In November 2021, scientists and organizations from the Whole Grain Initiative they asked governments around the world to promote the consumption of whole grains in their countries. The motivations? Healthy and environmental. The World Health Organization and the FAO have also joined the appeal, because both are well aware, thanks to the scientific studies that have been accumulating over the last few years, that whole grains are a fundamental building block for obtaining healthy and sustainable diets.
Tips for Italian tables
In Italy, nutritionists have been recommending its consumption for some time: regularly bring bread, pasta, rice and other cereals, preferably whole grains, to the table, according to the Guidelines. And on the shelves of the supermarket there is plenty of choice. “The unrefined product is richer in fiber and has a high satiating power, plus it has benefits on the metabolism”, he agrees. Andrea Carrassi, general manager of the Italian Association of the Oil Industry (Assitol), which also represents the sector of semi-finished bread, pizzeria and pastry. But it remains to understand what integral means.
At the beginning of the year, the Whole Grain Initiative published a definition of it in the scientific journal Nutrients: “Whole food must contain at least 50% unrefined ingredients based on its dry weight.”
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In Italy, however, there is still no clear legislation on the use of the term and some producers use it even if the raw materials are not one hundred percent integral. Therefore, the European sector federation (Fedima) is working to harmonize the definitions used in the various EU countries.
How to recognize products that are not entirely wholemeal
“The great attention to health and the trend towards a so-called natural diet has enhanced the production of wholemeal products but, at the same time, has caused the exponential growth of products that are not really wholemeal”, underlines Carrassi. In fact, companies “do not have the obligation to specify to the consumer whether with the wording” wholemeal “on the packaging they mean the use of wholemeal flours or refined flours to which bran or bran has been added”, he adds. Alberto Ritieniprofessor of food chemistry at the Federico II University of Naples.
We are not talking about food fraud or harmful products, simply bread, crackers or biscuits with a minimum percentage of wholemeal flour or with refined raw materials to which fiber is added. Which, therefore, are not integral, strictly speaking. How to notice it? Through the ingredients list.
Read the list of ingredients
“The ingredients are listed in descending order”, Ritieni specifies: “so if in the first place we find a flour not followed by the term wholemeal, but by the wording 0 or 00, and then subsequently we read bran or small bran, it means that the product is a refined to which the fiber has been added. The ideal would be to find the wording 100% wholemeal flour not mixed with other refined cereals “.
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Because foods that are not totally whole are born
The advantages in simulating the integral are mostly economic and technological. “Refined flour costs a little less, is easier to work, especially for the dough of breadsticks and crackers, and has a greater shelf life because it comes from wheat grains without germ, which is oily and subject to rancidity” continues l ‘expert: “In fact, 0 or 00 flours resist in the pantry for years, while wholemeal only a few months”.
A good product? 3-4 grams of fiber per hectogram
After taking a good look at the ingredients list, it is worth taking a look at the nutritional table, because the strength of unrefined products is their fiber content. “The correlation” more fiber-more health “is now established and, together with fruit and vegetables, wholemeal products are the best reserves. If we read that a product provides at least 3-4 grams of fiber per 100 grams, it is one of them. good source; if it only has 1-2 grams, it’s not, “he explains Raffaella Cancellospecialist in nutrition science at the Irccs Istituto Auxologico Italiano: “Fibers are good for the whole body, from the heart to the intestine, reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as hyperglycemia and diabetes. The recommended amount is 30 grams per day, but the European population, including Italy, consumes about half a day “.
Multigrain products or products based on cereals other than wheat are also rich in fiber, for example oats, barley, rice, rye. Even they can be confused with wholemeal, mostly because of the dark dough or because the name recalls a rustic and rough processing, but even here to find out it is enough to read the ingredients list.
“They could be mixed with multigrain flours, but still refined” says Ritieni. Advice? “Do not become attached to any flour and consciously vary between wholemeal, multigrain and refined products. Also alternate dry and fresh dough, in which the vitamins are more resistant” suggests the nutritionist. And for those who don’t like the taste of pasta or wholemeal bread, there is the semi-wholemeal option. “It is based on type 2 flour”, Cancello concludes: “And it is an excellent compromise because it has good nutritional properties and is easier to work with in doughs”.
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Is there a difference between ancient and modern grains?
How to compare the effect of two diets without risking that people’s lifestyles interfere with the experiment? By offering two food programs, one month each, to a group of cloistered nuns, with the same habits and the same times every day, to then evaluate the effects on the organism. The idea was born from a team of Italian researchers, with the aim of comparing a diet based on ancient whole grains, for example Timilia or Russello, and one based on refined modern cereals, such as Simeto.
The experiment on a group of nuns
The experiment, published in November 2021 in the scientific journal Digestive and Liver Disease, was conducted on 29 nuns of a convent in Palermo. “Only in this way did we collect standardized data, without interference, and we found an improvement in metabolic parameters, in particular in total and bad cholesterol, by the diet based on ancient whole grains”, he confirms. Antonio Carroccio, lead author of the study and professor of the Health Promotion department at the University of Palermo. He adds: “Ancient varieties are considered healthier than modern ones, but the data are not unique. We ourselves thought that the cultivar would make a difference. Instead, we understood that the greatest influence comes from integral nature, and not from integral nature. origin of the wheat “.
Always better unrefined
Numerous studies prior to this have awarded unrefined products. To cite one of the most extensive research, the one published in September 2020 on The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, in which American researchers analyzed data collected on a group of nearly 500,000 people. It would be the fibers of whole grains, concluded the authors, to play a primary role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases, including colorectal cancer. And the more you eat, says another study from the British Nutrition Foundation, the less the danger is.