Friday, December 4, 2015

Spelt - the Next Super Food?

Spelt is a species of wheat, which was commonly grown in ancient times (more than 6,000 years ago) throughout Europe and the Middle East. Today, spelt is increasingly being used by manufacturers as a substitute for conventional wheat flour in breads, pasta, crackers, breakfast cereal, and baking mixes. However, spelt still only represents a small number of products, compared to those using conventional wheat.

Spelt has a tougher outer husk compared to other varieties of wheat, which plays an important role in protecting the grain from climatic conditions, pests and disease, and may also assist in nutrient retention. This husk makes spelt more difficult to process than conventional wheat, as it needs to be dehulled before it can be milled into flour(1).

While some studies have suggested that spelt may be nutritionally superior to conventional wheat, the exact nutrient composition appears to be dependent on the variety of spelt (and variety of wheat used as the comparison), the origin and the environmental conditions in which it is grown(2, 3).  Such studies include a nutritional comparison wholemeal and milled fractions (sieved flour, fine bran, course bran) from nine dehulled spelt samples and five soft winter wheat (soft wheat: lower protein and higher percentage carbohydrate) samples grown in Belgium, which demonstrated that spelt had a higher copper, zinc, iron, magnesium and phosphorous content (4).

In another study that compared three varieties of spelt grown in Italy with two conventional varieties of wheat, spelt was shown to have a higher protein (15.9 – 17.1% versus 12.4 - 13.8%) and soluble fibre content (1.75% versus 1.5%). The results also showed that bread produced from whole spelt wheat flour had less total starch but greater resistant starch, compared to bread made from white spelt wheat flour and white wheat flour (5).

Despite some studies suggesting nutritional differences between spelt and conventional wheat varieties, other research shows no significant differences between spelt and wheat (hard red winter wheat (hard wheat: higher protein content)) in regards to the protein, fibre, vitamin and mineral content (with the exception of zinc, which was found to be higher in spelt varieties)(6).

It is possible that these disparate results are attributable to the use of different varieties of spelt and conventional wheat. It was also not clear in the majority of these studies whether both the conventional wheat and spelt samples where whole grain (i.e. containing the bran, germ and endosperm). More evidence is therefore required to substantiate the nutritional differences between specific conventional wheat and spelt varieties available to consumers in Australia.

Spelt contains gluten, and has a similar gliadin and glutenin composition to other wheat varieties, and so people with coeliac disease must avoid spelt containing food products. Interestingly, some people who suffer from wheat sensitivities have reported better tolerance to products made from spelt compared to conventional wheat. While further research is required to investigate the properties of spelt that may be linked with the reduction in gastrointestinal symptoms in sensitive people(1), this observation may be due to a lower FODMAP (which refers to fructose, fructans, galacto-oligosaccharide, lactose and polyols) content. According to Monash University (Melbourne) spelt and spelt flours tend to be lower in total FODMAPs than conventional wheat. However, not all spelt products are low in FODMAPs i.e. whilst traditional sourdough spelt bread products are lower in FODMAPs, spelt pasta is high in FODMAPs (7).

At this stage, the evidence on the nutritional benefits of spelt over conventional wheat requires further substantiation before conclusions can be drawn. In addition, the evidence for any health benefit of spelt wheat versus conventional varieties is non-existent. On the other hand, the totality of the scientific evidence supports higher intakes of whole grains and/or high fibre grain food for improved nutrition and disease risk reduction.

