Thursday, December 19, 2013

Legumes linked to better diet quality

Australian cohort links between legume consumption and overall diet quality

Article written by Joanna Russell, Associate Lecturer in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong.  Her research interests focus on assessing diet and health outcomes in large cohorts.

The range of benefits from eating legumes regularly includes a good, inexpensive dietary source of plant protein and dietary fibre. In addition, they are a low glycaemic index food and also provide small amounts of iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium(1). Evidence to date suggests that legumes may play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults due to their ability to improve serum total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol concentrations, but additionally they could have other health benefits(2, 3). 

Legumes are one of the main food types which make up the Mediterranean type diet, a diet that is high in fruit, vegetables, legumes and fish as well as olive oil being the main source of fat. The research has constantly reported the benefits of consuming this type of diet such as reducing the risk of mortality as well as reducing the risk of developing diabetes and obesity(
4). Indeed, high legume consumption was found to be consistent with higher diet quality when adhering to the Mediterranean Diet. Tortosa et al (5) investigated the incidence of Metabolic Syndrome in a cohort of university graduates and reported the incidence of Metabolic Syndrome increased with decreasing adherence to the Mediterranean Diet.

However, the Mediterranean type diet is not commonly consumed outside of this European region although Greek migrants are reported to retain this type of diet after settling in Australia(
6). In other countries such as Australia, suggested diets beneficial to health are provided through published dietary guidelines(7). These recommendations include regular consumption of legumes as part of a healthy diet either as a vegetable or as a meat alternative. Although the most recently published Australian Dietary Guidelines(8) do not provide specific recommendations for the amount of legumes to consume a week, the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council suggest eating legumes 2-3 times a week as part of a healthy diet.

With the new dietary guidelines in mind, the quantified recommendations from the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council legume consumption has been explored in a cohort of older adults and their overall diet quality in terms of adhering to the published Australian dietary guidelines. Preliminary findings will be presented at the Nutrition Society of Australia’s Annual Scientific Meeting in early December that suggest, similar to previous evidence, adults aged 49 years and over are not eating adequate amounts of legumes as recommended by the published guidelines. However, individuals who did consume at least two serves per week also had higher diet quality scores(
9). These findings require further investigation, particularly as we have previously found in this cohort that individuals with higher total diet scores had a reduced risk of mortality, a reduced risk of impaired fasting glucose as well as better quality of life and functional ability (10-12). 

Future research is necessary to determine whether legumes, although a small component of the overall diet, play a role in the health benefits derived from eating a healthy diet as recommended by published dietary guidelines.

  1. Bazzano La HJOLG, et al. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in us men and women: Nhanes i epidemiologic follow-up study. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2001;161(21):2573-8.
  2. Jukanti AK, Gaur PM, Gowda CLL, Chibbar RN. Nutritional quality and health benefits of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.): a review. British Journal of Nutrition. 2012 Aug;108:S11-S26.
  3. Bazzano LA, Thompson AM, Tees MT, Nguyen CH, Winham DM. Non-soy legume consumption lowers cholesterol levels: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2011;21(2):94-103.
  4. Schröder H. Protective mechanisms of the Mediterranean diet in obesity and type 2 diabetes. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2007;18(3):149-60.
  5. Tortosa A, Bes-Rastrollo M, Sanchez-Villegas A, Basterra-Gortari FJ, Nũnez-Cordoba JM, Martinez-Gonzalez MA. Mediterranean diet inversely associated with the incidence of metabolic syndrome: The SUN prospective cohort. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(11):2957-9.
  6. Kouris-Blazos A, Gnardellis C, Wahlqvist M, L., Trichopoulos D, Lukito W, Trichopoulos A. Are the advantages of the Mediterranean diet transferable to other populations? A cohort study in Melbourne, Australia. British Journal of Nutrition. 1999;82:57-61.
  7. National Health and Medical Research Council. Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults. Canberra: National Health & Medical Research Council; 2003.
  8. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines. Ageing DoHa, editor. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing; 2013.
  9. Russell J, Flood V, Broome M, editors. Do older Australians eat enough legumes? Nutrition Society of Australia's Annual Scientific Meeting; 2013 3-6 December 2013; Brisbane, Queensland.
  10. Russell J, Flood V, Rochtchina E, Gopinath B, Allman-Farinelli M, Bauman A, et al. Adherence to dietary guidelines and 15-year risk of all-cause mortality. British Journal of Nutrition. 2013;109:547-55.
  11. Gopinath B, Rochtchina E, Flood VM, Mitchell P. Diet quality is prospectively associated with incident impaired fasting glucose in older adults. Diabetic Medicine. 2013;30(5):557-62.
  12. Gopinath B, Russell J, Flood VM, Burlutsky G, Mitchell P. Adherence to Dietary Guidelines Positively Affects Quality of Life and Functional Status of Older Adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013:


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Brains and Grains

More than just fibre, non-starch polysaccharides may help your brain
Article written by guest expert Dr Talitha Best, Central Queensland University and adjunct Research Fellow at the University of South Australia with research and clinical interests in exploring the effects of diet and nutrition on cognition and well-being.

