Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

Against the grain: New paper reveals the overlooked health benefits of maize and wheat

Cereals offer greater health and nutrition benefits than commonly acknowledged, despite often being considered “nutrient-poor,” say scientists.

Hands hold wheat grain from harvest near Belbur, Nakuru, Kenya. (Photo: Peter Lowe/CIMMYT)
Hands hold wheat grain from harvest near Belbur, Nakuru, Kenya. (Photo: Peter Lowe/CIMMYT)

Cereal crops like maize and wheat deserve greater consideration as part of a healthy, nutritious diet, according to the authors of a new paper.

A review of agri-nutrition research and dietary guidance found that the potential health benefits provided by cereals were often overlooked or undervalued as part of nutritious diets, including their role in reducing non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

The study identified two key explanations for the oversight. The first is that many cereal crops with varying nutritional qualities are indiscriminately grouped under the broad category of “staples.”

A second problem lies in the fact that cereals are usually considered to be a major source of dietary energy alone. However, reducing nutritional attributes to macro- and micro-nutrients misses other beneficial elements of cereals known as “bioactive food components.” These include carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols, and compounds that comprise dietary fiber.

“Most whole grain cereals provide differing amounts of proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins, in addition to being important sources of dietary energy,” said Jason Donovan, a senior economist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and co-author of the paper published in Food Policy.

“Only relative to other ‘nutrient-rich’ foodstuffs can cereals be described as ‘nutrient-poor’.”

In the paper, entitled Agri-nutrition research: Revisiting the contribution of maize and wheat to human nutrition and health, the authors called on researchers and policymakers to embrace the multiple dietary components of cereals in addressing under- and over-nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and the growing global problem of non-communicable diseases.

“Through increasing the availability of, and access to, healthy foods derived from cereals, we can better address the growing triple burden of malnutrition that many countries are facing,” said Olaf Erenstein, co-author and director of CIMMYT’s Socioeconomics program.

“To feed the world within planetary boundaries, current intakes of whole grain foods should more than double and address tricky issues like the current over-processing, to make the most of the nutrition potential of maize and wheat.”

While some carbohydrates can create a glycemic response that has negative effects on diabetes and obesity, dietary fiber in cereals comprises carbohydrates that are fermented in the large intestine with largely positive metabolic and health effects.

In addition, the naturally-occurring compounds found in maize and wheat can be enhanced through conventional breeding, genomic selection and bio- and industrial-fortification to offer enriched levels of beneficial components.

For example, scientists at CIMMYT have worked on new maize and wheat varieties with additional levels of vitamin A and zinc to help address some of the nutritional deficiencies found worldwide. Researchers are also improving how cereals are produced, processed, and stored to increase productivity and improve food safety while maintaining their nutritional benefits.

One of challenges in maximizing the nutritional benefit of cereal-based foods in diets is that the processing of grains often causes substantial losses of essential vitamins and minerals. Meanwhile, manufacturing industries create ultra-processed foods that often contain noxious qualities and components, which contribute directly to the significant and increasing global health and economic costs of non-communicable diseases.

“If we are to end hunger by delivering healthy, diverse and nutritional diets in the next decade, we need a broader and more nuanced understanding of the nutritional and health-promoting value of diverse foods, including cereals,” added Nigel Poole, co-author and Professor of International Development at SOAS University, London.

“Cereals and so-called ‘nutrient-rich’ foods are complementary in agri-nutrition, both of which require additional research, resources and attention so that one does not replace the other.”

RELATED PUBLICATIONS:

Agri-nutrition research: Revisiting the contribution of maize and wheat to human nutrition and health

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION OR INTERVIEW REQUESTS:

Donna Bowater, Marchmont Communications, donna@marchmontcomms.com, +44 7929 212 534

This piece was originally posted by The International Maize and What Improvement Center (CIMMYT):

CIMMYT is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information visit www.cimmyt.org

See our coverage of World Food Day 2020.
See our coverage of World Food Day 2020.

