WHY GRAINS HELP YOU FEEL BETTER AND LOSE WEIGHT CARBOHYDRATES are essential for the body's normal functioning, and health experts are concerned that skipping out on foods like bread and breakfast cereals could affect more than just the quality of our daily diet.
Coinciding with the launch of National Grains Week (April 3-7), researchers warn that Australians who drop grain foods from their regular diet may be doing more harm than good.
Nutrition studies show that grain-based foods such as cereals, bread, crispbreads, rice, oats and pasta are one of the most important parts of our diet.
Not only are they a source of essential vitamins and minerals, they provide the body with carbohydrates which are the main source of energy for physical activity, normal metabolic function, healthy growth and good brain function.
The Good Mood Food
However, high carbohydrate foods like grains have another little-known effect - the ability to positively influence mood and help control appetite. And these calming effects may even improve the likelihood of sticking with a weight management program.
Dr Philippa Lyons-Wall, lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at Queensland University of Technology, said carbohydrate can affect a chemical messenger in the brain called serotonin that elevates mood and suppresses appetite.
"High carbohydrate consumption naturally stimulates the production of serotonin - which has a natural calming effect - but protein and fat counteracts the effect," Dr Lyons-Wall said.
"Because grain-based foods are generally high in carbohydrate, and low in fat and protein, they tend to have this subtle, calming effect. High protein foods, on the other hand, tend to do the opposite," she said
This remarkable finding dates back to the 1970s when scientists Richard Wurtman and John Fernstrom first discovered that eating carbohydrates increases the production of serotonin in the brain.
"This early work was conducted in rats, but there's been further research with humans since then, and Wertman and Fernstrom's model has stood the test of time," Dr Lyons-Wall said.
Whilst most nutrition research is about preventing or curing diseases such as cancers, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, there is mounting evidence that our daily mood states and thinking capacities are influenced by the foods we eat.
Recent studies have found the types of breakfast people eat can affect the state of their mood in the middle of the day. Other research shows dieters tend to become depressed about two weeks into a diet, which may be linked to a drop in serotonin levels due to decreased carbohydrate intake.
But despite the fact that carbohydrate's effect on mood has been suspected for around 30 years, most people aren't aware of the mood enhancing effect grain-based foods can provide.
Ms Trish Griffiths, Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Executive Manager of Go Grains Health and Nutrition, said carbohydrates have had a lot of bad press in recent times and Australians may not realise their many benefits.
"Carbs have been demonised on a number of fronts - accused of causing weight gain and blamed as the reason people can't lose weight - but the opposite is actually true," Ms Griffiths said.
"It seems clear that people would benefit from understanding how foods like carbohydrates can affect their mood and appetite. Further research in this area might help us control food intake more effectively to maintain a healthier and happier lifestyle. Living longer is about wellness, not feeling miserable," she said.
Regardless of the effect of carbohydrates on mood, it's clear that people are increasingly confused by conflicting messages about diet and good nutrition, and they may be affecting their health by cutting out grain-based carbohydrate foods.
"People should be more concerned about balancing the total calories in their diet with regular exercise, rather than trying to exclude carbohydrates," Ms Griffiths said.
"The evidence shows wholegrain foods can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers so, as a nation, we risk developing unhealthy long-term dieting habits if we cut out grain-based foods," she said.