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Let’s embrace (plant-based) diets with wholegrain


23 Nov 2022


Agriculture & Food



On the 15th November 2022, the Whole Grain Initiative (a partnership of leading experts and organisations dedicated to promoting whole grain) celebrated the 4th Annual International Whole Grain Day. 


At the centre of the celebrations, the Whole Grain Initiative (WGI) hosted a webinar entitled “Why do whole grains matter for the whole world”. Experts in nutrition, health economics and sustainability came together to discuss the importance of whole grain in creating healthier, more sustainable, and more resilient food systems. 


Moderated by Katrina Sichel, the webinar featured a keynote address from leading scientists on the role of whole grain in the shift to healthier and more balanced diets. 


Professor Volpe, representing the European Heart Network, emphasised that “with just 50g of whole grains per day, we can reduce total mortality by about 15%”. Whole grain can easily be incorporated into a diet, he said, by eating only “half a cup of breakfast cereals” or “one slice of bread”. 


Professor Janne Martikainen from the University of Eastern Finland added that as well as clear health benefits, consumption of whole grain may have a significant and positive impact on healthcare systems by reducing the cost burden associated with cardiovascular disease or type-2 diabetes. 


The first panel discussed sustainability and food security. Dr Patrizia Fracassi from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) stressed that having clear targets in food dietary-based guidelines is key to nudge more people to whole grain. Additionally, she suggested that an international year for whole grain could be beneficial “to elevate the promotion of wholegrains to a level that allows concerted efforts”. 


Dr Saskia de Pee from World Food Programme (WFP) outlined that 38,3% people cannot afford healthy diets worldwide. WFP therefore promotes fortification of wholegrain products like flour “to further enhance their nutritional value” and improve food security worldwide. 

Kelly LeBlanc, from the Whole Grain Initiative concluded that “grains are less resource intensive than other foods”. “It takes approximately 20 times less water to produce a calorie of grains than to produce a calorie of meat” she said. As well as being nutrient dense and preventing food waste, whole grains are efficient in land use, thus “prioritising wholegrains is a no brainer” she said. 

Consumer behaviour and policies to build a healthy and sustainable diet that includes whole grains rounded out the event. Eleanor Beck from the University of Wollongong presented research showing that consumers “want a consistent definition of whole grain”. They also found there was a preference among consumers for whole grain to be labelled as a percentage in a food product.


Dr Betty Chang, from the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) presented EUFIC’s campaign to raise awareness of whole grain, as “consumers are generally unfamiliar with whole grain”. Increasing availability, including whole grain in dietary guidelines and labels is crucial to change social norms around wholegrains, according to Dr Chang. 


“We need an EU definition of wholegrain,” said Carla Valeiras Alvarez from SAFE Food Advocacy Europe. Ms Valeiras Alvarez continued, “wholegrain to be considered when developing the future front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme” at the EU level. Policymakers should also “take wholegrains into account in the future Sustainable Food System framework legislation” she said.  


The Whole Grain Initiative, with the support of its 50 member organisations, has four key policy asks for governments:

  • Improving consumer education programmes and marketing campaigns about whole grain – explaining what it is and why it’s important to eat more whole grain
  • Recognising and communicating the important contribution of whole grain to healthier diets - integrating quantified recommendations for whole grain intake into dietary guidelines as well as in the algorithms used to determine front of pack labelling schemes
  • Helping people find whole grain in their diet through clear labelling – these labels should highlight both the health and environmental benefits of whole grain
  • Developing new public-private partnerships to focus on mitigating the growing challenges of food security


About the Whole Grain Initiative


The Whole Grain Initiative brings together key stakeholders from around the world, including Whole Grains Council, Grains & Legumes Council Australia, EUFIC (The European Food Information Council), EPHA (European Public Health Alliance), European Cancer Leagues, Malaysia Nutrition Society, Health Grain Forum and many other NGOs, academics, and associations.