Findings published by Newcastle University in the British Journal of Nutrition showed more than 80% of UK consumers do not eat the 48 g (equivalent to three slices of wholemeal bread) of whole grains needed to see any health benefits.
Average consumption levels in the UK are around 20 g per day and one-fifth of UK consumers don’t eat any at all, data from the National Diet and Nutrition survey 2008-2011 showed.
Chris seal, lead researcher and professor of food and human nutrition at the University, said a large part of this whole grain gap was down to lack of product choice.
“I don’t think there are enough whole grain-containing products on the market. Certainly in the UK, we’re quite behind over parts of Europe and North America in particular in the range of whole grain foods that are available. You’re pretty limited in the range of things that you can go out and buy,” he told BakeryandSnacks.com.
He said industry had to work harder on developing healthy, affordable whole grain foods and promoting them more.
Warning: Overall nutrition must be considered
However, Seal cautioned a need for definitions on what constitutes a whole grain food and healthy whole grain serving to prevent defunct claims being made.
“One extreme would be making a cream cake with whole grain flour but putting butter icing and jam in, which would not be healthy.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is make some recommendations on what the cut offs are on the amount of whole grain that can be in a food to be a whole grain food. It’s an important point for manufacturers to think about,” he said.
Despite this, Seal said opportunities remained strong to increase whole grain consumption in popular food categories like snacks and biscuits.
“The way I want people to take whole grains is to substitute something that they already eat for something that contains whole grains. If you like crisps, for example, and you eat a pack of crisps every day, why not try a whole grain snack instead?” he said. SunChips from Frito-Lay was a good example, he said.
“We’ve got to be careful about making sure people don’t eat more, we want them to eat differently.”
Manufacturers would, of course, need to overcome whole grain misconceptions around taste and texture, he said, but this was certainly possible with promotional activity.
“We’ve done quite a bit of consumer research that suggests people associate whole grain with brown and chewy and fibrous – quite negative connotations – but actually when you give them whole grain products to try, they like them.”
‘Consume whole grains’ health agenda
Seal said the UK had to drive a harder public health message around whole grain consumption.
The Department of Health’s independent scientific committee on nutrition (SACN) did reference a need for whole grain consumption in its carbohydrate report last year, but he said the message was not strong enough.
“We need something that is much more up-front and says ‘consume whole grains’,” he said.
The US was a good example, he said, where whole grain consumption was truly central to everything the country pushed around healthy eating – “it’s very much central to their overall diet recommendations and messages”.
The US recommends three to five 16 g whole grain servings per day and Denmark suggests a minimum intake of 75 g per day.
Public health campaigning had proved itself in Denmark, he said, where there had been a 70% rise in whole grain consumption over the last three years, he said.
“It is possible with a concerted government backing, labeling and maybe logos on packaging.”