulting in products lower in fibre and whole grain which are important for digestion and metabolism. Unless medically diagnosed with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, a gluten free diet provides no nutritional or health benefit to individuals.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Highlights from the Nutrition Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting

GLNC was one of the over 250 participants gathered in Hobart in the last week of November to hear the latest research on the link between food and health at the Nutrition Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting. GLNC has picked just some of the highlights to share with you.

‘Is Dissemination the Weakest Link in the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines?’
Dr Anita Lawrence from Dairy Australia presented the findings of a survey of Australian General Practitioners (GPs). The survey of 300 GPs was conducted in 2014 and compared to a survey of a sample from the Australian population. GP respondents indicated 31% of consultations involved the provision of nutrition advice. However, only 13% of the GPs were familiar with the 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines, with female GPs more aware then male GPs. This was similar to the sample of the general population with 12% reporting awareness of the Australian Dietary Guidelines. While GPs rated their own confidence in their nutrition knowledge as 7 out of 10, only 8% were able to correctly identify dairy requirements for teens.

Nutrient Intakes of People on a Palaeolithic Diet
A small study of 39 healthy women compared the nutrient intakes of those on a Palaeolithic diet compared to those on a diet recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines. Participants followed the diets for four weeks and food intake was not restricted. The Palaeolithic group had a reduced intake of calcium and the B vitamins thiamin and riboflavin, with increased intakes of Vitamin C, E and beta-carotene.

Latest Insights on the Mediterranean Diet
Associate Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos, Head Dietetics and Human Nutrition at La Trobe University, gave an overview of the latest research on the Mediterranean diet. She described how the understanding of heart disease has shifted and it is now understood that low grade inflammation and oxidative stress are the key indicators of heart disease rather than lipid accumulation.  In light of this she suggested that perhaps it is not what we are eating that we should be focussing on, but what we’re not eating.

Dr Itsiopoulos suggested it is perhaps through the effect of polyphenols on chronic inflammation and oxidative stress that the Mediterranean diet is working to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. She used the recent PREDIMED study to demonstrate this. The PREDIMED study, a large randomized clinical trial of 7,000 people investigating the effect of a Mediterranean Diet on cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk over 5 years, found 30% reduction in CVD mortality.  However, a recent reanalysis of the data to examine the relationship between polyphenol intake and health found a 37% reduction in CVD mortality with higher polyphenol intakes. The polyphenols with the greatest impact included isoflavones, the main source of which was legumes.  This is not surprising given the diet in the intervention included three 150g serves of legumes each week.

Dr Itsiopoulos also highlighted several additional studies currently underway in Australia investigating the effects Mediterranean diet on health including the MEDINA trial of people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the AusMED intervention to reduce secondary acute myocardial infarction, as well as the HELFIMED study looking at the effect on mental illness.

At the end of the presentation an audience member suggested that while research indicates the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet it is perhaps not advisable to insist everyone follow the diet regardless of their cultural diet and that many diets from around the world have been shown to be linked to longevity and better health. Dr Itsiopoulos agreed but suggested that if we are looking for foods to include in a healthier diet for longevity there are common food elements to these diets including leafy green vegetables and legumes.

Fun Facts from the Scientific Meeting

  • Australia’s Bogong moth has a similar nutritional profile as a handful of pumpkin seeds.
  • Calcium bioavailability varies over life stages. For lactating mothers the availability is 80% compared to 30% for other adults.
  • One hectare of land could produce 150 tonnes of insect protein per year (PROteINSECT study).
For more information about the Annual Scientific Meeting, visit

Looking Beyond Nutrients to the Whole Package

The appetite for nutrient focused healthy eating messages in the media is insatiable. In 2014 this has been highlighted by the abundance of messages such as ‘quit sugar’ and ‘cut carbohydrate’ in the media. But is demonizing single nutrients really the path to a healthy diet?

