How innovation can boost the ‘overlooked’ and ‘undervalued’ health benefits of cereals

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The potential health benefits provided by cereals are ‘often overlooked or undervalued’ as part of a nutritious diet, a new review of agri-nutrition research and dietary guidance has concluded. 

The study chalked this up to two issues. Firstly, it noted many cereal crops with varying nutritional qualities are ‘indiscriminately’ grouped under the broad category of ‘staples’. Secondly, the researchers observed that cereals are often considered to be a major source of dietary energy alone. Reducing nutritional attributes to macro- and micro-nutrients in this way fails to factor in the presence of bioactive food components such as carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols, and compounds that comprise dietary fibre.

Increased consumption could combat NCDs

In the paper, entitled Agri-nutrition research: Revisiting the contribution of maize and wheat to human nutrition and health​, the authors urged researchers and policymakers to embrace the ‘multiple dietary components’ of cereals to address under- and over-nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and the growing global problem of non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

“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 co-author Olaf Erenstein, 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.”

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