Thursday, April 6, 2017

What's all the fuss about trendy grains?

By Alexandra Locke & Rebecca Williams

What’s all the fuss about ancient grains?

You can’t have failed to notice the recent media hype given to a group of little grains, commonly referred to as ‘ancient grains’ and are frequently touted as being considerably more nutritious than traditional grains such as wheat, oats and rye – more than likely to justify their often considerable price tags. These trendy grains are now a selling point for many products on supermarket shelves and are commonplace on restaurant and café menus.

But with so much conflicting information out there, do you really get more bang for your buck when investing in trendy grains over traditional grains, such as oats, wheat and rye? We’ve compared the nutrient profiles of some of the most well-known traditional and trendy grains to find out which group packs a superior nutritional punch!

But first, what do we mean by ‘trendy’ grains?

Trendy grains have actually been around for years but have only recently enjoyed a surge in popularity, in part due to increasing numbers of people looking for alternatives to wheat. Many of these grains, including quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat aren’t even ‘true’ grains but actually belong to the seed family and are known as pseudo-cereals. Many people think pseudo-cereals are nutritionally superior to the traditional grain, but they actually offer similar benefits to ‘true’ grains and are used in much the same way.

So do trendy grains really contain more protein?

One of the most common misconceptions is that trendy grains have much higher levels of protein than traditional grains, but they’re actually very similar.  Whilst trendy grains quinoa and amaranth do indeed top the list for protein content in our grain comparison, traditional wheat comes in a close third with a hefty 13.4g of protein per 100g, closely followed by rye.

Another misconception is that quinoa is the only grain to contain the complete spectrum of amino acids – in fact, all grains contain complete amino acids with quinoa having only slightly higher levels!

Did you know? Quinoa is pronounced ‘keen-wah.’

What about fat?

Traditional grains steal the show on this one with brown rice, rye, barley and wheat being lower in fat than trendy grains. And there’s further good news for wheat, with recent Australian research showing that Australian adults with the highest intakes of core grain foods, including breads and breakfast cereals made from wheat, had a similar waist circumference and no difference in Body Mass Index (BMI) compared to those with the lowest core grain food intake(1) While oats top the list with the highest total fat levels in our comparison, much of this is healthy fat.

Surely trendy grains have more fibre than wheat or rye?

Again, traditional grains top the list with rye containing a whopping 14.6g of fibre per 100g, followed by wheat and barley, whilst trendy grains sorghum, quinoa and amaranth lag behind with around half the fibre content of rye.

Many people are surprised to learn that the leading sources of fibre in the Australian diet are actually breads and breakfast cereals, most of which are wheat based.(2) What’s more, whole grain wheat, oats and rye can help to promote good gut health due to their prebiotic fibres(3,4)  which encourage growth and activity of  health promoting bacteria in the gut.(5-7)

What about wheat?

Contrary to common perception, wheat is a particularly nutritious grain, even when compared to trendy grains like quinoa. Although wheat’s taken a hammering in recent years with many people avoiding gluten or cutting out carbs, this nutritious grain is easily accessible and readily found in many breads and breakfast cereals.  And several recent studies have shown that individuals who regularly consume whole grains (mostly wheat based) are at a reduced risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, compared to those who eat less.(8-10)
To give you an idea of how two of the most well-known grains stack up, we’ve compared their nutrient profiles below…

Wheat (g per 100g)
Quinoa (g per 100g)

Did you know? Some grains, including amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa aren’t actually grains at all but belong to the seed family and are occasionally referred to as pseudo-cereals.

So what’s the verdict?

The takeaway message is that whilst many trendy grains do offer certain nutritional benefits, traditional grains offer comparable nutrients and in some cases have a more substantial nutrient profile. But whether you’re a fan of traditional or trendy grains or enjoy both, what’s important is ensuring we eat core grain foods 3-4 times a day and make at least half either high fibre or whole grain.  Our infographic shows why we should be eating more whole grains…

To benefit from the range of nutrients both traditional and trendy grains offer, mix it up every once in a while and enjoy a variety of grains as part of a balanced diet. And for recipe inspiration using both traditional and trendy grains, visit our website. 


1.     Fayet-Moore F, Petocz P, McConnell A, Tuck K, Mansour M. The Cross-Sectional Association between Consumption of the Recommended Five Food Group “Grain (Cereal)”, Dietary Fibre and Anthropometric Measures among Australian Adults. Nutrients. 2017;9(2):157.
2.     ABS. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014.
3.     Shewry PR, Hey SJ. The contribution of wheat to human diet and health. Food Energy Secur. 2015;4(3):178-202.
8.     Brouns FJPH, van Buul VJ, Shewry PR. Does wheat make us fat and sick? Journal of Cereal Science. 2013;58(2):209-15.