The brain is a complex organ that, like every other organ in the body, requires nutrition to support optimal function. Research is now showing that everyday mental functioning, such as mood, memory and cognitive performance, can be impacted by diet. More than just dietary fibre to help maintain healthy bowels, non-starch polysaccharides found in grains, plants and fungi may be dietary components that support brain health.
Just like non-resistant starches, non-starch polysaccharides (NSP) have an important role to play in health. Whilst the structural and functional properties of these NSP’s are diverse depending on the variety and source, it is clear that they play an important role in promoting better health outcomes. These include, lowering blood cholesterol, improving blood glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity, immune function, cardiovascular function, gastrointestinal structure and function, as well as prebiotic effects.1
A wide range of NSP such as arabinogalactans, arabinoxylans, and mixed beta glucans, found in many cereals, grains, legumes, plants and fungi, are emerging as functional dietary components. The application of these complex saccharide compounds to brain function is a new emerging area of research. Whilst there remains a large research gap in the understanding of the mechanisms by which these polysaccharides impact the brain, at present there are preliminary human studies that suggest a positive impact on neurocognitive function in humans.
Specifically, in a randomized controlled study, a group of 75 athletes were given barley derived mixed beta-glucan extract for 4 weeks and were assessed on mood outcomes. At the end of the study, compared to placebo, those that had received the 250mg or the 500 mg dose reported improved mood outcomes, as reduced tension, confusion and fatigue, and increased vigor.2 Similarly, an Australian study showed positive effects of an arabinogalactan and glucomannan plant derived blend of polysaccharides on cognitive and mood outcomes in middle-aged adults. This study showed that after 12 weeks, compared to placebo those that had received the 4g dose of NPS report improved mood outcomes, as reduced tension and improved outlook, and better memory recall.3 These emerging studies point to the potential of NPS’s to improve cognitive health.
The brain requires nutrition for optimal structure and cellular function. Emerging studies suggest that NSP’s have a direct impact on the electrical activity of the brain. Administration of NSP’s derived from lichens and barley, in animal models, shows that these complex polysaccharides increase the electrical activity of cells within the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning and memory.4,5 These findings provide a clue about potential mechanisms that might underpin memory effects seen in human studies.
In addition, NPS effects on cognitive function may be through mechanisms related to cognition and mood, such as blood glucose regulation and gut function. Whilst a vast majority of NPS’s are considered indigestible by the human digestive tract, some are known to have prebiotic effects that could benefit the gut microbiota. Excitedly, new research has began to demonstrate how changes within the gut can affect changes in learning and memory in animal models.6,7 It may be that complex interactions between NPS and gut microbiota impact mechanisms that result in cognitive benefit.
It is important that NSP’s in cereal seeds, grains, legumes, plants and fungi are included as part of a healthy diet, as they make a significant contribution to human health and nutrition. Understanding the benefits for cognitive function and the mechanisms underlying the nutritional significance of dietary NSP for brain health is an exciting area for researchers, industry and consumers to explore.

  1.  Kumar, V., et al., Dietary roles of non-starch polysaccharides in human nutrition: a review. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 2012. 52(10): p. 899-935.
  2. Talbott, S. and J. Talbott, Effect of beta 1,3/1,6 glucan on respiratory tract infection symptoms and mood state in marathon atheletes. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 2009. 8: p. 509-515.
  3. Best, T., E. Kemps, and J. Bryan, Saccharide effects on cognition and well-being in middle-aged adults: A randomised controlled trial. Developmental Neuropsychology, 2010. 35: p. 66-80.
  4. Hirano, E., et al., P B-2, a polysaccharide fraction from lichen Flavoparmelia baltimorensis, peripherally promotes the induction of long-term potentiation in the rat dentate gyrus in vivo. Brain Research, 2003. 963: p. 307-311.
  5. Edagawa, Y., et al., Systemic administration of lentinan, a branched β-glucan, enhances long-term potentiation in the rat dentate gyrus in vivo. Neuroscience Letters, 2001. 314(3): p. 139–142.
  6. Lyte, M., Microbial endocrinology and nutrition: A perspective on new mechanisms by which diet can influence gut-to-brain communication. PharmaNutrition, 2013. 1(1): p. 35–39.
  7. Heijtz, R.D., et al., Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 2011. 108(7): p. 3047-3052.

