Australia could make healthcare savings of more than $1.4 billion annually in the treatment of heart disease and type 2 diabetes simply by swapping just three serves a day of refined grain foods to whole grains.
The new research, published in the international journal Nutrients, calculated the savings in healthcare costs and lost productivity associated with reductions in heart disease and type two diabetes from increased consumption of whole grains.
Conducted by investigators from the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) and an expert from Kuwait University, this is the first research to quantify healthcare savings associated with meeting the Daily Target Intake for whole grains in Australia.
These findings could have substantial implications for policy makers and provide strong evidence for further strengthening messaging regarding whole grains in the national dietary guidelines.
Dr Sara Grafenauer, Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Managing Director of GLNC, said conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes are major health issues in Australia.
“Eating three serves of whole grains daily is known to reduce the risk of heart disease by 13 per cent and type 2 diabetes by 32 per cent,” Dr 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.
The most 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 $734 million in savings, and more than $1.4 billion if 100 per cent of Australians could reach this target.
As in other parts of the world, 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.
Dr Grafenauer said the good news is many Australians are already halfway there in meeting their whole grain daily target of 48 grams, or three 16 gram serves, a day.
“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. A simple swap to a whole grain option could have a powerful impact on individual health as well as the Australian economy,” Dr Grafenauer said.
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, while 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, the most 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.