GLNC research shows swapping to whole grain could reduce healthcare costs


New research from the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) suggested that Australia could save over $1.4 billion in healthcare annually by swapping refined grains with whole grain foods, for three serves a day. 

“Healthcare Cost Savings Associated with Increased Whole Grain Consumption among Australian Adults” was published by international journal Nutrients. It calculated the savings in healthcare costs and lost productivity associated with reducing heart disease and type two diabetes, via an increased consumption of whole grains. 

This is the first research to quantify healthcare savings associated with meeting the Daily Target Intake for whole grains in Australia. 

The findings from the GLNC research could provide strong evidence for further strengthening messaging around whole grains in Australia’s dietary guidelines. 

Cardiovascular disease and type two diabetes major national health issues, according to GLNC managing director and accredited practicing dietitian Dr Sara Grafenauer. 

“Eating three serves of whole grains daily is known to reduce the risk of heart disease by 13 per cent and type two diabetes by 32 per cent,” Grafenauer said. 

“Given we know diets low in whole grain are the second leading dietary risk factor for disease and death in Australia, the outcomes of this study highlight the need for dietary change. 

“This new finding shows a large potential impact on disease prevention and endorses the need for greater promotion of whole grains in our dietary guidelines and front-of-pack labelling tools, such as the Health Star Rating,” she said. 

Recent data shows only 27 per cent of Australians meet the recommended 48g per day Daily Target Intake (DTI). If 50 per cent were to meet the DTI, there could be $734M in savings and more than $1.4B if 100 per cent of Australians could reach this target. 

Australians fall short of many of the suggested dietary targets included in national dietary guidelines. However, three whole grain servings can be easily achieved by exchanging food items rather than adding to the energy density of the diet. 

However, many Australians are halfway towards meeting their whole grain daily target of 48 grams, or three 16 gram serves, a day, according to Grafenauer. 

“By focusing on whole grain breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread – the two largest sources of whole grain for Australians – target levels for whole grains could be achieved with minimal change to regular eating habits,” she said. 

“A simple swap to a whole grain option could have a powerful impact on individual health as well as the Australian economy.” 

Grains and grain-based foods are a key food category in dietary recommendations, as they provide 60 per cent of global energy intake along with a range of important nutrients and dietary fibre. 

Since 1979 the Australian Dietary Guidelines have promoted whole grain choices, with the current guidelines pointing to mostly whole grain and/or high cereal fibre varieties. Examples suggested in the ADGs are breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley, recommending that two-thirds of the total daily grain intake be whole grain. 

While the DTI is 48g for Australians over the age of nine, a recent National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey (NNPAS) found the media daily whole grain intake was 21g in adults, leaving a gap of 27g per day between current and target consumption. 

These results are a timely reminder of the importance of whole grains in a healthy diet in the lead up to Whole Grain Week on 21-27 June. 

Helpful resources encouraging increased whole grain consumption include a video on how to swap out refined grains for whole grains, an e-Book with easy whole grain recipes and a searchable whole grain product database. 

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