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Grains are beneficial to health

Tuesday 05 Feb 19

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Tine Rask Licht
Professor, Head of Research Group
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 71 86

A six-year-long, large-scale research cooperation has documented that a diet, which includes whole-grains helps to prevent type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

For six years the interdisciplinary Center for Gut, Grain and Greens, 3G, has generated new knowledge about the effects, which either an increased intake of whole grain intake ,or a reduced intake of gluten-containing foods, respectively,  have on human health and intestinal bacteria.

The main conclusions from the 3G Center will be presented at a seminar on 6 February 2019 at 18.30. Anyone who is interested can hear the presentations via a live webinar.

Whole grains reduce the body’s level of inflammation
"As such, our studies help to strengthen the scientific evidence behind the dietary advice about choosing whole grain products for your health when you eat bread, pasta and other cereal-based foods"
Professor Tine Rask Licht

Central to the 3G collaboration are two comprehensive human studies of the effect of eating a diet that is rich in whole grains or low in gluten-containing foods.

The first study shows that when people replace refined grain products with whole grain varieties, the body's level of inflammation decreases, which helps to lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Rye bread in particular has a positive effect on the level of inflammation. A diet in which refined grain products are replaced with products that are low on gluten does not, however, provide a detectable change in the body's content of inflammatory markers.

"As such, our studies help to strengthen the scientific evidence behind the dietary advice about choosing whole grain products for your health when you eat bread, pasta and other cereal-based foods," says 3G Center project manager Tine Rask Licht, who is a professor at National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark.

According to the studies, both types of dietary changes result in a small weight loss. The greatest weight loss was recorded in the whole grain study.

Changes to the gut microbiome

While the researchers were not able to detect a significant change in the gut bacterial composition as a result of the dietary change in the whole grain study, the low gluten diet resulted in a drastic change in the intestinal microbial population. Particularly the so-called bifidobacteria disappeared when the diet was low on gluten.

However, the researchers have concluded that the cause of this was not the absence of gluten protein but rather the absence of the types of carbohydrates found in grains (wheat, barley and rye), which a person is not exposed to when eating a low gluten diet. These types of carbohydrates are known to promote bifidobacteria.

"It's an interesting observation, as we usually associate the presence of bifidobacteria with a healthy gut," Tine Rask Licht says. However, she is cautious about drawing a conclusion from the absence of these bacteria. 

Feeling less bloated on a low gluten diet

Several participants said they felt less bloated when they ate the low gluten diet compared with the control diet, which was rich in whole grain products. This is most likely because the change in the bacterial composition of the gut, which the researchers observed, resulted in less gas developing in the gut.

"If you suffer from a bloated stomach - which, of course, can be really uncomfortable - and you therefore want to cut back on grain-containing products in order to feel less bloated, I would urge you to drop the white, refined bread types. Because if you also give up on rye and wholemeal breads, you will lose out on the health benefits, which our studies have shown are associated with consuming whole grains,” Tine Rask Licht explains.

Large and good investment

In total, the 3G Center has received 35 million Danish kroner (approximately 4.7 million Euros) from the Danish Council for Strategic Research/Innovation Fund Denmark. In addition, the project partners have contributed 20 million Danish kroner (approximately 2.7 million Euros) in co-financing.

"An interdisciplinary cooperation that requires so many different disciplines, as has been the case in the 3G Center, costs a lot of money, presents many challenges and takes a long time. However, it is a necessary approach to solve such a major societal challenge as the prevention of lifestyle diseases. In my view, this large investment is worth every cent if our research can help reduce the large human and financial costs of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases,” Tine Rask Licht says.

Diabetes costs Danish society about 87 million Danish kroner (approximately 11.6 million Euros) a day according to a study from the Danish Diabetes Association and the University of Southern Denmark, and cardiovascular disease is the cause of one in four deaths in Denmark, according to the Danish Heart Foundation.

Read more 

If you want to learn more about the main results from the now completed 3G cooperation, you can follow the live webinar on February 6, 2019 at 18.30-21.30 via IDA's website. Registration deadline is 6 February 2019 at noon. The recordings will be posted on IDA's website subsequently.

On the 3G Center’s website, you can read more about the center and find links to the many scientific articles, which describe the main research results. 

The National Food Institute’s Research Group for Gut, Microbes and Health studies the effects of diet and dietary components on the microbial population of the gut and the derived effects on the host metabolism and immune system. Read more about the research on the institute’s website.

About the 3G Center

The Technical University of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen have been the central players in the 3G Center, which has also had participation from a large number of other researchers from Danish and foreign universities and hospitals. More than 40 scientific articles have been published on the studies conducted by the 3G Center.

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