This evidence supports the Australian Dietary Guidelines which encourage a variety of grains foods, mostly whole grain or high fibre grain foods. Spelt core grain foods (i.e. bread, breakfast cereals, intact/cracked and crispbread), which are becoming increasingly available, can contribute towards Australians daily core grain food recommendations, and when consumed as a whole grain foods (i.e. intact or in a wholemeal spelt bread) can also contribute to Australians whole grain Daily Target Intake.
1.            Neeson R. Organic Spelt Production: Industry & Invesment NSW Government; 2011 [cited 2015 November]. Available from:
2.            Grela ER. Nutrient Composition and Content of Antinutritional Factors in Spelt ( Triticum speltaL) Cultivars. Journal of the science of food and agriculture. 1996;71(3):399-404.
3.            Gomez-Becerra HF, Erdem H, Yazici A, Tutus Y, Torun B, Ozturk L, et al. Grain concentrations of protein and mineral nutrients in a large collection of spelt wheat grown under different environments. Journal of Cereal Science. 2010;52(3):342-9.
4.            Ruibal-Mendieta NL, Delacroix DL, Mignolet E, Pycke J-M, Marques C, Rozenberg R, et al. Spelt (Triticum aestivum ssp. spelta) as a Source of Breadmaking Flours and Bran Naturally Enriched in Oleic Acid and Minerals but Not Phytic Acid. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2005;53(7):2751-9.
5.            Bonafaccia G, Galli V, Francisci R, Mair V, Skrabanja V, Kreft I. Characteristics of spelt wheat products and nutritional value of spelt wheat-based bread. Food chemistry. 2000;68(4):437-41.
6.            Ranhotra GS, Gelroth JA, Glaser BK, Lorenz KJ. Baking and nutritional qualities of a spelt wheat sample. LWT - Food Science and Technology. 1995;28(1):118-22.
7.            Muir J. Are all spelt products low in FODMAPS? MONASH University2015. Available from:

Balance Builds Healthy Bones

By Felicity Curtain, Accredited Practising Dietitian 

With 99 percent of the body’s calcium found within our bones, the well-known link between calcium-rich foods and strong bones is understandable. But calcium does not act alone to strengthen and maintain our bones, and emerging evidence supports the important role of a balanced diet containing adequate dietary protein, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc, in promoting strong bones. We delve into the latest evidence on dietary patterns linked with strong bones in children and adolescents, a critical time for building bone density.

Healthy bones – the foundation for a healthy body
Strong bones are vital for protecting internal organs, providing structural support for daily activities. Failing to achieve peak bone mass early in life leaves an individual with less reserve to endure the normal losses that occur with advancing age.

Traditionally, the nutrition focus for bone health has centred on calcium and calcium-rich dairy products. While calcium does take centre stage, other individual factors also play essential roles in the production of healthy bones. These include vitamin D (mostly from sunlight) for its role in the absorption and utilisation of calcium(1); protein which is a key constituent of bone tissue and assists in the repair and maintenance of the skeleton(2); minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus which are important for bone mineralisation, as well as potassium which promotes an alkaline environment and prevents skeletal calcium from being mobilised to maintain normal pH levels(3).

With a deeper understanding of the essential role of a range of nutrients for bone formation and maintenance, the importance of a balanced diet for optimal bone health is apparent. Indeed, the latest research on bone health has looked beyond any single food or nutrient to total dietary patterns that are linked with strong bones.

What does the latest research say?
Adolescence is a crucial period for bone health and development, with as much as one-quarter of adult bone mass built over roughly two years (ages 12-14 for girls, and 13-15 for boys)(4). A recently published longitudinal study of 1,024 Australians aged 14 and 17 at baseline investigated dietary patterns during adolescence, and their associations with later bone density.

Through dietary analysis two types of dietary patterns emerged.  Pattern one was considered high-protein, high-calcium, high-potassium, and was characterised by high intakes of dairy products, whole grains, legumes; yellow, red, leafy green, and cruciferous vegetables; steamed, grilled, or canned fish; fresh and dried fruit, and plain mineral water – reflective of the dietary guidelines.  Pattern one was low in soft drinks, chips, takeaway foods, processed meats, and other discretionary foods.

Conversely, pattern two was high-protein, low-calcium, and low-potassium, and included high intakes of red meat, poultry, processed meats; steamed, grilled, canned or fried fish; eggs, and takeaway foods.  Pattern two was low in dairy products, fruit, cake and cookies, whole grains and legumes.

