1 January 2018


The International Carbohydrate Quality Consortium (ICQC) released a public statement outlining the scientific consensus on the health benefits of eating wholegrain foods such as brown rice, oats, corn, barley and more in November 2017. Most of the studies the consensus statement was based on were observational as there are very few clinical trials in this area. However, a recent randomised cross-over trial with two 8-week dietary intervention periods comprising whole grain diets and refined grain diets, separated by a washout period of around 6 weeks, has found that a wholegrain diet will reduce energy intake and body weight and the low-grade systemic inflammation markers CRP and IL-6.
What is a wholegrain?
Wholegrains are seeds and as food guru Harold McGhee says: “our most durable and concentrated foods … the rugged lifeboats designed to carry a plant’s offspring to the shore of an uncertain future. Tease apart a whole grain, or bean, or nut, and inside you find a tiny embryonic shoot”. And that’s why they are so nourishing: they are a baby plant’s pantry. And that’s also why we along with insects, birds and animals seek them out. The process of milling and refining grains consists of separating and removing the bran and germ. This gives us a more shelf-stable and quicker cooking end product, but means it lacks many of the vitamins, minerals, fats, and fibre of the original grain.

"There are many positive studies showing that a lack of cereal fibre is associated with increased risk of colon cancer," says Prof Jennie Brand-Miller. “One body of thought is that when people consume carbohydrates without fibre it quickly raises insulin levels and the insulin stimulates the growth of mutant cells, such as colon cancer cells. "Insulin is this anabolic hormone that doesn't distinguish between good cells and bad cells, so the insulin is increasing the multiplication of mutant cells and sort of acting like fertiliser," explained Prof Miller. When you ingest the whole grain, she says, the body benefits from the "full compliment of micronutrients and antioxidants" like Vitamin E and C, which help slow down the process of free radicals.”

“Grains are at their most nourishing when we eat them as whole as possible or as the minimally processed staples our forebears enjoyed,” write Dr Alan Barclay et al in The Good Carbs Cookbook. “They certainly figure prominently in the diets of the long-living Blue Zones folks, and observational studies around the world suggest that eating plenty of wholegrain staples may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. That’s why health professionals tend to worship at the altar of wholegrains and the words ‘consume more wholegrains’ are in dietary guidelines around the globe.”

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To find the intersection of two contentious issues, look no further than the environment and dietary guidelines. On the environment, the current U.S. administration is busy wiggling out of commitments to reduce carbon emissions. On dietary guidelines, battles rage on multiple fronts – fats, red meat, and sugar are all hot topics. Undeterred, brave Dutch scientists have waded in and analyzed the potential impact of dietary guidelines on the environment. ConscienHealth’s Ted Kyle reports.

Earth in our hands

What happens if people start following guidelines? That seems like an innocent question and that’s what Paul Behrens and colleagues tried to answer. They looked at 37 nations with 64% of the world’s population. They compared average diets in each of those countries with the diets recommended by the local government. The goal was to estimate the effect that following recommendations would have on land use, water pollution, and carbon emissions. Their answers are impressive. On all three measures they found significant improvements, just from following guidelines that each country has already adopted. If we eat a bit less meat, dairy, fats, and sugars, both the planet and its inhabitants will be a bit healthier. In other words, “diets good for our health are also good for our planet,” says Professor Brian Morris of the University of Sydney.

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Obesity is complex. Nutrition is important, but it isn’t magical, writes Ted Kyle in ConscienHealth. In the “magic of nutrition” world, however, obesity is simple. One pound of fat is the result of eating 3,500 calories. In this magical kingdom, the Mayo Clinic tells us: Your weight is a balancing act, but the equation is simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. Because 3,500 calories equals about 1 pound (0.45 kilogram) of fat, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose 1 pound.

More than 25 years ago, David Garner and Susan Wooley wrote that dietary approaches to obesity, by themselves, are inadequate for solving the problem. And yet this apparently comes as a revelation in a recent paper by David Benton and Hayley Young: Reducing calorie intake may not help you lose body weight.

Texas Tech University’s Prof Emily Dhurandhar tells us that she encounters shock when she teaches about the interaction of calories and human biology: Energy balance is dynamic and adaptable, but it is not above the first law of thermodynamics. You should see the look on their faces when I tell them the 3,500-calorie rule is wrong.

Shock and anger make people resistant to learning. And thus, we have policies to address obesity that have had little apparent impact. Public health experts tell us that we need only to cut 41 calories per day from the diets of children to solve the problem. So, we should not be surprised that obesity continues to rise, even among young children. Until we face facts and discard magical thinking, we will have little luck with reducing the health impact of obesity.

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Choosing healthy low GI carbohydrate foods is a key dietary choice. The Glycemic Index Foundation’s new website (gisymbol.com), provides a one-stop shop for healthy low GI living with recipes, meals plans, and downloadable resources. Research around the world over the past 35-plus years has clearly shown that by switching to eating mainly low GI carbs that trickle glucose into our bloodstream, we can reduce our day-long blood glucose and insulin levels thus helping us:
  • Manage our appetite because we will feel fuller for longer 
  • Minimise our body fat 
  • Maximise our muscle mass 
  • Decrease our risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 
Why does it matter how high our BGL goes? As with blood pressure, there’s a healthy range and a risky range. Having BGLs in the normal range over the day is good for our body because it will also lower our day-long insulin levels. Having high BGLs from eating too many high GI foods can put pressure on our health, because it means that the pancreas has to work extra hard producing more insulin to move the glucose into the cells, where it provides energy for the body and brain. It’s not a good idea to overwork or overstress vital organs as they can wear out or stop functioning properly. We can’t easily replace a pancreas.

Here’s the 2-step approach going low GI.
  • Step 1: Swap it: Replace the high GI foods in your diet with low GI ones. Find out how to do this HERE.
  • Step 2: Don’t overload it: Keep those portions of carb-rich foods on your plate moderate to keep the glycemic load (GL) moderate. What’s moderate? It’s about a quarter of your dinner plate (inner rim) or 2–3 small, lower GI potatoes, ½ cup diced orange fleshed sweet potato or corn kernels or baked beans and ⅓ cup cooked basmati or other lower GI rice or pasta. 
About the Glycemic Index Foundation (GIF). This is a not-for-profit health promotion charity that provides a range of scientifically backed resources based on low GI healthy eating principles. It is supported by Diabetes NSW and ACT and The University of Sydney.

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