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Plant-Based Diets Tend to Be More Affordable and Sustainable

As stress on our food system increases, certain dietary patterns may increase harmful environmental impacts. Diets that are nutritious and sustainable, such as those low in animal products and higher in plant-based foods, have been proposed as a solution to this issue which still meets dietary needs. In this study, researchers analyzed 150 different dietary patterns from varying countries and regions by pairing an estimate of food demand with an estimate of commodity prices in different years, with consideration of any food-system and socioeconomic changes. Across the dietary patterns sampled, the most affordable and sustainable were vegan/vegetarian diets that replaced meat with legumes or whole grains. The least affordable were pescetarian diets that centered around fish, fruits, and vegetables. Staple crops, such as cassava, maize, plantains, potatoes, rice, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and wheat, tend to be the most affordable aspect of these dietary patterns. Household food waste accounted for 29% of all food costs, so helping people to reduce food waste could improve both affordability and environmental sustainability.
Lancet Planetary Health. 2021 Dec;5(12):e861. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00316-8. Epub 2021 Nov 24. (Springmann M et al.)

Including Whole Grains in Nutri-Score Could Improve Diet Quality

Whole grains are a food group, not an individual nutrient, which can create a challenge for nutrient-based front-of-pack scoring systems. Incorporating whole foods, like whole grains, into these scoring systems can help account for the complex benefits that whole grains bring to the table and may also prevent food manufacturers from “gaming the system” with fortified junk foods. In this study, researchers restructured the Nutri-Score algorithm (a traffic-light-colored, front-of-pack labeling program used in many European countries) to include whole grain content as part of the scoring algorithm. With this change, the researchers found that diet quality scores slightly improved, “suggesting that the modified score better aligns with national dietary guidelines.”
European Journal of Nutrition. 2021 Nov 24. doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02718-6. Online ahead of print. (Kissock KR et al.)

Whole Grains Are an Underutilized Source of Plant Protein

Although grains are a large source of plant protein in many African, Central American, Asian, and European nations, grains are not considered an important source of protein in any dietary guidelines around the world. In this review, scientists analyze the unused potential of whole grains as animal protein alternatives. Although research suggests that consuming grains as the sole source of protein could result in deficiency, and although grains have a lower protein content than beans and other pulses, shifting grains away from animal feed and toward direct human consumption could be an important strategy to improve both human and environmental health. The review notes that both high whole grain intake and high plant-protein intake have been associated with lower risks of chronic diseases, while high animal protein intake has been associated with higher risks of disease. The authors also highlight processing strategies, such as mixed culture fermentation, that can help improve consumer acceptance of whole grain meat and dairy replacement products.
Nutrition Reviews. 2021 Nov 6;nuab084. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuab084. (Poutanen KS et al.)

Eating More Whole Grains Could Save Millions in Diabetes Related Healthcare Costs

Eating more whole grains could lead to substantial savings in healthcare costs, even in countries where whole grains are already a regular part of the diet. In this study, researchers created models to analyze how eating more whole grains relates to type 2 diabetes for people in Finland, and then quantified the resulting healthcare costs as well as costs related to work absences. They found that increasing the number of Finnish people who eat whole grains daily and/or increasing the number of servings of whole grains eaten by habitual whole grain consumers in Finland could lead to a savings of 286-989 million Euros over a 10-year period. Additionally, the researchers estimate that these modest increases in whole grain consumption could substantially reduce disease burden (as measured by saving 1,323-154,094 quality adjusted life years). 
Nutrients. 2021 Oct 13;13(10):3583. doi: 10.3390/nu13103583. (Martikainen J et al.)

Diets Low in Whole Grains Are Largest Contributor of Diet-Related Cancer Costs

A healthy diet can reduce the risk of many types of cancers. In this study, researchers estimated the 5-year medical costs associated with different diet-related cancers. Diets low in whole grains accounted for the highest medical costs, at $2.76 billion over 5 years. Diets low in dairy and high in processed meats also significantly contributed to the economic burden of cancer. In terms of different diet-related cancer types, colorectal cancer was linked with the highest medical costs.
Cancer Causes & Control. 2021 Oct 15. doi: 10.1007/s10552-021-01503-4. (Khushalani J S et al.)

Traditional Latin American Diet Linked with Lower Blood Pressure

As people abandon their traditional diets for a Western diet of fast food and sugary treats, nutrition is often compromised. In this study, researchers analyzed the diets and blood pressure readings of 4,626 people living in the Southern Cone of Latin America (Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay). Two common dietary patterns emerged: a traditional diet based on fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, seafood, and nuts; and a Western diet based on red and processed meat, dressings, sweets, snacks, and refined grains. Those most closely following a traditional Latin American diet were significantly more likely to have lower blood pressure than those following a Western diet.
Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2021 Oct 7;S0939-4753(21)00437-3. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2021.08.048. (Defagó M D et al.)