Whole grains

This story by Emma Orchardson was originally published on the CIMMYT website.

The most recent dietary guidelines provided by the World Health Organization and other international food and nutrition authorities recommend that half our daily intake of grains should come from whole grains. But what are whole grains, what are their health benefits, and where can they be found?

What are whole grains?

The grain or kernel of any cereal is made up of three edible parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

Each part of the grain contains different types of nutrients.

  • The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the edible kernel. It is fiber-rich and also supplies antioxidants, B vitamins, minerals like zinc, iron, magnesium, and phytochemicals — natural chemical compounds found in plants that have been linked to disease prevention.
  • The germ is the core of the seed where growth occurs. It is rich in lipids and contains vitamin E, as well as B vitamins, phytochemicals and antioxidants.
  • The largest portion of the kernel is the endosperm, an interior layer that holds carbohydrates, protein and smaller amounts of vitamins and minerals.
The grain or kernel of maize and wheat is made up of three edible parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. (Graphic: Nancy Valtierra/CIMMYT)
The grain or kernel of maize and wheat is made up of three edible parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm. (Graphic: Nancy Valtierra/CIMMYT)

A whole grain is not necessarily an entire grain.

The concept is mainly associated with food products — which are not often made using intact grains — but there is no single, accepted definition of what constitutes a whole grain once parts of it have been removed.

Generally speaking, however, a processed grain is considered “whole” when each of the three original parts — the bran, germ and endosperm — are still present in the same proportions as when the original one. This definition applies to all cereals in the Poaceae family such as maize, wheat, barley and rice, and some pseudocereals including amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa.

Wholegrain vs. refined and enriched grain products

Refined grain products differ from whole grains in that some or all of the outer bran layers are removed by milling, pearling, polishing, or degerming processes and are missing one or more of their three key parts.

For example, white wheat flour is prepared with refined grains that have had their bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm. Similarly, if a maize kernel is degermed or decorticated — where both the bran and germ are removed — it becomes a refined grain.

The main purpose of removing the bran and germ is technological, to ensure finer textures in final food products and to improve their shelf life. The refining process removes the variety of nutrients that are found in the bran and germ, so many refined flours end up being enriched — or fortified — with additional, mostly synthetic, nutrients. However, some components such as phytochemicals cannot be replaced.

A hand holds grains of wheat. (Photo: Thomas Lumpkin/CIMMYT)
A hand holds grains of wheat. (Photo: Thomas Lumpkin/CIMMYT)

Are wholegrain products healthier than refined ones?

There is a growing body of research indicating that whole grains offer a number of health benefits which refined grains do not.

Bran and fiber slow the breakdown of starch into glucose, allowing the body to maintain a steady blood sugar level instead of causing sharp spikes. Fibers positively affect bowel movement and also help to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular diseases, the incidence of type 2 diabetes, the risk of stroke, and to maintain an overall better colorectal and digestive health. There is also some evidence to suggest that phytochemicals and essential minerals — such as copper and magnesium — found in the bran and germ may also help protect against some cancers.

Despite the purported benefits, consumption of some wholegrain foods may be limited by consumer perception of tastes and textures. The bran in particular contains intensely flavored compounds that reduce the softness of the final product and may be perceived to negatively affect overall taste and texture. However, these preferences vary greatly between regions. For example, while wheat noodles in China are made from refined flour, in South Asia most wheat is consumed wholegrain in the form of chapatis.

Popcorn is another example of a highly popular wholegrain food. It is a high-quality carbohydrate source that, consumed naturally, is not only low in calories and cholesterol, but also a good source of fiber and essential vitamins including folate, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, pantothenic acid and vitamins B6, A, E and K. One serving of popcorn contains about 8% of the daily iron requirement, with lesser amounts of calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.

Boiled and roasted maize commonly consumed in Africa, Asia and Latin America are other sources of wholegrain maize, as is maize which has been soaked in lime solution, or “nixtamalized.” Depending on the steeping time and method of washing the nixtamalized kernels, a portion of the grains used for milling could still be classed as whole.

Identifying wholegrain products

Whole grains are relatively easy to identify when dealing with unprocessed foods such as brown rice or oats. It becomes more complicated, however, when a product is made up of both whole and refined or enriched grains, especially as color is not an indicator. Whole wheat bread made using whole grains can appear white in color, for example, while multi-grain brown bread can be made primarily using refined flour.

In a bid to address this issue, US-based nonprofit consumer advocacy group the Whole Grains Council created a stamp designed to help consumers identify and select wholegrain products more easily. As of 2019, this stamp is used on over 13,000 products in 61 different countries.

However, whether a product is considered wholegrain or not varies widely between countries and individual agencies, with a lack of industry standardization meaning that products are labelled inconsistently. Words such as “fiber,” “multigrain” and even “wholegrain” are often used on packaging for products which are not 100% wholegrain. The easiest way to check a product’s wholegrain content is to look at the list of ingredients and see if the flours used are explicitly designated as wholegrain. These are ordered by weight, so the first items listed are those contained more heavily in the product.

As a next step, an ad-hoc committee led by the Whole Grain Initiative is due to propose specific whole grain quantity thresholds to help establish a set of common criteria for food labelling. These are likely to be applied worldwide in the event that national definitions and regulations are not standardized.

Healthy diets feature both whole- and refined-grain foods, new study shows

This press release was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

Freshly baked rye bread is displayed next to wheat spikes and grains. (Photo: Marco Verch/Flickr)

Grain-based foods — both whole-grain and refined, from which the bran has been removed — are a key part of healthy diets, according to a study published in the science journal Advances in Nutrition.

The study, co-authored by Julie Miller Jones of St. Catherine University, Carlos Guzman of the Universidad de Córdoba and Hans-Joachim Braun of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), reviewed findings of more than 100 research papers from nutrition and medical journals as well as national health recommendations. It presents evidence for positive health impacts from diverse diets that include not more than 50% carbohydrates and the right mix of grain-based foods.

“Epidemiological studies consistently show that eating three 30-gram portions of whole-grain foods — say, half a cup of oats — per day is associated with reduced chronic disease risk,” said Miller Jones, Professor Emerita at St. Catherine University and first author of the study. “But refined-grain foods — especially staple, enriched or fortified ones of the ‘non-indulgent’ type — also provide key vitamins and minerals that are otherwise lacking in people’s diets.”

“Cereal grains help feed the world by providing millions of calories per hectare and large amounts of plant-based protein,” said Braun, director of CIMMYT’s Global Wheat Program and the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat. “They are affordable, shelf stable, portable, versatile, and popular, and will play a key role as the world transitions to plant-based diets to meet future food needs.”

Folate fortification of refined grains has helped reduce the incidence of spina bifida, anencephaly, and other birth defects, according to Miller Jones. “And despite contributing to high sugar intake, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are typically consumed with nutritious foods such as milk, yogurt, and fruit,” she added.

All grain-based foods, refined and whole, are good sources of dietary fiber, which is essential for sound health but critically lacking in modern diets. “Only 4 percent of the U.S. population, for example, eats recommended levels of dietary fiber,” she said.

Obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other illnesses from unbalanced diets and unhealthy habits are on the rise in countries such as the U.S., driving up health care expenditures. The annual medical costs of obesity alone there have been estimated at nearly $150 billion.

“Dietary choices are determined partly by lifestyle but also co-vary with daily habits and personal traits,” Miller Jones explained. “People who eat more whole-grain foods are more likely to exercise, not smoke, and have normal body weights, as well as attaining higher levels of education and socioeconomic status.”

According to the study, recommendations for grain-based foods need to encourage a healthy number of servings and replacing half of refined-grain foods with whole-grain products, as well as providing clearer and unbiased definitions of both types of grain-based foods.


RELATED RESEARCH PUBLICATIONS:

Perspective: Whole and Refined Grains and Health — Evidence Supporting “Make Half Your Grains Whole”

INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITIES:

Hans Braun – Director of the Global Wheat Program, CIMMYT

FOR MORE INFORMATION, OR TO ARRANGE INTERVIEWS, CONTACT THE MEDIA TEAM:

Marcia MacNeil, Communications Officer, CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, CIMMYT.
m.macneil@cgiar.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 2070.

Rodrigo Ordóñez, Communications Manager, CIMMYT.
r.ordonez@cgiar.org, +52 (55) 5804 2004 ext. 1167.

ABOUT CIMMYT:

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is the global leader in publicly-funded maize and wheat research and related farming systems. Headquartered near Mexico City, CIMMYT works with hundreds of partners throughout the developing world to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat cropping systems, thus improving global food security and reducing poverty. CIMMYT is a member of the CGIAR System and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat and the Excellence in Breeding Platform. The Center receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies. For more information, visit www.cimmyt.org.

This research is supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

Experts gather in Turkey to share findings on the diversity and health benefits of wheat

Highlights from the International Conference on Wheat Diversity and Human Health which took place in Istanbul this week

Durum wheat spikes, Ciudad Obregon, Mexico. Photo credit: CIMMYT/Alfonso Cortés

Istanbul hosted a milestone conference this week convening experts from the region and the globe to examine the link between wheat and human health.  Although wheat is the second most popular food crop in the world, and a vital source of food and nutrition for humans dating from the earliest days of agriculture, its reputation as a health food has taken a hit in western popular culture in recent times.

The International Conference on Wheat Diversity and Human Health, makes a strong, scientifically supported case for a range of health benefits from wheat and its countless varieties, relatives and the foods made from them.

Beyond the well-publicized benefits of consuming fiber from whole grain wheat products – including lower risk of coronary disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and colon cancer – scientists at the conference affirmed that wheat also contains compounds such as phenolics, flavonoids and carotenoids that:

  • have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties,
  • control obesity,
  • reduce the risk of cancer and chronic diseases,
  • have a beneficial effect on the working memory,
  • can prevent neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases,
  • can delay aging and
  • can prevent Vitamin A deficiency, among many other attributes.


As remarkable as these benefits may be, wheat’s potential for improving nutrition and health worldwide is even greater.   

A number of wheat scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) presented evidence this week on new paths to further increase and promote these traits in wheat.

Velu Govindan speaking about his research on biofortification at this week’s conference. Photo credit: Fatih Özdemir
  • CIMMYT senior scientist and wheat breeder Velu Govindan explained the progress and potential of breeding wheat with enhanced levels of grain zinc and iron as a cost-effective, sustainable solution to malnutrition.   To date, more than 12 biofortified high zinc wheat varieties have been released, reaching close to 1 million households in target countries such as India and Pakistan. With the help of advanced genomics and speed breeding these varieties have the potential to become the standard for farmers, particularly in developing countries.
  • CIMMYT cropping systems agronomist ML Jat and his co-authors demonstrated how farming techniques that improve soil health, diversify production and enhance growing environments also increase the nutritional quality of wheat – critical in the face of climate change and higher CO2 concentrations that are projected to reduce the protein content of rice and wheat by almost 8% by 2050.
  • Maria Itria Ibba, head of CIMMYT’s wheat quality lab, shared an idea for helping improve global dietary fiber consumption without radically changing eating habits: develop wheat with increased Arabinoxylans (AX) — fiber components associated with reduced risk of diabetes, cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer located in the endosperm, the part of the grain most often used in refined flour. Her preliminary findings suggest that AX content is controlled by a relatively small number of genes, which could be identified through molecular markers to effectively select for this trait in the breeding process.
Maria Itria Ibba speaking about her research on improving dietary fiber consumption. Photo credit: Fatih Özdemir

Protecting and promoting wheat diversity

Many presenters discussed ways to protect and promote wheat’s wide diversity – from modern varieties, traditional landraces, ancient grains, colored wheat and different species – all of which have huge potential to enrich our diet.

  • Alex Morgunov, leader of the International Winter Wheat Improvement Program and a conference organizer, described his research in Afghanistan – where wheat is the life-sustaining food grain and no meal is complete without a slice of wheat bread — to protect, improve, and distribute its rare and numerous valuable wheat landraces. These ancient varieties bring diversity, distinct baking characteristics and nutrition from farmer fields to bakeries and to research stations, where they are employed in breeding efforts to capture their unique desirable traits.

As Tom Payne, head of CIMMYT’s Wheat Germplasm Collections pointed out, diversity is a crucial element to health, and genebanks such as CIMMYT’s safeguard some of the largest and most widely used collections of crop diversity in the world, critical to ending hunger and improving food and nutrition security.

Hans-Joachim Braun, director of CIMMYT’s global wheat program and co-chair of the event concluded the conference with remarks on future perspectives for wheat diversity and human health. He highlighted how 830 million people in the world – 11% of the population- still do not have enough to eat.

Hans Braun gives his concluding remarks. Photo credit: Fatih Özdemir

The International Conference on Wheat Diversity and Human Health took place from Oct 22 – 24 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Biofortified maize and wheat can improve diets and health, new study shows

New varieties deliver essential micronutrients to those who lack diverse diets

This article was originally posted on June 3, 2019 by Mike LISTMAN on cimmyt.org

TEXCOCO, Mexico (CIMMYT) — More nutritious crop varieties developed and spread through a unique global science partnership are offering enhanced nutrition for hundreds of millions of people whose diets depend heavily on staple crops such as maize and wheat, according to a new study in the science journal Cereal Foods World.

From work begun in the late 1990s and supported by numerous national research organizations and scaling partners, more than 60 maize and wheat varieties whose grain features enhanced levels of zinc or provitamin A have been released to farmers and consumers in 19 countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America over the last 7 years. All were developed using conventional cross-breeding.

Farmer and consumer interest has grown for some 60 maize and wheat varieties whose grain features enhanced levels of the essential micronutrients zinc and provitamin A, developed and promoted through collaborations of CIMMYT, HarvestPlus, and partners in 19 countries (Map: Sam Storr/CIMMYT).

“The varieties are spreading among smallholder farmers and households in areas where diets often lack these essential micronutrients, because people cannot afford diverse foods and depend heavily on dishes made from staple crops,” said Natalia Palacios, maize nutrition quality specialist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and co-author of the study.

More than 2 billion people worldwide suffer from “hidden hunger,” wherein they fail to obtain enough of such micronutrients from the foods they eat and suffer serious ailments including poor vision, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially in children, according to Wolfgang Pfeiffer, co-author of the study and head of research, development, delivery, and commercialization of biofortified crops at the CGIAR program known as “HarvestPlus.”

“Biofortification — the development of micronutrient-dense staple crops using traditional breeding and modern biotechnology — is a promising approach to improve nutrition, as part of an integrated, food systems strategy,” said Pfeiffer, noting that HarvestPlus, CIMMYT, and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) are catalyzing the creation and global spread of biofortified maize and wheat.

“Eating provitamin A maize has been shown to be as effective as taking Vitamin A supplements,” he explained, “and a 2018 study in India found that using zinc-biofortified wheat to prepare traditional foods can significantly improve children’s health.”

Six biofortified wheat varieties released in India and Pakistan feature grain with 6–12 parts per million more zinc than is found traditional wheat, as well as drought tolerance and resistance to locally important wheat diseases, said Velu Govindan, a breeder who leads CIMMYT’s work on biofortified wheat and co-authored the study.

“Through dozens of public–private partnerships and farmer participatory trials, we’re testing and promoting high-zinc wheat varieties in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nepal, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe,” Govindan said. “CIMMYT is also seeking funding to make high-zinc grain a core trait in all its breeding lines.”

Pfeiffer said that partners in this effort are promoting the full integration of biofortified maize and wheat varieties into research, policy, and food value chains. “Communications and raising awareness about biofortified crops are key to our work.”

For more information or interviews, contact:

Mike Listman

Communications Consultant

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)  

m.listman@cgiar.org, +52 (1595) 957 3490

Researchers find “hotspot” regions in the wheat genome for high zinc content

The reported work by wheat scientists paves the way for expanded use of wild grass species, such as Aegilops tauschii (also known as goat grass; pictured here) as sources of new genes for higher grain zinc in wheat. (Photo: CIMMYT)

An international team of scientists applied genome-wide association analysis for the first time to study the genetics that underlie grain zinc concentrations in wheat, according to a report published in Nature Scientific Reports on 10 September.

Analyzing zinc concentrations in the grain of 330 bread wheat lines across diverse environments in India and Mexico, the researchers uncovered 39 new molecular markers associated with the trait, as well as 2 wheat genome segments that carry important genes for zinc uptake, translocation, and storage in wheat.

The findings promise greatly to ease development of wheat varieties with enhanced levels of zinc, a critical micronutrient lacking in the diets of many poor who depend on wheat-based food, according to Velu Govindan, wheat breeder at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and first author of the new report.

“A collaboration among research centers in India, Australia, the USA and Mexico, this work will expedite breeding for higher zinc through use of ‘hotspot’ genome regions and molecular markers,” said Govindan. “It also advances efforts to make selection for grain zinc a standard feature of CIMMYT wheat breeding. Because varieties derived from CIMMYT breeding are grown on nearly half the world’s wheat lands, ‘mainstreaming’ high zinc in breeding programs could improve the micronutrient nutrition of millions.”

More than 17 percent of humans, largely across Asia and Africa, lack zinc in their diets, a factor responsible for the deaths of more than 400,000 young children each year.

Often used in human disease research, the genome-wide association approach was applied in this study to zero in on genome segments — known as quantitative trait loci (QTLs) — that carry genes of interest for wheat grain zinc content, according to Govindan.

“The advantages of the genome-wide association method over traditional QTL mapping include better coverage of alleles and the ability to include landraces, elite cultivars, and advanced breeding lines in the analysis,” he explained. “Our study fully opens the door for the expanded use of wheat progenitor species as sources of alleles for high grain zinc, and the outcomes helped us to identify other candidate genes from wheat, barley, Brachypodium grasses, and rice.”
Farmers in South Asia are growing six zinc-enhanced wheat varieties developed using CIMMYT breeding lines and released in recent years according to Ravi Singh, head of the CIMMYT Bread Wheat Improvement Program.

Financial support for this study was provided by HarvestPlus (www.HarvestPlus.org), a global alliance of agriculture and nutrition research institutions working to increase the micronutrient density of staple food crops through biofortification. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of HarvestPlus. It was also supported by CGIAR Funders, through the Research Program on Wheat and the Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. Research partners in India and Pakistan greatly contributed to this study by conducting high-quality field trials.

Scientists confirm value of whole grains and wheat for nutrition and health

15 February 2018

New study squashes claims that gluten and wheat are bad for human health. Photo: CIMMYT/ Mike Listman

Based on a recent, special compilation of 12 reports published in the scientific journal Cereal Foods World during 2014-2017, eating whole grains is actually beneficial for brain health and associated with reduced risk of diverse types of cancer, coronary disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and overall mortality.EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – A new, exhaustive review of recent scientific studies on cereal grains and health has shown that gluten- or wheat-free diets are not inherently healthier for the general populace and may actually put individuals at risk of dietary deficiencies.

“Clear and solid data show that eating whole-grain wheat products as part of a balanced diet improves health and can help maintain a healthy body weight, apart from the 1 percent of people who suffer from celiac disease and another 2 to 3 percent who are sensitive to wheat,” said Carlos Guzmán, wheat nutrition and quality specialist at the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), which produced the compilation.

