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No Link Between Gluten and Brain Health

Misguided dieters may avoid gluten for fear of “grain brain,” and yet research suggests that these fears are unfounded. In a study of 13,494 women without celiac disease, there was absolutely no relationship between gluten and cognitive function. The authors confirm that “restricting dietary gluten for the purpose of maintaining or improving cognition is not warranted in the absence of celiac disease or established gluten sensitivity.”
JAMA Network Open. 2021 May 3;4(5):e2113020. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.13020. (Wang Y et al.)

Diet Quality of Food from Schools and Grocery Stores Improves from 2003-2018, Partly Due to Increasing Whole Grains

Researchers studied the healthfulness of foods from different sources (schools, grocery stores, restaurants) in a group of 20,905 children and 39,757 adults in the period from 2003-2004 to 2017-2018. During this time, the proportion of children eating food of poor diet quality from schools decreased by more than half, from 56% to 24%. Most of these improvements occurred after 2010, in line with the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (which updated school nutrition standards) and were associated with kids eating more whole grains and less saturated fat, sugary drinks, and salt at schools. Additionally, the proportion of people eating food of poor diet quality from grocery stores decreased from 53% to 45% in kids and from 40% to 33% in adults, largely due to eating more whole grains and fewer sugary drinks. Food from restaurants tended to be less healthy, with very small improvements in diet quality over the study period. The researchers also found that school food improvements after 2010 were the most equitable improvements, as nutrition improved more evenly across racial and sociodemographic lines. On the other hand, most of the improvements in nutrition from grocery store or restaurant foods tended to be concentrated in high-income households.
JAMA Network Open. 2021 Apr 1;4(4):e215262. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.5262. (Liu J et al.)

Parboiling Reduces Arsenic and Preserves Nutrients in Rice

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in varying degrees in all soils and water, meaning that some foods, like rice, naturally contain low levels of arsenic depending on where and how it’s grown. Luckily, certain cooking and processing methods can dramatically decrease the level of arsenic rice. In this study, researchers found that parboiling your brown rice can remove up to 54% of unwanted heavy metals like arsenic from your rice (outperforming soaking or rinsing), and can also preserve important micronutrients such as zinc. You can achieve this at home by boiling your rice for 5 minutes and setting it aside for when you’re ready to cook it. You can also buy parboiled rice at the store.  
The Science of the Total Environment. 2021 Feb 10;755(Pt 2):143341. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.143341.(Menon M et al.)

Unsubstantiated Health Beliefs Lead People to Avoid Gluten Unnecessarily

Following a gluten-free diet is required for those with celiac disease or medically diagnosed gluten sensitivities. Because gluten-free foods tend to be less nutritious and may raise the risk of nutrient deficiencies, researchers wanted to know what motivates people to avoid gluten when it is not medically necessary. In this study, 2,982 adults in the US without celiac disease were surveyed about their beliefs regarding gluten-free diets. Compared with people who eat gluten, people without celiac disease who avoid gluten are more likely to believe medically unsubstantiated claims (that gluten-free diets are more nutritious and can improve acne).  
Appetite. 2021 Jan 1; 156:104958. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2020.104958 (Arslain K et al.)

Switching to Whole Grains Can Improve Cholesterol, Blood Sugar Control, and Inflammation

Randomized controlled trials are the “gold standard” of nutrition research as they can be used to establish cause and effect. In this article, researchers analyzed more than 20 randomized controlled trials to see how replacing refined grains with whole grains can impact health. They found that for adults both with and without risk factors of heart disease, substituting whole grains for refined can improve total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar control), and C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation). 
Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2020 Nov;120(11):1859-1883.e31. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2020.06.021. (Marshall S et al.)

Modern Wheat Does NOT Have More Gluten than Ancient Wheat

Over the past centuries, the yield production of wheat has dramatically increased around the globe, leaving some to wonder how the quality and gluten content of modern wheat compares to ancient varieties. This research analyzed more than 200 wheat lines from the 18th century through modern times. The results showed that modern breeds of wheat tend to have slightly higher starch and fiber levels, and lower protein content as well as lower levels of some minerals (iron, zinc, magnesium). In fact, the decreased gliadin: glutenin ratio in modern wheat indicates a decrease in celiac disease antigens in modern wheat, while the lower protein content indicates lower levels of gluten.
Nutrition Bulletin. 2020 Sept. doi:10.1111/nbu.12461. (Shewry PR et al.)

