The benefit of grains has been well established in the scientific literature as well as with consumers — 72 per cent of consumers now associate whole grains with cardiovascular benefits, and 86 per cent with intestinal health, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC). Studies show that whole-grain consumption lowers heart-risk failure, and can significantly decrease abdominal fat in those consuming whole rather than refined grains.
Amaranth is a grain indigenous to Mexico that has been cultivated since Aztec times. Its resurgence is due in part to the commercialisation of exotic foods — amaranth and other so-called ancient grains fit this trend. A protein content of 16 per cent and a selection of unique phytochemicals make amaranth a compelling functional food. It has been linked with a positive effect on hypertension, coronary heart disease and immune response. A three-week, controlled clinical trial assessed the effect of amaranth oil in 125 patients with cardiovascular disease. The patients were randomised to a low-salt diet plus 3-18mg/day amaranth oil or only a low-salt diet. The amaranth oil group had reduced cholesterol levels in blood serum, and also reduced blood pressure. Other effects included reduced markers of oxidative stress and enhanced immunity.
Chia (Salvia hispanica) is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, protein and antioxidants. Like amaranth, chia is an ancient grain and marketed as such, though clinical-trial evidence is relatively new.
In January 2009, researchers from Argentina investigated the benefits of chia seed on dyslipidaemia and insulin resistance (IR). In a three-month feeding study, a sucrose-rich diet was used to bring about IR in rats. Once IR and dyslipidaemia were present at the end of three months, chia was given to half the group in place of fat, while the control group had sucrose replaced with maize starch. Chia prevented the onset of dyslipidaemia and IR. Additionally, chia reduced the visceral adiposity present in the sucrose-supplemented rats.
In a human trial, researchers found chia added to conventional diabetes treatment improved major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Twenty well-controlled subjects with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to receive either 37g/day chia or wheat bran (control) for 12 weeks while maintaining their conventional diabetes therapies. The chia group had reduced systolic blood pressure (SBP) and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. Chia also significantly decreased A1C (glycated haemoglobin) and fibrinogen compared to baseline.
Tef (Eragrostis tef) is one of the principal sources of nutrition for two-thirds of the population in Ethiopia, where it is used to make flatbread. Unlike the peppery taste from amaranth, tef is a sweet-tasting grain, molasseslike in flavour. This taste provides its favour with Western consumers. In a recent clinical trial, researchers investigated whether the naturally gluten-free cereal is safe when used by celiac disease (CD) patients.
In March 2006, all 7,990 members of the Dutch Celiac Disease Society were invited to complete a questionnaire on celiac-symptom development after tef consumption. Thirty-six percent responded to the first questionnaire, of whom 53 per cent consumed tef and 15 per cent reported complaints. For the second questionnaire, out of the 1,828 participants willing to complete it, 1,545 had biopsy-proven CD. Of these, 66 per cent used tef and 17 per cent reported symptoms after consumption. The percentage for symptoms was significantly lower than that in patients without tef consumption. The take-home was that CD patients using tef reported a significant reduction in symptoms, possibly related to a reduction in gluten intake or to an increase in fibre intake.
Wheat is the perennial whole-grain favourite for breads. Wheat is a generic term for a class of whole-grain varieties based around endosperm hardness, colour and season of growth.
A 2008 study from the United Kingdom investigated one of the most interesting fields of human health — the modulation of the intestinal flora (gut health). Epidemiological studies have shown an inverse association between whole-grain intake and chronic-disease risk. According to authors of the following trial, the relationship of whole grains and disease may be mediated by the prebiotic modulation of gut microbiota.
A double-blind, randomised, crossover study was carried out in 31 volunteers who consumed 48g/day breakfast cereals composed of either wheat germ or wheat bran in two three-week study periods, separated by a two-week washout period. The results demonstrated a significant increase in the numbers of faecal bifidobacteria and lactobacilli following wheat-germ ingestion compared with wheat bran. Additionally, both cereals led to a significant reduction in total cholesterol. No adverse intestinal symptoms were reported, and wheat-bran ingestion increased stool frequency.