New data revealed during the Whole Grain Summit in Vienna in November show that replacing refined grains with whole grains globally could reduce the burden of chronic disease more than any other change. Incorporating more whole grains into the diet may do more for health than steps taken to reduce sodium, eliminate trans fats or cut sugar-sweetened beverages, the researchers noted.
The data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation was presented during the keynote address at the Whole Grain Summit. More than 200 scientists from 36 countries participating in the Whole Grain Summit worked to draft a two-year global action plan to increase whole grain consumption.

“Worldwide, cereals provide nearly 50% of energy intake,” said Fred Brouns, scientific chair of the Whole Grain Summit. “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.”

Researchers participating in the Whole Grain Summit said numerous studies dating back more than two decades show a positive link between consumption of whole grain foods and several health issues, including lower mortality risk and reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and obesity, and bowel cancer.

Academics, non-profit organizations, government policymakers, and industry, working together at the Whole Grain Summit, identified key goals and action points will aim to:

  • Reach a consensus on a global whole grain definition, to support clear product labeling that will help consumers distinguish whole grain products from those with misleading claims.
  • Establish a quantitative, science-based whole grain intake recommendation and document the health and economic benefits that would result from adopting this recommendation. Use this information to motivate governments and international food authorities to incorporate whole grains into dietary guidelines and actively promote their consumption. 
  • Document the carbon footprint of whole grains, compared with other dietary choices, in the context of growing world populations and climate change.
  • Form strong public-private partnerships to develop campaigns to encourage whole grain consumption and to increase the variety, availability and desirability of whole grain foods for the public.

Six international working groups already have been established to carry out the goals agreed to in Vienna. The groups will spend the next two years collaborating as part of the “Whole Grain Initiative,” and will interact with the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the European Food Safety Agency and other consortia and food authorities as part of the action plan.

The Whole Grain Summit 2017 was organized by ICC (International Association for Cereal Science and Technology) in cooperation with the Healthgrain Forum and the University of Minnesota. Ongoing work of the Whole Grain Initiative also will be organized by the same three partners.