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.)

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.)