Wholesome: Large-scale study underpins the health benefits of whole grains

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03 Nov 2017 --- Exchanging refined grain products – such as white bread and pasta – with whole grain varieties causes overweight adults to eat less, lose weight, leading to a decrease in the amount of inflammation in their bodies. These are some of the findings of Danish study headed by the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark. The study supports the scientific basis for the dietary recommendations of many countries to choose whole grains.

In the most comprehensive study to date of its kind, researchers studied the effect of exchanging refined grain products in the diet – such as white bread and pasta – with whole grain varieties. The National Food Institute headed the study, which was carried out in close cooperation with the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen and DTU Bioinformatics. 

The study included 50 adults at risk of developing cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes. Blood tests showed that the participants had less inflammation in their bodies when eating whole grains. In particular, it appeared that rye had a beneficial effect on the blood's content of inflammatory markers. Inflammation is the natural response of the body to an infection, but some people have slightly elevated levels of inflammation (so-called low-grade inflammation) even though there is no infection. This is particularly the case in overweight people.

In addition, the study found that participants eat less when whole grain products are on the menu – presumably because whole grain consumption causes satiety. While eating the whole grain diet, participants generally lost weight.

“Our analysis confirmed that there is a sound scientific basis for the dietary recommendation to eat whole grains. This may particularly apply to people who are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease or Type 2 diabetes,” Professor Tine Rask Licht from the National Food Institute says.

The researchers used DNA sequencing to analyze stool samples from the participants to examine whether the different diet types affected the participants’ gut bacteria composition. Overall, the analysis did not show major effects of the dietary grain products on the composition of the gut bacteria.

“However, even though the analysis did not reveal significant changes in the average gut microbiota after whole grain consumption, it may well be that the individual composition of our gut microbes has an impact on the individual reaction of our body to dietary whole grains, given that our bacteria help us digest the fibers in the whole grains. This is something that further studies of our data may answer,” Tine Rask Licht explains.

Click to EnlargeAlthough the beneficial effects of eating whole grain instead of refined grain products are well documented, this does not mean that consumers are increasing their wholegrain consumption. In an article to be published in the October/November edition of The World of Food Ingredients, Michael Gusko, Managing Director at GoodMills Innovation, highlights how the market for wholegrain bread still has enormous growth potential.

Sales in the category “products containing wholegrain” continue to rise. According to the latest Innova Market Insights data (2017), 19 percent of new bakery and cereal launches in North America now carry a wholegrain positioning.

“However, while many people think they are buying wholegrain products, in reality, most people are still not,” Gusko notes. “The reason for this is quite simply that here are many misleading products on the market. Consumers who choose dark, coarse-textured breads or seed-rich bakery items are convinced they are buying wholegrain products. What they are actually purchasing in many cases is made from colored refined flour, perhaps with additional seeds and cereals. These items look like wholegrain products, but they have the poor nutritional profiles of white flour.”

“Conversely, there are innovative wholegrain flours that deliver bakery items with a light and soft crumb and no visible bran particles. Breads and rolls made with these flours look like they are made with white flour, but in fact, they are real wholegrain products with excellent nutritional value. So we can safely state that the color and texture of bread says nothing about its wholegrain content,” Gusko notes.

Through its Wholegrain Index, GoodMills Innovation is offering a simple and effective information and transparency system. Inspired by comparable solutions in the US and Norway, the company has developed an online calculator that enables industrial and artisan bakeries to identify the wholegrain content of their individual recipes. With a corresponding seal, the actual wholegrain content can be labeled on the package. This seal can simply be downloaded as a graphic file and used on packaging and promotional material to show the product’s wholegrain content. Thus, consumers do not have to rely on the visual appearance of the product and will not be misled.

“Health organizations can’t force people to eat wholegrain bread if they don’t like the taste. But the industry can support wholegrain consumption with tasty products with good mouthfeel and improved nutritional profiles. At the same time, the industry needs to improve transparency so that consumers can see at a glance the wholegrain content of every product they purchase,” Gusko concludes.

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