Weapons of Mass Reduction

The latest on grains & legumes and higher protein weight loss diets

With around 62.8% of Australian adults overweight or obese our nation’s battle against the bulge rages on.1 Alarmingly, it appears young Australian women are gaining weight at the fastest rate with an average increase of 0.6 kilograms per year according to a recent survey.2 Here we discuss some of the latest research on higher protein weight loss diets and give you guidance on how you can enjoy a variety of foods while defending your waistline.

Higher protein benefits – But how much?

With young women gaining weight more rapidly than other groups it is not surprising they are searching for effective weight loss strategies. Higher protein diets are popular with this group and there is good scientific evidence supporting the short term weight loss benefits of energy restricted higher protein (moderate carbohydrate) diets.3 Studies indicate that eating a relatively higher intake of protein helps to preserve muscle mass during weight loss. This is beneficial as our muscles are metabolically active (meaning they burn energy) and so minimising losses in muscle mass during weight loss can result in an overall greater reduction in body fat.4

So the science supports a ‘higher protein diet’, but in the effort to lose weight the important message of a balanced diet gets lost. So a key question is how much protein do we need each day to get these weight loss benefits? The good news is that a study published last month investigated this very question. Researchers from the US found that eating beyond twice the recommended level of protein intake (i.e. greater than 1.6 grams per kilogram body weight of protein each day) while following an energy restricted weight loss diet had no further benefits for fat loss in the young men and women.5 This finding supports the current level of protein recommended in many balanced higher protein (moderate carbohydrate) weight loss diets including the CSIRO total wellbeing diet.

So let’s put this ‘higher’ level of protein intake into real food and a whole diet perspective. In 2011-12 the average Australian woman weighed 71.1 kg6 and so to achieve a higher protein intake of twice the recommended level (similar to this recent study) an average woman could simply aim to eat three serves of protein foods like meat, poultry, fish, nuts or legumes as well as a couple of serves of dairy. This leaves room for a range of other foods including vegetables, fruit and grain (preferably half whole grain or high fibre) foods (which also contribute small amounts of plant protein) to nutritionally balance out your diet as well as give you the variety you need to sustain your diet and achieve your weight and/or waist related goals.

Room for nutrient rich grain foods (portion size matters)
The Grains & Legumes Nutrition CouncilTM (GLNC) is concerned that while young women are gaining weight the most rapidly, they are also the group most likely to be cutting out core grain foods from their day with the belief that this will help them lose weight.7 To help young women understand nutrient rich carbohydrate foods have an essential role within higher protein diets, the GLNC recently undertook a six month online campaign; Grains & Weight loss - the whole story. This campaign guides women on which grain foods and how many serves to eat each day to achieve their short term weight loss goals. An added bonus of eating whole grain and high fibre grain foods each day is that this dietary habit is associated with less weight gain in the long term.8,9
The key message of the campaign is based on a recent study of young overweight women where they followed a higher protein (moderate carbohydrate) eating plan that including 4 serves of nutrient rich grain foods, like whole grains or high fibre grain foods, each day.10 By six months, women who sustained this healthy approach to weight loss were able to achieve an average of 9kg weight loss (almost 10% of their body weight) which they were able to maintain over the full 12 months. Based on this Australian study here are two examples of what a normal day of a higher protein moderate carbohydrate diet looks like: Day 1 and Day 2. Once you have had a chance to check out these online resources, GLNC would appreciate your feedback and so welcome you to complete a brief 2 minute survey to assist us improve the quality of current and future campaigns.

Secret Weapons of Mass Reduction… A word on legumes

Are you one of the 80% of Australians who miss out on the nutritional benefits and belly busting potential of legumes? If you are looking to add a new weapon against weight to your diet look no further than legumes, such as beans (e.g. kidney, berlotti or navy), chickpeas, lentils and dried split peas. Studies indicate that people who eat legumes regularly are more likely to have lower waist size and lower risk of obesity.11.12 Eating legumes more often is an excellent habit to boost you nutrition, contribute to improvement in health and assist you achieve you weight related goals. Why not start this healthy habit now and aim to eat a variety of legumes at least 2-3 times each week as part a balanced diet. To help, check out our family friendly legume cookbook.

