Friday, June 13, 2014

Trends for grains & legumes in 2014 - update

With a constantly evolving range of foods on our supermarket shelves and a huge number of product launches every week, we take a look behind the global trends that are influencing what we will see in our supermarkets in 2014 and beyond. Sarah Hyland, Research Director at Colmar Brunton, provides an update on the key trends, together with some consumer insights and the potential implications for grain and legume foods.

‘Free From’ movement continues to grow
Although it has often been dismissed as a “fad”, the consistent growth in sales of gluten-free products over the last decade has proven that there is enduring consumer interest in the ‘free from’ movement. The segment is moving mainstream, as product development widens into new categories, and supermarkets are responding with launches of own label. The same trend can be seen in the milk category, with increased launches of soy and almond milks, new variants emerging such as rice, quinoa, and coconut milks, and the expansion into new sub-categories with the launch of added fibre milks. Growing consumer interest and self-diagnosis of other allergies and intolerances are driving expansion beyond gluten and lactose, to GM, additive, preservative free.

Growth in this industry is being driven by to two factors: taste and health. Improved palatability has taken these foods beyond the niche of people who for medical reasons have no choice but to eat gluten-free products and made them accessible to consumers who choose to eat gluten-free. The interest in health has spread from those diagnosed with specific allergies and intolerances, via the self-diagnosed, to those with a more general interest in health and wellbeing.

It is clear that the free-from sector is set for further growth, and this has several implications for food manufacturers. Because taste remains the key to success even for foods that focus on better-for-you nutrition, gluten free foods must be palatable in order to succeed. Although consumer acceptance of higher pricing for gluten free foods can prove lucrative for some manufacturers, the costs of formulating gluten-free products, preventing cross-contamination and guaranteeing traceability can be substantial. Manufacturers of grain based foods are increasingly exploring alternative (gluten-free) grains, such as rice, tapioca and potato flours to satisfy this growing demand.

Protein – focus shifting to weight management
Whilst protein for weight management isn’t a new trend, it has certainly undergone an evolution. High protein foods have transitioned from body-builder niche through to weight management and health-conscious consumers. There is steadily increasing consumer understanding that protein is a “good thing” to have in a healthy diet and an increased emphasis given to protein by weight management regimes. This is reflected in the use of protein as something you expect to find in a variety of regular foods, not only as part of a main meal.

Protein rich ingredients are being added to foods in other categories, e.g. cereal bars, powdered shakes, soups, pastas, ready-to-drink beverages, cereals and sweet and savoury snacks and new product formulations, e.g. high protein breads, higher protein cereals, are substituting or combining grains to increase the protein content. Plant proteins such as pea, potato, chickpea, banana, sprouted brown rice and also microalgae are emerging as a way to bolster protein to meet this demand, particularly among vegetarian consumers. In keeping with the ‘free from’ movement, a ‘natural’ identify is being legitimised by pairing with familiar ingredients, such as oats and honey.
Messages around the benefits of protein for weight management, satiety and sustained energy are resonating well with consumers and this is reflected in brands calling out protein content on pack. Improvements in the taste and texture of high protein products continue, as this trend widens to a more mainstream audience whose consumption is driven by more than simply sporting performance.

‘Weight Wellness’ – it’s all about how you feel
A more holistic approach to nutrition is being seen with the emergence of a trend towards ‘weight wellness’. This approach is centred around eating right for optimal health and the emotional outcome of eating foods to ‘feel good’ and ‘energised’. An optimal weight is viewed as being one at which our bodies feel healthy and happy and is not defined or dictated by aesthetic, shape, or weight. Coupled with this focus on the emotional outcomes of health and nutrition, is the demand for highly individualised choices. This is reflected in the growth of apps and online programmes, whilst structured weightloss programmes and meetings are in decline. Consumers are guided by what friends and family are doing and a general sense of doing what they believe actually works for them. Choices are highly influenced by information online, which typically discourage eating processed foods, grains, dairy and refined sugar, and position them as allergens. Companies appealing to the wellness segment are typically blending a natural and weight management position.

‘Slow Energy’ – a complex message for consumers
Whilst there has been a sharp increase in the number of products launches and claims around ‘slow energy’, this remains relatively niche. Previously ‘energy’ was monopolised by the energy drinks sector, which was built around providing additional energy often in the form of caffeine. The emerging ‘slow energy’ is differentiated in that it focuses on sustaining energy, i.e. not adding extra, just making it last longer.

Messages of ‘slow release energy’ resonate strongly with consumers, but claims are complex and difficult to communicate effectively. Consumers are highly fragmented in how they interpret the health benefits, varying from ‘healthy’, to blood sugar control, and sustained energy. Most consumers are thinking about their weight and their energy levels, but they don’t yet see themselves as in a disease state and they make their choices from “regular foods”

Selecting ingredients to deliver the slow energy effect typically leads product developers to slowly digestible carbohydrates, of which oats and barley are well known, but there may also be opportunities for lesser grains such as sorghum and millet.

Low FODMAP diets - recommendations

FODMAPs refer to a group of small chained carbohydrates which are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and so pass into the large intestine where they are fermented by gut bactieria (1). Grain foods and legumes contain FODMAPs including fructans found in wheat and rye, and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) found in legumes (1). Fructans and GOS, together with other FODMAPs, may cause symptoms such as gas and bloating in people that suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (1,2).

Recent research from Monash University has concluded that a low FODMAP diet can effectively reduce the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (3). As a treatment for IBS, people may follow a low FODMAP diet that excludes foods containing fructans and GOS (i.e. wheat, rye and legumes) for a period of time.

GLNC supports the findings of the valuable research conducted by Monash University and appreciates that to manage symptoms of IBS, people may follow a low FODMAP diet for a short period of time. However, GLNC also recognises that a low FODMAP diet is not recommended as a long term diet, nor is it recommended for the general population.

A low FODMAP diet is designed to be followed for a 2-6 week period to alleviate symptoms associated with IBS, after which individuals are advised to slowly re-introduce foods containing FODMAPs, under the guidance of an Accredited Practising Dietitian, to identify their tolerance level of these foods to maintain a healthy diet.

Research indicates that FODMAPs are probably essential for maintaining a healthy population of gut bacteria which has implications on long term health (4,5). Grain-based foods are important sources of protein, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Whole grain and high fibre grain foods and legumes also contain essential nutrients and phytonutrients that promote health and help protect against disease (6).

For this reason, GLNC maintains that a low FODMAP diet is not a diet for the long-term, nor is it a diet recommended for the general population. Australians should eat a wide variety of grains and legumes as part of a balanced diet (3); grain foods 3 - 4 times a day, choosing at least half as whole grain or high fibre grain foods and legumes at least 2 - 3 times each week.

GLNC recommends that individuals with symptoms of IBS see an Accredited Practising Dietitian experienced in IBS management.


  1. Biesiekierski JR, Rosella O, Rose R, et al. Quantification of fructans, galacto-oligosacharides and other short-chain carbohydrates in processed grains and cereals. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2011;24:154-176.
  2. Gibson et al. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010;25(2):252-8
  3. Gibson PR, Barrett JS, Muir JG. Functional bowel symptoms and diet. Internal Medicine Journal. 2013;43(10):1067-74.
  4. Staudacher et al. Fermentable carbohydrate restriction reduces luminal bifidobacteria and gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. Journal of Nutrition, 2012;142;1510-8
  5. Dr Jane Muir, J et al. Conference Presentation: What are the risks/benefits of fermentable carbohydrates? The FODMAP story. Accessed online 4th April 2013.
  6. NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. 2013 Accessed online January 2014.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The whole grain gap - comparing whole grain intakes to recommendations

At the Dietitians Association of Australia National Conference in Brisbane in May 2014 Chris Cashman, GLNC Nutrition Project Officer, presented the whole grain findings from the GLNC 2014 Consumption and Attitudinal Study which investigated Australians whole grain intakes compared with recommendations – the whole grain gap (1).

Whole grain foods such as wholemeal breads, breakfast cereals, porridge, crispbreads, wholemeal pasta and brown rice are recommended around the world as part of a healthy diet. In Australia recommendations encouraging whole grain foods include the Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) and the 48 gram whole grain Daily Target Intake (DTI) for adults. Each of these recommendations is underpinned by evidence that eating at least three serves of whole grain foods each day is linked with improved nutrition and a reduced risk of weight, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.(2,3)

To compare Australians whole grain intakes to recommendations, GLNC conducted its third national Consumption and Attitudinal Study in March 2014, collecting two days of food intake data from 3,031 Australians aged 2 – 70 years. (2)

The survey found that 65% of Australians eat whole grain foods daily, with whole grain or wholemeal breads, porridge and breakfast cereals being the most common choices. On average Australians eat only 1.69 serves of whole grain foods each day (less than 2 slices of bread) this is less than half of the average 3.88 daily serves of core grain foods (grain foods recommended as part of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating).

Overall the key finding of this survey was that 75% Australians are not meeting the whole grain recommendations of 3 serves or more each day and the 48 gram whole grain DTI.  Of particular concern is that this is being driven by 40% of adults and 50% of children eating less than one serve of whole grain foods each day

This finding clearly demonstrates that the whole grain gap continues to exist and suggests many Australians are not may benefit from the reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes associated with increasing whole grain intakes. As such there is an ongoing need to encourage Australians to enjoy a variety of grain foods, choosing mostly whole grain and high fibre grain foods.

To help Australians choose higher in whole grain foods GLNC has taken an active role by establishing an Industry Standard through the Code of Practice for Whole Grain Ingredient Content Claims. This Industry Standard requires foods to contain a minimum amount of 8 grams or more of whole grain per serve to carry a whole grain claim on its packaging.

To register your interest in GLNC’s publication of the 2014 Consumption and Attitudinal Study Report available from October 2014, please email


  1. Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2014.
  2. NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. 2013 Accessed online January 2014.
  3. Griffiths T. Towards an Australian ‘daily target intake’ for wholegrains. Food Australia. 2007

Almost one million Australians may be self-diagnosing wheat intolerance

At the Dietitians Association of Australia National Conference in Brisbane in May Michelle Broom, GLNC Nutrition Program Manager, presented the findings of the GLNC 2011 Consumption and Attitudinal Study related to trends in avoidance of grain foods (1).

The GLNC Study found many Australians may be cutting wheat from their diet based on self diagnosis without seeking guidance from dietitians or nutritionists. The aim of this study was to determine Australians attitudes and behaviours towards grains, particularly reasons for limiting grains in the diet.

A 30 question survey was conducted in 2011 of a nationally representative sample of 1,204 Australians, aged 15–80 years, 44% women. 16% of participants reported limiting or avoiding wheat. Limiting wheat was more common in women (22%) than men (12%). Of those reporting to have a wheat intolerance, self-diagnosis was cited by 35%. Compared to other age groups, 25-34 year olds were significantly more likely to self diagnose. Health care professional diagnosis was reported in 31% of cases, including 5% by a dietitian. The age group most commonly diagnosed by a dietitian was 15-24 years. Only 17% of those limiting wheat in their diet had sought dietary advice from a dietitian or nutritionist. Men and people aged 35-49 were more likely to seek guidance. The true prevalence of wheat intolerance in Australia is not well established. However, this survey indicates potentially 3.6 million Australians are avoiding wheat, with over one million people doing so based on self-diagnosis of intolerance and many are not seeking professional dietary guidance to ensure they are following a healthy, balanced diet.

To prevent people cutting grain foods out of their diet unnecessarily it is essential Australians understand the importance of grain foods in the diet beyond the contribution of carbohydrate. Recent results of the 2011 Australian Health Survey indicate grain based foods are the key contributor of seven key nutrients in the Australian diet including fibre, iron, magnesium, iodine and B vitamins including folate (2).