Traditionally nutrition research has focused on the effects of individual nutrients and health. While this approach has shed ample light on our understanding of the mechanisms by which nutrients and other bio-active food components act within the body, the messages generated from such research have often unintentionally complicated the concept of healthy eating.

As we eat foods not nutrients, healthy eating messages which focus solely on the presence or absence of an individual nutrient are of limited use. Such messages do not comprehend that nutrients never act on the body in isolation, but rather are packaged with many other nutrients within foods which act together to influence health. For example, whole grains contain more than 26 health promoting nutrients and bio-active components and increasingly studies are showing that single these components do not simply act alone to protect health, but rather in concert. This explains why the observed benefit of the whole food package of whole grains often exceeds that explained by the action of each nutrient.(1, 2)

In addition, a focus on a single nutrient in isolation also overlooks the impact of the food matrix (the structure of foods when consumed) and the overall the composition of the meal within a long term eating pattern. Each of which plays an important role on the impact of food on health.

Clearly nutrition is a very complex system and so focusing on a single nutrient in attempt to establish a healthy eating pattern is like trying to build a house with one tool. Constructing a healthy diet to reduce risk of disease across the lifespan requires a holistic, whole of diet approach as opposed to a reductionist nutrient focused solution. With advances in our understanding of the complexity of nutrition, health authorities and evidenced based practitioners have shifted the emphasis of dietary recommendations away from nutrients towards foods.

A focus on food was a key objective in the development of the 2013 Australians Dietary Guidelines. The Guidelines are designed not only to provide the nutrients essential for wellbeing but also to provide adequate amounts of the foods known to reduce the risk of chronic disease. Underpinned by a comprehensive review of over 55,000 studies, the Guidelines encourage Australians to consume a variety of nutritious, available, affordable and culturally appropriate foods from each of the five food groups: grains, mostly whole grain or high fibre; vegetables and legumes; fruits; lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts; and dairy.

In addition, with Australians waistlines increasing(3), the Guidelines also focus on promoting a healthy weight; for the average size person doing light physical activity, adhering to an eating pattern which reflects the Guidelines will result in a daily reduction in energy intake and should result in weight loss.

Despite the recent re-focus of public health nutrition to foods not nutrients, single nutrient messages are taking centre stage in the media. Many may argue that the intent of messages such as ‘quit sugar’ or ‘low carb’ is to serve public health and encourage Australians to limit energy dense, nutrient poor food choices (i.e. soft drinks, pastries, biscuits, cakes and processed take away foods). However, the blunt nature of a nutrient focused recommendation inevitably results in vocal advocates of such messages also taking aim at foods and food groups such as fruits, whole grains and legumes, calling for the exclusion of these foods from the diet. This is despite the fact these foods are backed by the scientific evidence of being linked with better health.

As a result, these nutrient focused messages fail to reflect the evidence of the relationship between food and health. For those not convinced, such recommendations also contradict evidence from Blue Zones, the populations around the world with the best health and longest lives, who enjoy mostly plant based diets which include whole fruits, whole grains and legumes – each of which appear on the banned list of the latest quit sugar and low carb fads.

Just as past reductionist advice to reduce fat failed to achieve its intended outcome of encouraging people to eat more naturally low fat plant foods available at the time, current and future nutrient focused messages will fail to address the complex relationship between diet and diet related disease risk. Nutrition science continues to increase our understanding of the relationship between the food we eat and health and more often than not studies are demonstrating that it is more about all the elements of foods acting together rather than a single nutrient.


  1. Fardet A. New Approaches to Studying the Potential Health Benefits of Cereals: From Reductionism to Holism. Cereal Foods World. 2014;59(5):224-9.
  2. Parker TL, Miller SA, Myers LE, Miguez FE, Engeseth NJ. Evaluation of synergistic antioxidant potential of complex mixtures using oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR). Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2010;58(1):209-17.
  3. AIHW. Australia's health 2014 Australia's health no. 14. Cat. no. AUS 181. Canberra: AIHW.2014. Available from: