In the research paper “Historical and Global Perspectives on Grains and Whole Grains within Dietary Guidelines,” Felicity Curtain, nutrition manager, and Sara Grafenauer, PhD, general manager, both of the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council, evaluated how dietary guidelines relating to grains and whole grains have evolved in Australia. As research has changed the understanding of how grains contribute to nutrition so have guidelines and campaigns to promote the consumption of first grains and then whole grains. This also changes around the world. Dr. Grafenauer spoke with Baking & Snack about why this historical and global perspective is important.

Baking& Snack: Why is it important to look back at past dietary guidelines to understand the future of whole grains?
Dr. Grafenauer: Over time, the importance of grain foods has increased, and consequently they have featured more prominently in dietary guidelines. Initially, nutrients from protein were emphasized more to assist with growth and repair, but as more Australians reached sufficiency, carbohydrate foods containing dietary fiber became more important. Now, we’re witnessing a further shift, from recommending grains to recommending whole grains, based on a large body of evidence from the Global Burden of Disease, which points to diets low in whole grains second only to sodium in driving disease & death.

So why did whole grains make an appearance in Australia’s 1979’s dietary goals? And what lead to grains getting bumped up even further in priority in 1982?

There was an early realization that the whole grain, including the germ & bran, was important in a healthy diet, which dates back to early recognition of the role of dietary fiber. Denis Burkitt, a surgeon who returned from Africa in the late 1960s brought together ideas from a range of disciplines along with his own observations regarding the role of fiber in human health. Burkitt built on the work of three physicians (Peter Cleave, G. D. Campbell and Hugh Trowell), a surgeon (Neil Painter) and a biochemist (Alec Walker) to propose that diets low in fiber increase the risk of Coronary Heart Disease, obesity, diabetes, dental caries, various vascular disorders and large bowel conditions such as cancer, appendicitis and diverticulosis. By 1979 when the first guidelines were proposed, the inclusion of whole grain made sense as they also provide dietary fiber.

By 1982, energy supplied by protein foods was more adequate in the diets of Australians, and grain foods to fulfill energy needs became a more important group to emphasize. The emphasis also suited the general dietary pattern of Australians, with these foods supplying carbohydrate, B vitamins and dietary fiber.

Why do only 44% of countries with dietary guidelines mention whole grains?

When dietary guidelines are constructed, they take into consideration relevant dietary patterns, current health, disease and nutrient status, particularly for at-risk groups within the population. Other issues may include the food supply and the relative cost of dietary recommendations for the population. The aim is to provide culturally appropriate food suggestions — so in different countries, different foods may be emphasized.

How does Australia compare with other countries in terms of promoting the consumption of whole grains in dietary guidelines and actual consumption of whole grains?

Although the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommended choosing “mostly” whole grain foods, Australians consume only 21 g of whole grains per day, less than half of the 48 g Daily Target Intake. Countries with food-based dietary guidelines that only recommend the consumption of whole grains, such as Denmark and Sweden, tend to have the highest consumption levels. For example, we know that the Danes consume an average of 63 g of whole grain a day, three times that of Australia’s whole grain consumption. To help Australians eat more whole grains, it may be useful to further strengthen Australian Dietary Guidelines to replace subtle “mostly whole grain” messaging with more specific recommendations such as “choosing whole grain and higher fiber cereal foods, selecting from a wide range and type of grains.”

What is the Whole Grain Stamp, and why is it so successful?

The Whole Grain Stamp, developed in the United States, has been successful in helping consumers make healthier food choices, due to its simple yet eye-catching design. The distinctive yellow and black logo can be easily identified at first glance and with strong uptake by food industry — featured on more than 13,000 products in 63 countries, it has become a well-known and trustworthy source of on-pack nutrition information. The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) will also launch a certification for Whole Grain foods — an on-pack device, which can be used by organizations contributing to GLNC. Email for more information.

Why do whole grains get excluded from labeling systems like the HSR?

As mentioned in our published papers, HSR does not directly reward grain foods for containing whole grain through the algorithm. This omission has previously been justified by the fact that some whole grain foods may achieve a higher HSR based on their dietary fiber content, which is not always the case. In fact, dietary fiber has been shown to be a poor indicator of whole grain content. For example, some whole grain products that are comparably low in dietary fiber receive a similar HSR to refined grain varieties, such as brown rice compared with white rice.

Is there a disconnect between dietary guidelines in Australia and the product commercial bakers are putting out or consumers are demanding?

Although Australians consume greater quantities of refined grain than whole grain foods, there is a changing consumer demand for healthier, better-for-you products, which has resulted in a rise in healthier formulations using traditional whole grains like wheat, but also wild rice, millet and quinoa. To reflect this growing interest and to help consumers make healthier food choices, in Australia the promotion of whole grains via on-pack messaging has increased. According to new research, there has been a 71% increase in the number of foods making whole grain claims since 2013, demonstrating strong promotion of whole grains from food industry, including commercial bakers.