  1. Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. 2011 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2011.
  2. ABS. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014.

Gluten free – be wary of the health halo

While a gluten-free diet is essential for people with coeliac disease, the scientific evidence indicates the avoidance of gluten offers little benefit for most people read more here. Despite a lack of conclusive scientific evidence, the gluten free trend continues to grow off the back of high profile celebrity endorsements, anecdotal evidence and clever marketing. As this global trend is set to continue to influence Australian’s food choices here are some insights and tips to making healthy grain food choices gluten free or otherwise.

Be wary of the gluten free ‘health halo’
The skyrocketing demand for gluten free products from consumers in recent years is likely a reflection that many people’s take home message on gluten is that ‘gluten is bad’. This explains why gluten free claims on food packaging have a “health halo” effect, meaning people perceive a product with a gluten free claim on its packaging as being healthier than other similar products.

In contrast to this perception that gluten free foods may be healthier, a recent investigation of gluten free products by CHOICE indicates that gluten free products often require extra ingredients such as additional fat, extra sugar to create a palatable texture or flavour. In addition, a recent analysis by GLNC of breads and breakfast cereals found that gluten free options tended to be lower in whole grain, fibre and protein, while higher in fat content compared with products not carrying a gluten free claim.(1)

The gluten free “health halo” helps to explain why some people link gluten free foods or a gluten free diet with weight loss. However, it is unlikely that the gluten protein plays a direct role in weight loss, rather weight loss which may be reported after adopting a gluten free diet is in fact a result of a reduced overall energy intake through the ‘cutting out’ of foods which is commonly associated with going gluten free.

Gluten free doesn’t mean grain free
Did you know that grain foods including breads, breakfast cereals, crispbreads and intact grains (oats, rice, quinoa etc), gluten free or otherwise are the number one source of fibre, folate, thiamine, iron, magnesium, iodine, and carbohydrates(2) within the Australian diet?

While ‘cutting out’ or reducing intake of foods higher in added fats, sugars and sodium like biscuits, cakes and take away is a good outcome, cutting out core grain foods recommended as part of a balanced diet  may increase your risk of not meeting your requirements of a range of essential nutrients. This is why it is so important to note that ‘gluten free’ doesn’t mean grain free.

The great news for people with coeliac disease as well as people looking to add variety to their diet is that today there is a wide range of grains available to Australians. These include grains which are naturally gluten free such as rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth and sorghum. Besides being gluten free these grains are nutritionally similar to gluten containing grains which means they too deliver the essential nutrients we need for health within a balanced diet. They are also prepared and used in much the same way and so are suitable for all meal occasions in a range a cuisines and dishes.

So which grain foods are actually healthier?
Dietary Guidelines around the world recommend a variety of grain foods, mostly whole grain and high fibre grain foods as part of a healthy diet. These recommendations are based on the important nutrient’s these foods provide and the evidence from large population studies which associate eating grain foods, particularly whole grains and high fibre grain foods with a reduced risk of weight gain, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer.(3)

As breads and breakfast cereals made with wheat, oats, barley or rye are the most commonly eaten grain foods in Australia, it’s clear that these foods make a significant contribution towards Australians nutrient intakes and have lots of potential to reduce risk of disease as part of a balanced diet.

The future…
As demand for gluten free products continues to grow in the coming years, you will no doubt see more and more products making gluten free claims. It is important to be mindful of the “health halo” effect and in line with the dietary guidelines aim to choose higher in whole grain and fibre grain foods more often while limiting discretionary choices like biscuits, cakes and take aways.

The good news is that the demand for healthier options is leading food manufacturers to innovate and develop more nutritious grains foods using gluten free grains and other gluten free ingredients such as legumes. As such the future will no doubt have healthier gluten free options than those products previously available.


  1. GLNC. 2014 Audit of Core Grain Foods on Shelf in Australia. Unpublished: 2014.
  2. ABS. Australian Health Survey: Nutrition First Results - Foods and Nutrients, 2011-12. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014.
  3. NHMRC. Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. 2013 Accessed online January 2014