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How we can elevate whole grain intake in future generations: insights and actions from leading nutrition experts

Date

20 Nov 2023

Sections

Agriculture & Food
FAO, JRC and EAT Lancet Committee met at the EU Parliament to discuss how to encourage the adoption of healthy and sustainable diets, including whole grain, from an early age

On 15 November 2023, the Whole Grain Initiative, a partnership of leading experts and organisations dedicated to promoting whole grain, came together to celebrate the 5th annual International Whole Grain Day. 

At the centre of the celebrations was an event held online and at the European Parliament – “Empowering next generations with whole grain”. Experts in nutrition, education and sustainability came together to discuss the importance of educating children about the benefits associated with whole grain consumption and ways to inspire them to integrate these nutritious choices into their daily diets.

Event host, MEP Manuela Ripa, recalled that “just consuming a mere 50 g of whole grain every day can reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes by 25% and the likelihood of cardiovascular mortality by 20%”. She advocated incorporating whole grain education into the upcoming revision of the EU School Scheme.

Panel discussion one: nurturing sustainable food habits with whole grain

The first session was moderated by Natasha Foote, Euractiv’s agri-food correspondent, and looked at how to create positive lifelong eating habits from an early age.

Natasha was joined by three expert panellists:

  • Pr Marco Springmann, from Oxford University, and a member of the EAT-Lancet Commission;
  • Sara Lamonaca, from FoodDrinkEurope; and
  • Fatima Hachem from Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO).

Pr Springmann highlighted a grim statistic saying: “about 2 million people each year die from dietary-related diseases related to low intake of whole grain.” He reminded the audience that the EAT-Lancet report recommended over 200g of whole grain per day.

Sara Lamonaca pointed out “consumption of whole grain in Europe is way below the recommended levels”. She suggested there was a need for “campaigns to raise awareness about health benefits of whole grain consumption to make sure that there are more products on the market with a higher content of whole grain”. National food-based dietary guidelines, consumer information and labelling were all identified as crucial for “consumer to identify products higher in whole grain content”.

Fatima Hachem emphasised the role of whole grain in sustainable and healthy diets. She added with Manuela Ripa’s points, agreeing “nutrition education needs to be integrated within the school system and food system […] school meals should be an opportunity for children to learn about healthy and sustainable diets”. 

Panel discussion two: eating whole grain to promote life-long health

The second panel discussion took a deeper dive into some of the comments already raised around the importance of educating young people about the health benefits of whole grains and encouraging them to incorporate whole grains into their diets.

This time, Natasha Foote was joined by:

  • Dr Camilla T. Damsgaard, Associate Professor of Children’s Nutrition at the University of Copenhagen;
  • Ioanna Bakogianni, a Project Officer at the European Commission; and
  • Peiman Milani from the Rockefeller Foundation

Dr Damsgaard started the discussion by sharing her research on children’s health improvements following a whole grain diet. She added “Most children, at least the younger children, are not in control of their diets” and emphasised the need for school food programs that include whole grain recommendations.

Ioanna Bakogianni highlighted the link between whole grain intake and prevalent non-communicable diseases and advocated for policy to “promote the intake of whole grain” in children – including dietary-based guidelines and reviewing food procurement policies in school.

Peiman Milani closed out the session by showcasing a recent project in Africa which aimed to help people move from refined to whole grains. “Replacing refined grains with whole grains can triple the nutrition without costing a single penny more,” he said. “At the same time, we have 25% lower environmental footprint.” He shared a success story from Rwanda, where children started to prefer whole grain after a pilot in a school meal program.

Promoting better health through whole grain

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.
  • Integrating quantified recommendations for whole grain intake into dietary guidelines as well as in the algorithms used to determine front of pack labelling schemes – the important contribution of whole grain to healthier diets should be recognised and communicated.
  • 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.

You can watch a replay of the event here.

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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, scientists, manufacturers, and associations.

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