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Chronic Diseases, 2011-12. August 2013.
  2. Popkin. (2010). "Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health Weight Gain (g/year) 1996-2003." from
  3. Wycherley, T. P., et al. (2012). "Comparison of the effects of 52 weeks weight loss with either a high-protein or high-carbohydrate diet on body composition and cardiometabolic risk factors in overweight and obese males." Nutrition & Diabetes 2(8).
  4. Phillips, S. M. (2008) Higher protein during an energy deficit: muscle’s guardian and fat’s enemy? Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 40, 503–504
  5. Pasiakos, S et al. Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. The FASEB Journal. 2013:27(9): 3837-3847.
  6. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Chronic Diseases, 2011-12. August 2013.
  7. Project Go Grain, Colmar Brunton 2011
  8. Williams PG,Grafenauer SJ, and O’Shea JE. Cereal grains, legumes,and weight management: a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence. Nutrition Reviews. 2008;66(4):171-82
  9. Du H et al. Dietary fiber and subsequent changes in body weight and waist circumference in European men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:329-36.
  10. Griffin, H. J., et al. (2013). "Higher protein diet for weight management in young overweight women: a 12-month randomized controlled trial." Diabetes Obes Metab 15(6): 572-575.
  11. McCrory MA, et al. Pulse Consumption, Satiety, and Weight Management. Adv Nutr (Bethesda). 2010;1(1):17-30.
  12. Papanikolaou Y, Fulgoni V. Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008;27:569-576.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Rescuing the breakfast habit

Breaking the fast is essential for health… but what to eat?

Recent US research shows that people who skip breakfast are 27% more likely to have heart problems than those who start the day with a meal.1  This large study of over 25,000 US men is yet another reminder of the importance of breakfast in a healthy eating pattern. Despite the persuasive evidence for eating breakfast daily, there is a growing number of Australians who are skipping breakfast – currently one in ten school kids, one quarter of teenagers and two thirds of adults skip breakfast.2,3 Here we discuss why every Australian should start the day with breakfast and also provide guidance on breakfast food choices with a word on the hotly debated place of liquid breakfasts.  

What’s so special about breakfast? It’s the first opportunity to supply the body and brain with the essential nutrients after a night’s sleep. Based on the Australian National Nutrition Survey of 1995 we know that breakfast eaters are more likely to have an adequate diet and are twice as likely to get enough protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, thiamine and riboflavin.4,5  Breakfast eaters are also more likely to be slimmer,6,7  have more control over their appetite,7,8   have a lower risk of disease and experience better cognitive performance9,10,11 - for kids this mean better performance at school.

Despite the convincing benefits to enjoy breakfast daily, society has changed and Australians are leading busier lives which is putting more and more pressure on ‘the most important meal of the day’.12  Today, when breakfast is eaten it is the fastest meal of the day, and when it is skipped, a lack of time is one of the top reasons given.13  In an ideal world we would all spend a relaxed 10 minutes to fuel our bodies, muscles and brain first thing in the morning, however the reality is that many people are looking for whatever is quick, tasty and hits the spot.

So what’s quick, tasty, hits the spot AND provides essential nutrition to start the day? We know that the foods you eat at breakfast influence your mood, physical and mental performance, weight, and your general and long-term health.4,5,7,11,14-15 Choosing foods from the core food groups (grain foods, fruit, vegetables, meat and alternatives and dairy) is a sure way to start the day providing your body with a variety of nutrients. While breakfast choices may vary considerably between people and cultures some common breakfast options which are ideal include breakfast cereals, porridge, milk, yoghurt, fruit, breads, eggs, and legumes (e.g. baked beans). These food choices are nutritious and also meet the essential criteria for many busy Australians of being easily prepared, tasty and cost effective.

In particular grain foods are a favourite of many Australians at breakfast time, and around half of all Australians eat breakfast cereal most or every morning.3 Research supports breakfast cereal consumption as a good option for breakfast; people who eat breakfast cereal have better nutrient intakes,4,5 tend to be slimmer7,11, have a lower risk of chronic diseases16,17,18  and have improved cognitive performance.11,19 By making smart grain food choices at breakfast such as choosing whole grain or high fibre you can significantly boost your fibre intake and contribute to your whole grain daily target intake. This could be as easy as a bowl of high fibre breakfast cereal with milk and fruit, or whole grain bread with eggs or baked beans.

A word on liquid breakfasts…

Grains & Legumes Nutrition CouncilTM encourages Australians to make time to eat a breakfast based on the core food groups including grain foods (mostly whole grain or high fibre), dairy, fruit, eggs, and legumes like baked beans every day. However, as more Australians are skipping breakfast, there is an increasing demand for breakfast options which can be consumed on the run and outside of the home; which has seen the growth of the liquid breakfast category. Nutritionally, liquid breakfasts are similar to flavoured milk, often with added fibre, vitamins and minerals – and while they contribute important nutrients they do not replace a breakfast based on the core food groups. In saying this, for children or adults at risk of skipping breakfast, liquid breakfast offer an occasional option which is convenient and provides important nutrition on some days.