Higher consumption of dietary pattern one, the diet which reflected a balanced diet at age 14 was associated with higher bone mineral density at the age of 20, though no observable difference was noted with the dietary pattern at age 17(5). This suggests that adequate nutrition through the consumption of a balanced diet during early adolescence may be more important for bone development, than in late adolescence.

Similarly, a Korean study of school girls aged 9-11 years compared dietary patterns with subsequent changes in anthropometric measures and bone mineral density. One hundred and ninety eight girls were included, and dietary data was categorised into two patterns: ‘egg and rice’ and a more varied dietary pattern including ‘fruit, nuts, milk beverage, egg and grains’.  While the two patterns showed similar results for change in body mass index and percentage body fat, subjects adhering to the latter, more balanced dietary pattern, which included a higher intake of dairy products and grains, had a greater increase in bone mineral density(6).

In both of these studies, it is evident that the dietary pattern associated with greater bone health, was also linked to higher intake of calcium rich dairy products. This is not surprising as we know from previous research that dairy foods themselves (i.e. milk) have a favourable effect on bone mass(7). However, more recent research on dietary patterns shows that higher intakes of calcium, as well as other key nutrients including protein, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc, found in foods such as grains and legumes, are also important for bone health(5). To further substantiate this claim future research should aim to assess the independent effect of non-dairy based foods, rich in protein, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and zinc on bone formation, maintenance and strength.

The take-home message
These findings re-iterate that it is not single nutrients or food groups in isolation that promote health and wellbeing, but rather the complex action and interaction of nutrients and foods obtained through a balanced diet as a whole.

Given the importance of a balanced diet in early adolescence for long-term bone health, it is particularly concerning that adolescents tend to have the least balanced diets, with the highest proportion of energy intake from nutrient poor discretionary choices (i.e. pizza, pies, muffins)(8), and the lowest intakes of nutrient rich whole grains(9).  When it comes to grain foods, teenagers should be encouraged to swap nutrient-poor discretionary foods for healthier core grains, choosing whole grain more often, as well as a variety of dairy products, fruit, vegetables (which includes legumes) and lean meat/alternatives, as part of a balanced diet. Practically, this could be as easy as choosing a whole grain breakfast cereal with fruit and yoghurt in the morning, opting for whole grain crackers with cheese for morning tea, and adding legumes into the families favourite spaghetti Bolognese recipe.

1.         Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General: Office of Surgeon General; 2004.
2.         Peters BS, Martini LA. Nutritional aspects of the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Arq Bras Endocrinol Metabol. 2010;54(2):179-85.
3.         Palacios C. The role of nutrients in bone health, from A to Z. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2006;46(8):621-8.
4.         Teens: Healthy Bones Action Week; 2015. Available from:
5.         van den Hooven EH, Ambrosini GL, Huang R-C, Mountain J, Straker L, Walsh JP, et al. Identification of a dietary pattern prospectively associated with bone mass in Australian young adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2015.
6.         Noh HY, Song YJ, Lee JE, Joung H, Park MK, Li SJ, et al. Dietary patterns are associated with physical growth among school girls aged 9-11 years. Nutr Res Pract. 2011;5(6):569-77.
7.         Du XQ, Greenfield H, Fraser DR, Ge KY, Liu ZH, He W. Milk consumption and bone mineral content in Chinese adolescent girls. Bone. 2002;30(3):521-8.
8.         ABS. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014.
9.         GLNC. 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2014.

The Next Wave of Whole Grain Research

Leading researchers of whole grain intake recently proposed a set of best practice recommendations for other researchers to use when studying the effect of whole grain intake on health. This marks a significant step for the future of whole grain research as adoption of these best practice guidelines will lead to more specific measurement and analysis of the effect of total whole grain intake, and the consumption of different types of whole grains and whole grain foods on health outcomes. Here we review these best practice guidelines and profile the latest study to adopt these guidelines, which confirms that whole grains may help you live longer.

