Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Wholegrain foods and legumes

Your daily dose for disease prevention?

When it comes to grain foods, wholegrains are shining stars. Wholegrain foods and legumes are a fundamental part of a balanced diet and scientific studies consistently show that they can play a major role in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases that burden our society today. Wholegrains may even be more important than first thought, with new research collected as part of "The Grains & Legumes Health Report - A Review of the Science" finding that wholegrain foods could help prevent asthma and gum disease, and may also improve mood and cognitive function.

The Grains & Legumes Health Report is a review of the latest scientific evidence on the health benefits of grains and legumes, co-authored by Associate Professor Peter Williams, University of Wollongong and Go Grains Health & Nutrition, with the report's foreword written by Chief Research Scientist, CSIRO Food Futures National Research Flagship, Dr David Topping.

Wholegrains contain all the goodness of the grain – however, it’s the fibre-rich outer bran layer and nutrient-rich inner core (germ) that makes them so special. They contain plenty of vitamins (particularly B-group vitamins and vitamin E), minerals (notably iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus), fibre and protective substances (like antioxidants and phytonutrients). The most commonly eaten wholegrain foods include wholemeal and mixed grain breads and crispbreads, oats, wholemeal pasta, brown rice and pop corn. Wholegrain foods can contain grains that are whole (visible grains), or milled into finer pieces (wholemeal). Therefore, wholemeal foods are also wholegrain.

Eating the equivalent of 2-3 slices of wholegrain bread a day (or 1½ cups of wholegrain breakfast cereal, brown rice or wholemeal pasta) can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and obesity by up to 20-30%. Wholegrain foods may even be as powerful as cholesterol lowering medication, with 2-4 serves of wholegrain foods a day lowering the risk of heart disease by as much as 40% - equal to the effect of statin drugs.

Research studies show a diet high in wholegrain foods can help to lower blood pressure. One particular study found that replacing white rice with brown rice, white bread with wholegrain, and low-fibre cereals with barley or whole wheat cereals, significantly reduced blood pressure in overweight patients with high cholesterol in just 5 weeks.

For those at risk, but who have not yet developed type 2 diabetes, wholegrains may be the solution. Research has shown the progression of impaired glucose tolerance to type 2 diabetes can be reduced by almost 60% and insulin resistance improved, by simple lifestyle changes such as frequently eating wholegrain foods.

In addition to the more established benefits of wholegrains in the prevention of chronic disease, there is also emerging science about the benefits of wholegrain consumption for prevention of periodontal disease and asthma, as well as suggestive evidence for improvements in mood and cognitive function. Further research will help confirm these promising findings.

What is it about wholegrains that makes them so impressive? The complete package of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients work together – research suggests there is no one single component in wholegrains which accounts for their beneficial effect to health.

There is very little research data available on wholegrain consumption in Australia but we understand adults and children are not eating enough. A recent survey conducted by Go Grains Health & Nutrition found that on average Australians aged 5 – 70+ are eating less than 1½ serves of wholegrain foods a day, falling short of international recommendations that at least half of all grain consumption should be wholegrain. Children should increase the amount of wholegrains in their diets as they grow.

Legumes are an economical, easy to prepare and nutritious food that Australian’s are not eating enough of. Research shows that less than a quarter of Australians eat legumes every day while data from the latest National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey in 2007 revealed only 5-7% of Australian children aged 2-16 years are eating legumes each day.

Legumes provide a range of essential nutrients including good quality protein, low glycaemic carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre. They are generally low in fat and contain no cholesterol. Among the well known legumes are navy beans (baked beans), chickpeas, soybeans, lentils, red kidney beans, cannellini beans, butter beans and split peas.

Epidemiological studies consistently show that eating legumes can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, as well as improve gut health. One study found that consumption of legumes four or more times per week, was associated with a 22% lower risk of coronary heart disease and 11% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

A seven year longitudinal study of older people from different dietary cultures (including Japan, Sweden, Greece and Australia), found higher legume intake was the most protective dietary predictor of longevity, with a 7-8% reduction in risk of death for every 20g increase in daily legume intake.