1. Cahill, L. E., et al. (2013). "Prospective Study of Breakfast Eating and Incident Coronary Heart Disease in a Cohort of Male US Health Professionals." Circulation 128(4): 337-343.
2. Flinders University. Analysis 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition & Physical Activity Survey for Kellogg Australia. 2009 unpublished.
3. Cereal Social Trends Report 2012. Australian Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers Forum
4. Williams P. Breakfast and the diets of Australian adults: an analysis of data from the 1995 National Nutrition Survey. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 2005; 56 (1): 65-79
5. Williams P. (2007) Breakfast and the diets of Australian children and adolescents. An analysis of data from the 1995 National Nutrition Survey. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 58, 201–216.
6. Croezen S, et al. (2009) Skipping breakfast, alcohol consumption and physical inactivity as risk factors for overweight and obesity in adolescents: results of the E-MOVO project. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. V63-I3: 405-12.
7. De la Hunty A, Ashwell M. (2007) Are people who regularly eat breakfast cereals slimmer than those who don´t? A systematic review of the evidence. Nutrition Bulletin. V32-I2: 118-28.
8. Deshmukh-Taskar PR, et al. (2010). The relationship of breakfast skipping and type of breakfast consumption with nutrient intake and weight status in children and adolescents: The national health and nutrition examination survey 1999-2006. J Am Diet Assoc. 110: 869-878.
9. Benton, D., Parker, P.Y. 1998. Breakfast, blood glucose, and cognition. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 67: 772S-8S.
10. Mahoney CR, et al. (2005) Effect of breakfast composition on cognitive processes in elementary school children. Physiology & Behavior. V85: 635-645.
11. Rampersaud GC, et al. (2005) Breakfast Habits, Nutritional Status, Body Weight, and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents. Journal of American Dietetic Association. V105-I5: 743-760.
12. Fear J, et al. Long time, no see. Theimpact of time poverty on Australian workers.The Australia Institute. November 2010.
13. Reeves S, et al. Breakfast habits, beliefs and measures of health and wellbeing in a nationally representative UK sample. Appetite 2013; 60: 51-57
14. Albertson AM, Thompson D, Franko DL, Kleinman RE, Barton, BA, & Crockett, SJ. (2008) Consumption of breakfast cereal is associated with positive health outcomes. Evidence from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood 433 Institute Growth and Health Study. Nutrition Research, 28, 744–752.
15. Gibson SA, & Gunn P. (2011) What’s for breakfast? Nutritional implications of breakfast habits. Insights from the NDNS dietary records. Nutrition Bulletin, 36, 505 78–86.
16. Kleemola P. et. al. (1999) Eur J Clin Nutr 53(9):716-721.)
17. Franko DL, Albertson AM, Thompson DR, Barton BA. (2011) Cereal consumption and indicators of cardiovascular risk in adolescent girls. Public Health Nutr. Apr;14(4):584-90. Epub 2010 Jul 19.
18. Huang CJ, Hu HT, Fan YC, Liao YM, and Tsai, PS. (2010) Association of breakfast skipping with obesity and health-related quality-of-life: evidence from a national survey in Taiwan. Int J Obesity, 34;720-725.
19. Chaplin K and Smith AP. (2011) Breakfast and Snacks: Associations with Cognitive Failures, Minor Injuries, Accidents and Stress, Nutrients 3;515- 528;doi:10.3390/nu3050515.

What does ‘High in Whole Grain’ mean?

A new industry code sets standard for whole grain ingredient content claims
Do you know how much whole grain needs to be in your breakfast cereal, bread or crispbread for it to be considered high in whole grain or very high in whole grain? Like all Australians, you can be forgiven for not knowing this as there is currently no regulation for the use of whole grain ingredient content claims to describe the different amount of whole grain in different foods. However, with the development of the Code of Practice for Whole Grain Ingredient Content Claims clarity for consumers around the labels and advertising of the whole grain content of foods is on the horizon.

Developed by the Grains & Legumes Nutrition CouncilTM (GLNC) – the independent authority on the nutrition and health benefits of grains and legumes in Australia and New Zealand – the voluntary Code of Practice for Whole Grain Ingredient Content Claims (the Code), for the first time sets a standard for labelling of whole grain foods, which vary widely in whole grain content.

Under the new Code, from 2014 consumers will begin to see consistent messages for the whole grain ingredient content of foods on food packaging and advertising. According to GLNC Managing Director, Georgie Aley, “ the new standard is being welcomed by the food industry, and will help consumers to identify whole grain foods which can help them meet the recommended amount of whole grain each day.”

While an increased emphasis has been placed on whole grain foods in the revised Australian Dietary Guidelines, GLNC consumption study data from 2009 and 2011 confirms that Australians aren’t eating enough whole grain foods. In fact, whole grain food intake decreased by around 20% during this time, which may be attributed in part to mixed messages about whole grain foods, which can create confusion among consumers.

The whole grain ingredient content claim levels are based on the Australian Dietary Guidelines and the whole grain Daily Target Intake of 48g per day, established in 2006. Here is a summary of the whole grain ingredient content claim levels, as outlined in the code:

The whole grain ingredient content claim was developed through consultation with the public health and nutrition research community, as well as the food industry based on scientific rationale. If you are interested in the evidence underpinning the code here is a summary from the recent DAA National Conference.