Whole grains have long been recognised as a hallmark to a healthy diet, being nutrient dense with over 26 nutrients and phytonutrients. The evidence is clear that people with a higher whole grain intake have a better diet quality and are 20-30% less likely to develop chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers(1)

Whilst research clearly supports the health benefits of higher whole grain intakes, the actual definition of whole grain food used in many previous studies often classifies high bran grain foods as whole grains, but these foods do not technically meet the Food Standards Code (or more recent international definition) of the whole grain(2, 3). Consequently, much of the research which supports whole grains equally supports high fibre grain foods, which is one of the reasons why the Australians Dietary Guidelines encourage Australians to enjoy grains, mostly whole grain and/or high cereal fibre varieties.

Adopting the most up-to-date whole grain definition provides the opportunity to understand, more precisely, the health effect of total whole grain versus cereal fibre and the health effects of different types of whole grains and whole grain foods.

A recent Scandinavian study of over 120,000 people has taken the lead on adopting these best practice guidelines and provided a definition of whole grain which aligns with the most up-to-date definition, specified the types of whole grain and whole grain foods used and described the associated health outcomes(4).

This study demonstrated  that people with the highest intake of whole grains had a 1-17% reduced risk of early death, regardless of the type of whole grain (wheat, oat, rye) or whole grain products (breakfast cereals, whole grain bread) consumed. Further disease specific analysis revealed that those who consumed the most whole grain food products had a 14-44% reduced the risk of death from cancer and coronary heart disease, compared to those who ate the least. Eating a variety of whole grains (i.e. oats, wheat, rye) was also shown to decrease risk of death by coronary heart disease in both men and women by 26% and 35% respectively.

Interestingly, this study also demonstrated that different whole grain foods may offer unique health benefits. For instance, those who had the highest intake of whole grain bread (either rye or mixed grain) had a 22-28% reduction in risk of death from any cause. Additionally, people who consumed the most whole grain breakfast cereal were shown to have a 15-25% decreased risk of death from cancer, a 25-47% decreased risk of death from coronary heart disease and 55-72% decreased risk of death from type 2 diabetes, compared to those who ate the least. This is good news for Australian’s as breads and breakfast cereals have been shown to be the largest contributors to whole grain intakes(5).

Different types of whole grains such as oats, rye and wheat were also shown to have unique health benefits. Women with the highest intakes of oats and wheat, had a 16% and 26% reduction in risk of cancer mortality, compared to those who ate the least. A higher intake of oats was also shown to reduce risk of death from diabetes by 75% in women and 60% in men, compared to those with the lowest intakes. These findings align with previous research which showed that soluble fibre found in oats, known as beta-glucan promotes optimal blood glucose control and improves the insulin response after a meal(6, 7).

With the introduction of best practice recommendations for the measurement and reporting of the effect of whole grains on health, it is likely in the coming years we will see a new wave of whole grain research which provides us a deeper understanding of the unique benefits of whole grains and whole grain foods. The emerging research using the recommendations indicates it strengthens the evidence that higher whole grain intakes are a powerful dietary strategy to improve nutrition and reduce the risk of chronic disease.  Unfortunately,  despite our current understanding of the benefits of higher whole grain intakes the majority of Australian adults and children are falling short whole grain recommendations(5).

In support of the Australian Dietary Guidelines, GLNC recommends that all Australians should aim to enjoy grain foods 3-4 times per day, choosing at least half as whole grain or high fibre foods. For a guide to boost your whole grain intake, check out GLNC’s Fact Sheet Whole grain foods – A hallmark of a healthy diet.

