Wholegrains as effective as medication in heart health

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 27th April 2010

Whole grainsA new report released by Go Grains, reviewing the latest science on the health benefits of wholegrains and legumes, was launched in Adelaide today by the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health, The Hon Mark Butler, MP.

The report, co-authored by Associate Professor Peter Williams of the University of Wollongong, emphasises the extensive health benefits of wholegrain foods and legumes.

“Studies in this report show eating just 2-3 serves of wholegrain foods a day – the equivalent to 2-3 slices of wholegrain bread – could reduce the risk of developing chronic disease such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers by 20-30 per cent,” Assoc. Prof Williams said.

Among the many benefits of eating wholegrains, some of the research suggests that 2-4 serves (equivalent to 2-4 slices of bread) of wholegrain foods a day can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 40% – around the same level as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.

Other potential benefits include a possible role in prevention of certain cancers, reduced risk of obesity, lower risk and slower progression of type 2 diabetes, lower blood pressure, and even prevention of periodontal disease and asthma.

Research also suggests that legumes may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and possibly obesity, as well as improving gut health.

The report also calculates the possible savings in terms of preventative medicine, suggesting that increasing wholegrain intake to 3 serves daily for all Australians could reduce healthcare spending by an estimated $1.2 billion annually, across cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, endocrine and metabolic disorders, and prostate, colorectal and breast cancers.

The report notes the substantial challenges associated with increasing consumption of wholegrain foods:  “Traditional preferences for refined products, limited availability of wholegrain foods in supermarkets and foodservice settings, unfamiliarity with cooking techniques and confusion in product labelling.”

“Along with food manufacturers, health professionals are well positioned to help consumers identify wholegrain foods and products, and offer recipes and convenient ways to add them to the diet. Continued education and consistent wholegrain labelling and messaging on pack have been identified as important factors in increasing consumption of wholegrains.”

Chief Research Scientist with CSIRO Food Futures National Research Flagship, Dr David Topping, author of the report’s foreword, believes that the preventative possibilities of wholegrains are an opportunity not to be ignored.

“These conditions represent some of our biggest causes of death and disability, and their enormous scale means the whole population is at risk. When we look at managing these serious issues prevention, not cure, is the preferred option.”

Go Grains is an independent research group created in 2000 by the Australian Government’s Grains Research and Development Corproation and BRI Australia (formerly the Bread Research Institute of Australia).  GRDC describes Go Grains as an opportunity to “make scientifically based information about grains, legumes and health available in the public domain to help combat the ever-increasing volume of material that aims to discourage consumption of grains-based foods.”