The Australian content claim levels are also in line with international labelling and characterisation of whole grain foods, including the recently approved characterisation by the AACC International of 8 grams of whole grain per 30 grams of product.

As well as setting a standard by which food manufacturers can demonstrate the whole grain content of their foods to consumers, the new Code also enables manufacturers’ claims relating to high fibre grains or legume foods to be certified by GLNC, and permits on-pack use of GLNC’s certification statement and logo by registered users. Ms Aley said, “This additional certification will highlight healthier product choices for consumers within the grains and legumes category, and bring greater understanding about the value of enjoying grain foods three to four times a day, and legumes at least two to three times a week.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

Grains and weight loss

What's the latest?

Grains & Legumes Nutrition CouncilTM(GLNC) has launched a new campaign, Grains and Weight Loss: The Whole Story, to educate Australians about the health and weight loss benefits of whole grains and high fibre grain foods. This new initiative helps Australians understand that following a higher protein diet doesn't mean completely cutting out good quality carbohydrates.
Michelle Broom, Nutrition Program Manager at GLNC and an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, believes the campaign will address many misconceptions people have about eating carbohydrates and will empower individuals with a better understanding of the role of quality grain foods within a weight loss eating plan. According to Michelle, “We are constantly being bombarded with mixed messages from fad diets and quick fixes. Achieving weight loss and keeping the weight off in the long term hinges on going back to basics and learning what carbohydrate foods are essential as part of a balanced eating plan and how much to include everyday to achieve your goals.”

A national study commissioned by GLNC in 2011 found that over a third of women were avoiding grain foods including whole grain and high fibre grain foods in order to assist with weight loss (particularly high for women aged 18-35).1  This trend is likely linked to the surge of interest in higher protein, “low carb” diets in recent years. It’s a concerning trend as eating higher intake of whole grains and high fibre grain is actually linked to a lower risk of weight gain in the long term.2

Higher protein diets help to manage hunger and have been linked to weight loss benefits, but what is lost in the media hype is that the research shows that these effective higher protein weight loss diets actually include moderate amounts of good quality carbohydrate foods each day – including whole grains and high fibre grain foods.3

In an Australian first, a weight loss study of young women supports the important role of good quality carbohydrate foods within a higher protein eating plan. This study encouraged young women to follow a higher protein (moderate carbohydrate) eating plan which included 4 serves of nutrient rich grain foods – like whole grains and high fibre grain foods each day. By six months, women who sustained this healthy approach to weight loss were able to achieve an average of 9kg weight loss (almost 10% of their body weight) which they were able to maintain over the full 12 months.4

While “low carb” diets, including many fad diets, often produce rapid weight loss they don’t appear to offer long term advantages for sustained weight loss.2 By unnecessarily restrict good quality carbohydrate foods you may be increasing your risk of not meeting your body’s nutrient needs in the short term which can have serious health effects in the long term. In fact, recent research has linked long term low carb eating patterns to a 30% increased risk of an early death.5

A final word… Dr Joanna McMillan provided a good summary during a recent presentation at the Australian Health & Fitness Expo titled Protein, Carbs and GI: what’s the latest, “The benefits of high protein for weight loss are clear… yes, it helps people to lose weight and it helps people to keep that weight off but it doesn’t mean it has to be low carb. Use the ‘smart carbs’ choosing lower GI foods including whole grains, legumes, fruits and reduced fat dairy carbohydrate foods as part of an overall weight loss plan.”

To find out more about the campaign and to download resources head to

1. Colmar Brunton. Project Go Grain. 2011.
2. Williams PG, Grafenauer SJ, and O’Shea JE. Cereal grains, legumes, and weight management: a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence. Nutrition Reviews. 2008;66(4):171-82
3. Wycherley, 2012. Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard-protein, low-fat diets: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.044321.
4. Griffin, H et al. Higher protein diet for weight management in young overweight women:a 12 month randomised controlled trial. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism published online 25th January 2013
5. Noto H, Goto A, Tsujimoto T, Noda M (2013) Low-Carbohydrate Diets and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. PLoS ONE 8(1): e55030.

Insights from the DAA 30th National Conference

Food supply challenges | The National Food Plan | Health claims on packaging

Over 500 dietitians converged on the National Convention Centre in Canberra for the Dietitians Association of Australia’s 30th National Conference. We have put togethre a summary of three intersting session which outlined current challenges affecting the food supply as well as future opportunities and the important role dietitians ca play in educating Australians.
Healthier food products myths and misconceptions

Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW) held a fascinating breakfast seminar on the first morning of the conference. Nilani Sritharan explained how reducing sugar or increasing fibre content can affect the nutrient content and taste as well as increase the cost of breakfast cereals. Attendees taste tested a cereal which had had the sugar reduced by half by either just removing the sugar, or replacing it with a sweetener or a natural flavour. While there were noticeable changes to the taste, interestingly the energy content changed by only a single kilojoule.