Diets Low in Whole Grains Are Largest Risk Factor for Heart Disease in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Heart disease impacts people across all corners of the globe. In this study, researchers used data from 2000-2019 to quantify risk factors for heart disease in low- and middle-income countries. The researchers found that in low- and middle-income countries, the largest behavioral risk factor for ischemic heart disease was a diet low in whole grains. Additionally, high systolic blood pressure (the top number in the blood pressure reading) and high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol were linked with causing the highest disability-adjusted life years (a measure of overall disease burden).
Journal of the American Heart Association. 2021 Oct 5;10(19):e021024. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.121.021024. (Wang C et al.)

High Fiber and Fermented Foods May Benefit Microbiome

The foods we eat can impact our gut microbiome, which in turn can impact a number of health functions, including immune response and inflammation. In a small study of people randomized to either a high-fiber diet or a high-fermented-foods diet, fermented foods were found to improve the diversity of the microbiome and decrease inflammation, while high-fiber foods were found to impact the microbiome and trigger a personalized immune response.
Cell. 2021 Aug 5;184(16):4137-4153.e14. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.06.019. Epub 2021 Jul 12. (Wastyk HC et al.)

Sorghum Linked with Many Health Benefits

Sorghum is a nutritious ancient grain with a low environmental footprint. In this review, researchers analyzed 16 intervention studies about sorghum and health, and found that eating sorghum may benefit blood sugar, weight management, satiety, and oxidative stress. Sorghum’s nutritional benefits and culinary versatility suggest that this grain may be an important part of future food innovations.
Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2021 Jul 30;1-19. doi:10.1080/10408398.2021.1944976. Online ahead of print. (Ducksbury C et al.)

Whole Grains Linked with Better Maintenance of Waist Size, Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar

Larger waist sizes (as measured by waist circumference), high blood pressure, and high triglycerides are all signs of potential heart disease down the road, so researchers wonder how whole grains might play a role in these risk factors. In a study of 3,121 adults (average age 55), researchers analyzed the types of grain foods they ate and their health markers to see how different types of grains might relate to cardiometabolic risk. While all study participants got larger around the waist over the 18-year study period, eating the most whole grains (at least 48 grams whole grain per day, or at least 3 full servings) was linked with significantly smaller increases in waist size compared with eating the least whole grains (less than 8 grams whole grain per day, or less than a half serving). Additionally, eating more whole grains was also linked with significantly smaller increases in fasting blood sugar and systolic blood pressure, while eating more refined grains (4+ servings per day) was linked with greater increases in waist size and a smaller decline in triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood).
Journal of Nutrition. 2021 Jul 13;nxab177. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxab177. (Sawicki CM et al.)

Whole Grain Intake in Latin America Falls Short of Recommendations

Dietary guidelines around the world recommend making more of our grains whole, and researchers wonder if people in different countries are meeting these goals. In a study of 9,128 people across eight Latin American countries, the average person was eating less than one full serving (only 14.7 grams) of whole grain foods per day. Women and older adults were more likely to eat more whole grains, while people with lower incomes were less likely to eat more whole grains. The most commonly eaten whole grains in the survey were oatmeal, masa harina, whole wheat bread, corn chips, and wheat crackers.
European Journal of Nutrition. 2021 Jul 7. doi: 10.1007/s00394-021-02635-8.

Meeting Australian Whole Grain Recommendations in Australia Could Save Over 1.4 billion AUD

Currently, Australian adults are only eating about 21 grams of whole grain per day. In this study, researchers quantified the savings in healthcare and reduction of lost productivity costs associated with a reduction in type 2 diabetes and heart disease through meeting the 48 grams per day whole grain recommendation. If 100% of the Australian adult population were to meet this whole grain goal, researchers estimate a savings of up to 750.7 million Australian dollars (AUD) in healthcare and lost productivity costs for type 2 diabetes, and an additional 717.4 million AUD in healthcare and lost productivity costs for heart disease, totaling more than a 1.4 billion AUD savings. On the low end, even if only 5% or 15% of Australian adults meet the 48 grams per day whole grain goal, there would still be an estimated savings total of 73.4 million AUD to 220.2 million AUD, respectively in healthcare and lost productivity costs related to both conditions.
Nutrients. 2021 May 29;13(6):1855. doi: 10.3390/nu13061855. (Abdullah MMH et al.)

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