1.            NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. 2013 Accessed online January 2014.
2.            AACCI. AACCI’s Whole Grains Working Group Unveils New Whole Grain Products Characterization 2013 [cited 2014 May ]. Available from:
3.            Ross AB, Kristensen M, Seal CJ, Jacques P, McKeown NM. Recommendations for reporting whole-grain intake in observational and intervention studies. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2015.
4.            Johnsen NF, Frederiksen K, Christensen J, Skeie G, Lund E, Landberg R, et al. Whole-grain products and whole-grain types are associated with lower all-cause and cause-specific mortality in the Scandinavian HELGA cohort. British Journal of Nutrition. 2015;FirstView:1-16.
5.            GLNC. 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2014.
6.            Tiwari U, Cummins E. Meta-analysis of the effect of beta-glucan intake on blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Nutrition. 2011;27(10):1008-16.
7.            Tosh SM. Review of human studies investigating the post-prandial blood-glucose lowering ability of oat and barley food products. European journal of clinical nutrition. 2013;67(4):310-7.

Let the Pulse Celebrations Begin!

On 10 November 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations officially proclaimed 2016 International Year of Pulses, putting a global focus on pulse crops and their potential to improve diet quality and address the global challenges of both under-nutrition and obesity.

Pulses are a group within the legume family that includes the dried, mature seeds of beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas. This diverse group of staple foods has been cultivated by civilizations across the globe for over 10,000 years and today continues to be the cornerstone of delicious meals in cultures around the world from Brazil to India and from Italy to Egypt.

As part of International Year of Pulses (IYP), global activities throughout 2016 will explore the integral role these nutrient dense foods can play in meeting the global nutrition and agricultural challenges of our time. Not only are pulses linked to better diet quality, including them in your diet also reduces your risk of heart disease, helps manage blood glucose control and helps prevent excess weight gain as we get older. As well as all these health benefits, pulses taste great and add wonderful variety to everyday dishes. Despite all these good reasons to eat pulses Australians are not eating them regularly, with only 1.5% of people reporting eating them during the most recent National Nutrition Survey. A survey by GLNC found that the most common reason for people not eating pulses was simply that they didn’t think of them when it came to deciding what to eat for lunch or dinner.

So 2016 is your chance to encourage friends and families to think about including pulses in their meals more often. Not just because they’re good for them, but because they taste delicious and add colour and variety to their plate. For some inspiration you can check out the global collection of pulse recipes here including the Australian Pulse Signature Dish Recipe. If you like the GLNC FaceBook page you’ll also see lots of tasty and easy to prepare pulse recipes.

As a way to kick off IYP celebrations, the Global Pulse Confederation is organizing a global social media event called Pulse Feast on 6 January 2016. We hope to have a full day of celebrations from around the world, starting with New Zealand and Australia. To get involved, the Australian National Committee is encouraging all Australians to make a Pulse Pledge for 2016 as a New Year’s resolution. Your Pulse Pledge might be to add pulses to your regular weeknight meals at least twice a week, or to try different pulses you’ve never tried before like black eyed beans or French lentils. The more creative your posts are, the better!

To be a part of Pulse Feast and make your Pulse Pledge for 2016 is easy.  Take a photo or video of you, or a group of people, pledging about pulses in 2016 and upload to FaceBook, Twitter or Instagram before 6 January 2016, including @AusIYP16 and #LovePulses.  The National Committee will use your pledge to showcase why Australians love pulses on 6 January 2016, kicking off the global celebrations first thing in the morning.

The Pulse Feast will be followed on 28 January with the Australian gala dinner at Melbourne Museum. This exciting evening will be an opportunity for over 300 people to come together and experience the world of pulses. Everyone is welcome and we hope some GLNC Balance newsletter readers are able to join us on the evening of the Gala Dinner.  To secure your place, register for a ticket or table here.

These are just the first of many activities planned for 2016 including symposium in May on Health, Nutrition and Food Innovation. You can also organise your own event, or integrate IYP into an event you run regularly. For more information on visit and to keep up with what’s on during 2016 by following the Australian IYP Social Media platforms on Twitter (@ausiyp16), Instagram (@AusIYP16) and Facebook (International Year of Pulses – Australia).

We look forward to hearing your Pulse Pledge and seeing you at an IYP event in 2016.