Dr Tony Bird went on to explain that GI testing of a set of cereals found that a four-fold reduction in sugar to the level required for a green traffic light label had no effect on the GI of the cereal. In considering these findings Manny Noakes commented that, “consumers want to be liberated from certain things like sugar, wheat or gluten.....however looking at single nutrients and changing them does not mean you will end up with a more nutritious product.”

National Food Plan and the challenges for tomorrow

The National Food Plan was launched the same week of the National Conference, and so Professor Peter Williams provided a timely discussion on the potential role health professionals and health organisations can play to support the Plan. The aim of the National Food Plan is for government, businesses and individuals to work together towards “a sustainable, globally competitive, food supply which supports access to nutritious and affordable food”. Prof Williams recommended that health professionals can play an important role advocating for disadvantaged groups and educating consumers to make healthier food choices.

With environmental sustainability being a focus of the Plan as well as a hot topic within the dietetics profession, it was no surprise this was also discussed. Professor Williams outlined the complexities of measuring the environmental impact of consumption patterns, while also highlighting the significant amount of food wasted each year by Australians. Professor Williams explained that health professionals and all Australians can make a significant impact on sustainability by reducing waste and discouraging over consumption.

Food laws helping consumers

When Australians go to the supermarket they are often confronted with lots of messages on foods labels, for example nutrition claims like “low in fat” or health claims such as “reduces cholesterol absorption”. While manufacturers do choose what claims they make on their food and beverages there is a clear set of rules which govern what claims can be made and which products are eligible.

FSANZ (Food Standards Australia and New Zealand) have recently introduced new regulation which aims to encourage innovation by food manufacturers to make healthier food products. The new system introduces the Nutrient Profiling Scoring Criterion (NPSC) which can be used to assess the eligibility of foods to make health claims. NPSC takes into account the type of food or beverage, energy content, saturated fat, total sugars and sodium levels as well as the content of fruit, vegetable, nuts, legumes, protein and fibre to produce a score. The goal of the NPSC is to identify healthier food options, so only foods and beverages which meet specified NPSC scores can make an appropriate health claim.  

A final word on food labels…Beware of “puffery”: there may be cases where a claim is not a nutrition content claim or a health claim and so is not regulated by FSANZ or the code. Where these claims are false or misleading it’s recommended that consumers contact the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Whole grains 'alive' with nutrition

Exploring the health promoting components of whole grains

Eating more whole grains helps to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, bowel cancer and inflammation; yet many Australian’s may not be getting enough. One of the key hurdles to convince Australians to eat more whole grains is demonstrating exactly how whole grains reduce the risk of so many diseases. It has long been thought that fibre was the key component in whole grains responsible for disease prevention, however Australian researchers now suggest that components other than fibre which are found in whole grains may be more powerful at promoting health.1
Higher intake of bran (the fibre rich outer layer of whole grains) has been shown to result in many of the same health benefits as eating whole grains themselves. Emerging evidence indicates that when we eat whole grains and bran in particular we are not only eating fibre but we are also eating some highly specialised cells known as the aleurone. The aleurone is unique to whole grains, and is not found in other plant foods like fruit and vegetables. It is nutrient rich, containing a range of vitamins, mineral and antioxidants. In fact thanks to the antioxidant levels found in the aleurone, whole grains antioxidant capacity is equal to that of fruit and vegetables, which seems to be a well kept secret.1,2

Interestingly, whereas most of the grain cells are dead, these aleurone cells remain ‘alive’ and metabolically active even after being dried and prepared to be eaten as food. It has been suggested that these cells and the nutrients they contain contribute to the health benefits of whole grains.1

Researchers have highlighted magnesium, zinc and ferulic acid (an antioxidant) as key health promoting components of the aleurone. Each of these is found in rich supply within the aleurone and each has been observed to have positive effects on and blood glucose control, blood pressure and/or protecting the blood vessels of the body. In the case of whole grains, these three key nutrients are consumed together along with many other nutrients and fibre. This means that any positive effects they have are summed together, which is a likely explanation for the significant health benefits associated with eating whole grains.

Given the years and years it takes to develop chronic disease it is suggested that the combined effects of magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, fibres and the range of other nutrients found in whole grains is the reason why they have been shown to significantly reduce risk of chronic disease.

This recent evidence reinforces that whole grains are just as important as fruits and vegetables in protecting the body against chronic disease. The Grains & Legumes Nutrition CouncilTM recommends that Australians aim to eat at least 48g of whole grains each day for disease prevention.3,4 This is equal to around 3 serves of whole grain foods, with 1 serve being equal to a slice of whole grain bread. The great news is that increasing whole grain intake isn’t difficult since whole grains and whole grain foods are cheap, easily stored and readily available.