 

Availability, Taste, Cost, and Communication Can All Help Increase Whole Grain Intake

Whole grain intake is still far below recommended levels worldwide, so researchers and policy makers wonder which strategies may be most useful for getting people to eat more whole grains. In this review, researchers analyzed studies about the various factors that influence whole grain consumption. They found that the main factors that are successful in increasing whole grain intake for both kids and adults are to “(i) increase the availability and the variety of foods containing [whole grains], (ii) improve their sensory appeal, (iii) reduce their purchase cost, (iv) use a familiarization period to introduce them to consumers (with a gradual increase in consumed amounts and repeated exposure), and (v) improve communication and labeling to enhance consumers’ ability to identify products with [whole grains].” The authors also note the benefits of public-private partnerships in their potential to increase whole grain consumption.
Nutrients. 2020 Aug; 12(8): 2217. Published online 2020 Jul 25. doi: 10.3390/nu12082217 (Meynier A et al.)

Eating More Whole Grains Linked with Substantial Savings in Healthcare Costs

In this study, researchers calculated the reduced risk of heart disease associated with each serving of whole grain consumed. They were then able to model various scenarios of increasing whole grain consumption as a proportion of total grains, getting closer and closer to the recommended levels outlined in the US Dietary Guidelines. They found that if whole grain intake was increased to meet recommended levels (an increase of 2.24 servings of whole grain per day), the estimated direct medical cost savings from reduced risk of heart disease in the US was $21.9 billion annually. Further, they found that even small increases in whole grain intake can translate to substantial cost savings. A modest increase of just 0.25 servings of whole grains per day was associated with a savings of $2.4 billion annually.
Nutrients. 2020 Aug 3;12(8):E2323. doi: 10.3390/nu12082323. (Murphy MM et al.) 

19% of Flours at Supermarkets in Sydney are Whole Grain

Many dietary guidelines recommend that people make at least half their grains whole, yet little has been published on the availability of whole grain options at supermarkets. In a February 2020 audit of the flour aisle at four major supermarkets in metropolitan Sydney, researchers identified 130 different flour products. Of those, only 19% were whole grain flour. The majority of products were refined wheat flour. Not surprisingly, the whole grain flours contained significantly more fiber and protein.
Nutrients. 2020 Jul 10;12(7):2058. doi: 10.3390/nu12072058. (Hughes J et al.)

Whole Grains Linked with Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

In a large study of nearly 200,000 US adults, those eating whole grains most frequently had a 29% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes across the approximately 30-year study period than those rarely or never eating whole grains, even after adjusting for other lifestyle factors. When looking at specific whole grain foods, common foods like whole grain breakfast cereal, oatmeal, whole grain bread, and brown rice were all linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. The exception was popcorn, which was linked with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes when eaten more than once per day, perhaps due to its association with butter sauces or sugary flavorings.
BMJ. 2020 Jul 8;370:m2206. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2206. (Hu Y et al.)

Australians Recognize Whole Grains as Healthy, But Still Falling Short on Recommendations

To better understand why people are or are not eating whole grains, researchers surveyed 735 Australian (mostly female) adults about their eating habits and their understanding of whole grains. The scientists found that more than three-quarters of the participants were not eating enough whole grains, less than half of the participants correctly identified whole grains, and only 9% correctly identified how many servings of whole grains are recommended for their age and gender. However, the majority of the participants understood that whole grains do have health benefits, and they reported education, cost, and taste as the main factors that contribute to their choice of whole gains. 
Nutrients. 2020 July 22, 12(8), 2170; doi: 10.3390/nu12082170 (Foster S et al.)

3rd Party Labeling Like the WG Stamp Helps Steer Consumers Towards Quality Carbohydrate Foods

Carbohydrates are part of a balanced diet, but not all carbohydrates are created equal. In this review, researchers analyzed different labeling strategies that help consumers identify healthy carbohydrate foods when shopping. They identified quality carbohydrates are identified as those that are high in fiber, have high levels of whole grains, or have a low glycemic index or glycemic response. The Whole Grain Stamp was one of many voluntary labeling programs highlighted by the authors as a way to help consumers find quality carbohydrate foods. The authors conclude that it is important for governments to enable these types of 3rd party labeling systems to help steer consumers towards healthier carbohydrate choices.
Nutrients. 2020 Jun 9;12(6):1725. doi:10.3390/nu12061725 (Marinangeli, CPF et al.)

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