New Research Reveals That Eating Core Grain Foods Doesn't Affect Your Waistline!

 Key takeouts from the research:
  • Australian adults with the highest intakes of core grain foods, which is the leading source of carbohydrate in our diets, had similar waist circumferences and BMI’s compared to those with the lowest intakes of core grain foods¹.
  • Adults who avoid core grain foods are at risk of missing out on essential nutrients including fibre, which is beneficial for good gut health².
New results from a survey of over 9,000 Australian adults, published last week in the journal Nutrients, found that eating core grain foods isn’t linked to the size of your waistline. Adults with the highest intakes of core grain foods - which includes bread, breakfast cereals and pasta – had similar waist circumferences and BMI’s compared with adults who had the lowest core grain intakes.

This ground breaking analysis of the 2011-12 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, commissioned by the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC), found that not only was higher consumption of these grain foods not linked to a higher waist size, but grain consumers actually had a healthier diet and lifestyle pattern compared to those who avoided core grain foods¹.

The analysis of this research also demonstrated what many people have forgotten – grain foods are an essential source of fibre in our diet and Australians who eat more core grain foods have significantly higher fibre intakes than those who limit or avoid them. Emerging evidence also suggests that fibre-rich carbohydrate foods promote good gut health², which may ultimately have a favourable effect on health and chronic disease risk.

Overall grain consumption has declined over the last decade, with many Australians actively limiting gluten or carbohydrates - 42% of Australians report that they limit grain foods to assist with weight loss³. Many of these worrying trends are driven by widespread misconceptions and a lack of understanding about the multiple health benefits of grain foods.  

Rebecca Williams, Nutrition Manager and Accredited Practising Dietitian at GLNC explains the risks of limiting grain foods “Adults who limit healthy sources of carbohydrate - including core grain foods - end up putting themselves at risk of missing out on essential nutrients, such as fibre, folate, thiamine, iron, magnesium and zinc.”

“This new research highlights that we don’t need to cut back on grain foods like bread and pasta for weight management and actually, by doing so, people are putting their health at risk by not getting enough fibre.”

“It’s important that we don’t blindly follow the latest diet trends in search of a quick fix - choosing quality grain foods can have favourable effects on nearly every area of our health.”

Core grain foods, particularly those which are whole grain or high in fibre, provide a multitude of health benefits and choosing just three of our six serves of grain foods a day as whole grain or high fibre options, can help to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers4-8.

What’s more, it’s easy to get the recommended six serves of grain foods every day by enjoying a bowl of high fibre breakfast cereal in the morning, a wholemeal sandwich for lunch and a stir-fry with rice for dinner. Take a look at our serve size infographic below to see what constitutes a serve. 

Why not try a traditional Egg Sandwich on Wholemeal as a quick and delicious way to increase your whole grains!

To find out more about the benefits of grain foods and carbohydrates, watch GLNC’s myth-busting webinar on low-carb diets or visit our website.

  1. Fayet-Moore F, Petocz P, McConnell A, Tuck K, Mansour M. The Cross-Sectional Association between Consumption of the Recommended Five Food Group “Grain (Cereal)”, Dietary Fibre and Anthropometric Measures among Australian Adults. Nutrients. 2017;9(2):157.
  2. Jones JM, Peña RJ, Korczak R, Braun HJ. CIMMYT Series on Carbohydrates, Wheat, Grains, and Health: Carbohydrates, Grains, and Wheat in Nutrition and Health: Their Relation to Digestion, Digestive Disorders, Blood Glucose, and Inflammation. Cereal Foods World. 2016;61(1):4-17.
  3. GLNC 2014 Consumption & Attitudes Study. Unpublished: 2014.
  4. Zong G, Gao A, Hu FB, Sun Q. Whole Grain Intake and Mortality From All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Circulation. 2016;133(24):2370-80.
  5. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, Fadnes LT, Boffetta P, Greenwood DC, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Bmj. 2016;353. 
  6. Chen G-C, Tong X, Xu J-Y, Han S-F, Wan Z-X, Qin J-B, et al. Whole-grain intake and total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2016.
  7. Wei H, Gao Z, Liang R, Li Z, Hao H, Liu X. Whole-grain consumption and the risk of all-cause, CVD and cancer mortality: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. British Journal of Nutrition. 2016;116(03):514-25.
  8. Benisi-Kohansal S, Saneei P, Salehi-Marzijarani M, Larijani B, Esmaillzadeh A. Whole-Grain Intake and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer: A Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal. 2016;7(6):1052-65