1. Lillioja S, et al. Whole grains, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and hypertension: Links to the aleurone preferred over digestible fibre. BioFactors, 2012. Published early online.
2. Fardet A. New hypotheses for the health protective mechanisms of whole-grain cereals: what is beyond fibre? Nutr Res Rev. 2010 23(1):65-134
3. Griffiths T and Nestel P. Developing a target for daily wholegrain intake for Australians. Food Australia. 2006;58(9):431-433.
4. Griffiths T. Towards an Australian ‘daily target intake’ for whole grains. Food Australia. 2007;59(12):600-601.

Making the headlines

Carbohydrate Intakes – high, low, or irrelevant?

Did you see the recent headlines surrounding the health risks of low carbohydrate diets? These were the result of a symposium hosted by ILSI SEAR Australasia in conjunction with the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council™ held on Tuesday 19th March 2013. This event brought together a panel of highly accomplished experts to discuss the topic of carbohydrates and health. Here’s a summary of the three lead presentations as well as an outline of each of the topics discussed at the event.

Professor Peter Williams, of the University of Canberra, set the scene for the day by outlining trends in carbohydrate intake and providing an overview of the health effects of various levels of carbohydrates intake. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) suggests Australians should eat between 45-65% energy from carbohydrates. The most recent data suggests Australians are consuming 46% energy from carbohydrate, compared to countries around the world where intakes range between 38-79%.

Prof Williams cautioned that percentage energy intake is only part of the story and that the total amount of carbohydrate and total energy consumed from carbohydrate are important considerations for health. Prof Williams outlined that higher intakes of dietary fibre and whole grains appear to have health benefits, however low carbohydrate diets which may restrict whole grains and fibre rich foods are often promoted in the general public for short term weight loss.
Notably, a recent meta-analysis found that long term exposure to low carbohydrate diets was associated with a higher risk of death, indicating that low carbohydrate diets in the long term may pose health risks. With the popularity of ‘low carb’ diets, it was not surprising this research received media attention. Here is a link to an interview Prof Williams provided on the day of the symposium. Prof Williams concluded that not all carbohydrates are the same and that food based evidence is best to guide dietary recommendations.

Professor Manny Noakes, of the CSIRO, elaborated on the potential risks and benefits of low carbohydrate diets. Based on the current evidence, Prof Noakes suggested that while low carbohydrate intake (less than 100g) appears to be effective for weight management, these diets are often associated with high saturated fat composition, which may have a negative impact on heart health.

Interestingly, Prof Noakes suggested that some components of whole grains may in fact promote fat loss, as there is a body of scientific evidence which suggests that higher grain intakes (particularly whole grains) is associated with reduced body weight. Prof Noakes concluded that the inclusion of moderate amounts of carbohydrate in the form of high fibre whole grains, low glycemic index (GI) grain foods, dairy and fruit is optimal for weight loss and nutrient intakes.

Dr Alan Barclay, of the GI Foundation and Australian Diabetes Council, addressed the risks and benefits of high carbohydrate intakes. Dr Barclay summarised a recent review which found that high fibre intake is associated with lower risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.

Reflecting the current debate around sugar intake, Dr Barclay discussed the latest research on dietary sugars and body weight conducted for the World Health Organization (WHO), which found that while sugar-sweetened beverages (like soft drinks and cordial) were linked to weight gain, changes appeared to be related to energy intakes and exchanging sugars for other carbohydrates (i.e. starches) was not associated with weight change.

Dr Barclay went on to present evidence which suggests that GI and glycemic load (GL) are stronger predictors of disease risk including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. In conclusion Dr Barclay stated that rather than focusing on sugar or starch content of foods the evidence suggests that Australians need to lower the GI of their diet.

Dr Jane Muir, Monash University, spoke about the risks and benefits of fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAPs).

Dr Anthony Bird, CSIRO, spoke about the emerging area of research around prebiotic carbohydrates.

Mr Bill Shrapnel, Shrapnel Nutrition Consulting, and Dr Alan Barclay evaluated the current measures of carbohydrate quality.

Dr Louise Burke, of the Australian Institute of Sport, outlined the evolution of carbohydrate guidelines for sports performance.

Ms Nilani Sritharan, Cereal Partners Worldwide, described the challenges of translating the nutritional science into real foods that consumer will eat.

Ms Sarah Hyland, Colmar Brunton, spoke about consumer attitudes to carbohydrate intake.

Prof Amanda Lee, Queensland University of Technology, outlined the current consumer guidance on carbohydrate intake as outlined in the Australian Dietary Guidelines.
If you would like to read further on one or more of the topics discussed on the day each of the presentations are available via the GLNC website.

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)