Recent science suggests there may be a stronger role for legumes in helping to protect against prostate, breast and colorectal cancer than previously thought. Two large international cohort studies report; a lower incidence of colorectal adenoma’s in women who consumed four or more servings of legumes a week, and a 33% lower risk of colorectal cancer in women who ate the most legumes, although much of the evidence is limited to soy intake as there are generally low intakes of other legumes in most free-living populations.

There is consistent scientific evidence for the role of wholegrains, and suggestive evidence for the role of legumes, in protecting against cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and obesity. The risk reduction (20-30%) from just three serves of wholegrain foods (equivalent to 3 slices of wholegrain bread) a day could theoretically translate to health expenditure savings of over $1.2 billion a year.

Start by switching to a wholemeal / mixed grain bread or wholegrain breakfast cereal.

To download a copy of The Grains & Legumes Health Report, visit www.gograins.com.au

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Carbohydrates debunked

Refined carbohydrates - better than you think!

Mixed messages about carbohydrates and their effect on the body are common in the media, with research findings sometimes contributing to further confusion. Carbohydrate foods such as bread and rice have been staples from ancient times for many cultures, but today there are many misconceptions about how and when they should be eaten or even if they should be eliminated from the diet. Avoid eating carbohydrates after a certain time of the day as you won’t burn them off or opt for low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrate choices - does this sound familiar, the dos and don’ts of eating? Carbohydrates are often linked to causes of obesity and other chronic illnesses, but are other underlying factors responsible?

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the body, particularly the brain, nervous system and red blood cells. They are found in many foods we eat in different forms ranging from those closest to their natural form (oats, rice, legumes), to those that have been processed to allow eating and digesting more readily (bread, pasta, breakfast cereals), to those that are considered more a ‘treat’ (sugars, sweet biscuits, soft drinks).

Carbohydrates should contribute approximately 45-65 percent of the energy in a healthy diet. Healthy carbohydrate options include grain-based foods like bread, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta, noodles and legumes, starchy vegetables, fruit and milk products. Cutting out these carbohydrate foods does not make good sense as they contribute important nutrients including protein, dietary fibre and essential vitamins and minerals such as iron, folate and thiamin. Wholegrain varieties also contain many components that can promote good health.

‘Not so healthy’ carbohydrate foods such as soft drinks, cordials, fruit juices, lollies, cakes, doughnuts, sweet biscuits and pizza add few if any nutrients to the diet and may be inappropriate sources of energy on a regular basis.

Carbohydrates and health

Carbohydrates have differing effects on blood glucose levels depending on the type and quantity eaten. The carbohydrates in foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) are digested rapidly whereas those in low GI foods are slowly digested. A low GI diet is generally encouraged but a healthy diet can include both high and low GI foods.

A small number research studies have shown an association between a high GI diet and increased risk of disease such as heart disease. On closer inspection the carbohydrate food sources in such studies are not always representative of healthy options but often include less healthy options such as sugar, honey, jam, pizza and cakes. These foods are often higher in saturated fat, with up to double the amount recommended by health authorities which could also attribute to health outcomes. Other factors which may influence study outcomes, but are not always accounted for, include body weight, smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption and stress management.

When considering the pros and cons of eating carbohydrates, nutrient content should be considered as well as the GI. Carbohydrates foods such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta and oats provide a range of important nutrients. Refined varieties are lower in nutrients than wholegrain varieties but can make a nutritionally important contribution to a healthy diet. Carbohydrate foods such as soft drinks, confectionary, cakes and sweet biscuits provide minimal nutrients and are not a suitable part of a healthy diet on a regular basis.

Australian dietary guidelines recommend 4+ serves a day of grain-based foods such as breads, breakfast cereals, rice, pasta and crispbreads, and it is good practice to make at least half of these wholegrain. Variety is important, so choose from all food groups daily, with less healthy ‘treats’ eaten only occasionally.