Researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington found consuming more whole grains could help reduce the global burden of chronic diseases more than reducing sodium, eliminating trans fats or cutting out sugar-sweetened beverages, according to Baking Business.
Several studies dating back 20 years or more reveal positive links between consumption of whole grain foods and lower mortality risk and reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and bowel cancer, the researchers noted.
"Worldwide, cereals provide nearly 50% of energy intake," Fred Brouns, scientific chair of the Whole Grain Summit and a professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, said in the Baking Business article. "Yet the vast majority of these foods are composed of refined grains and flours. Research shows that health benefits from whole grains are associated with replacing as little as two servings of refined grain/flour foods with whole grain foods."
Consumers are increasingly seeking out whole grain products. According to a 2016 survey, 27% said they eat more whole grains than they did in the previous six months. Manufacturers can use whole grains to add functionality and health benefits to their products, such as additional fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. It has prompted some big-name food companies to find new wheat varieties. General Mills is partnering with the University of Minnesota and The Land Institute to commercialize a wild whole-grain relative of wheat called Kernza. The maker of Cherrios, Pillsbury and Annie's hopes to add it to cereals and snacks next year under its Cascadian Farm Organic brand.
A recent global study by General Mills and Nestle noted that people are confused about how much whole grains they should consume each day and which foods have them. Of the more than 16,000 people surveyed, 83% said they weren't sure how many grams they should be getting and 47% thought they get enough whole grains. More than one-third (38%) didn't know which foods contain whole grains, while one in 10 thought bananas have whole grains and 18% said white bread did.
According to Technavio, the global whole grain foods market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 6.7% between 2017 and 2021. It's not surprising that more than 11,000 products in 55 countries now sport a Whole Grain Stamp to help shoppers identify which products have the increasingly popular ingredient. The German milling company GoodMills Innovations recently debuted an online Whole Grain Index tool that manufacturers can use to calculate the whole-grain content of their products, then download a seal showing the amount for display on product packaging.
Pasta, bread and other traditionally refined grain products now have a number of whole grain offshoots, but there are other places where food manufacturers can keep adding whole grains. Portable snacking items, such as cereal or granola bars, are among the products adding whole grains and accelerating sales growth.
Food manufacturers and grocers should keep an eye on global initiatives designed to promote whole grains. They also should consider developing new marketing materials and promotions to capitalize on rising awareness. Whole grains have been a growth driver in recent years and could continue to deliver results as support continues to pour in from the nutrition and medical studies.