Guzmán said wheat and other grains are inexpensive sources of energy that also provide protein, digestible fiber, minerals, vitamins, and other beneficial phytochemicals.

“Among wheat’s greatest benefits, according to the research, is fiber from the bran and other grain parts,” he explained. “Diets in industrialized countries are generally deficient in such fiber, which helps to regulate digestion and promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.”

Guzmán and hundreds of other grain quality and health specialists will meet for the 4th Latin American Cereals Conference and the 13th International Gluten Workshop, organized jointly by CIMMYT and the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology (ICC) in Mexico City from 11 to 17 March 2018.

Contributing to humankind’s development for the last 10,000 years, wheat is cultivated on some 220 million hectares (539 million acres) worldwide. The crop accounts for a fifth of the world’s food and is the main source of protein in many developing and developed countries, and second only to rice as a source of calories globally. In the many countries where milling flours are fortified, wheat-based foods provide necessary levels of essential micronutrients such as iron, zinc, folic acid and vitamin A.

Inhabitants in developing and industrialized countries are experiencing higher incidences of diabetes, allergies, inflammatory bowel disorder, and obesity. A profitable industry has developed around gluten- and wheat-free food products, which the popular press has promoted as beneficial for addressing such disorders. But much scientific evidence contradicts popular writings about these food products.

“Much of the anti-grain messaging comes from publications produced by supposed ‘specialists’ who are not nutritionists, and are often built on faulty premises.” according to Julie Miller Jones, Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emerita at St. Catherine University, U.S.A., and a key contributor to the review studies in the compilation.

“Causes of obesity and chronic disease are complex, and it is not only simplistic but erroneous to name a single food group as the cause or the cure for these problems,” Miller Jones explained.  “We do know that we consume large portions, too many calories, and too few fruits, vegetables, or whole grains.  Instead today’s lifestyles encourage consumption of many high calorie foods and beverages that contain few nutrients. Then the risks of poor diets are often amplified by our sedentary lifestyles.”

CIMMYT scientists are concerned that the negative portrayal of wheat to promote the lucrative gluten-free fad diet industry will discourage low-income families from consuming the grain as part of an affordable and healthy diet, particularly in areas where there are few low-cost alternatives.

Consumer Reports magazine reported in January 2015 that sales of “gluten-free” products soared 63 percent between 2012 and 2015, with almost 4,600 products introduced in 2014 alone. Retail sales of gluten-free foods in the United States were estimated at $12.2 billion in 2014 and by 2020 the market is projected to be valued at $23.9 billion, Statistica reports.

However, wheat biofortified through breeding or fortified during milling with zinc and iron can play a vital role in diets in areas where “hidden hunger” is a concern and where nutritional options are unaffordable or unavailable. About 2 billion people worldwide suffer from hidden hunger, which is characterized by iron-deficiency anemia, vitamin A and zinc deficiency.

The compilation draws on more than 1,500 peer-reviewed studies regarding the dietary and health effects of eating cereals and wheat-based foods.

CIMMYT specialists also worry that misinformation about wheat might affect investments in vital research to sustain wheat production increases of at least 60 percent by 2050, the output required to keep pace with rising population and demand, according to Hans Braun, director of the center’s global wheat program.

“Climate change is already constraining wheat production in regions such as South Asia, where more than 500 million inhabitants eat wheat-based foods,” Braun said. “Worldwide, the crop is threatened by deadly pest and disease strains, water shortages, and depleted soils.”

“As we have seen in 2008, 2011, and just recently in Tunisia and Sudan, grain shortages or price hikes in bread can lead to social unrest,” Braun added. “The international community needs to speed efforts to develop and share high-yielding, climate-resilient, and disease-resistant wheat varieties that also meet humanity’s varied nutritional demands.”

The compilation was produced with special permission from AACC International.