Food & Nutrition Blog

To lose more…you gotta eat more.

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When it comes to losing weight, most people think that you need to cut some foods out of your diet to achieve a negative energy balance. Be it reducing total calories, cutting out carbs or any other form of dietary restriction, this is by far the most common way to to attempt to achieve weight loss  goals, yet the most likely way for these goals to eventually fail!

There is plenty of research that shows that long term weight loss cannot be achieved by restricting food intake. So, what is the best way to lose unwanted kilos? The answer may lie in adding foods to your diet, rather than taking away. Specifically, whole grain foods, which can help to increase satiety, maintain blood glucose levels and thereby help you to achieve healthy weight goals.

Long-term observational studies demonstrate that people who include whole grain foods are less likely to gain weight over time. Two reviews of the evidence on grain foods and weight have been published in the last five years and conclude that higher intakes of grain foods, particularly whole grains, are associated with lower body mass index, smaller waist circumference and less weight gain.

So instead of thinking about what you need to cut out, how about kick starting the year by looking at what you can add in? Dietitian and ambassador for The Healthy Grain Teri Lichtenstein, shares with us her favourite summer tips for adding whole grains into your diet.


Start your day the whole grain way

During the summer months, my whole family enjoy making a range of recipes using whole grains, fruit, dairy and a sprinking of seeds or nuts. There are so many ways to enjoy wholegrains with delicious summer berries that are in season, whether that be overnight oats, summer smoothies or one of my favourites, a layered parfait like this delicious BARLEYmax breakfast idea.

BARLEYmax Yoghurt Parfait


Whole grain snacks

Summer holidays always coincide with my kids being extra hungry and needing more snacks. I think it must be all the swimming and outdoor activities that make their bodies crave more energy to keep them going. I make sure that I keep a ready supply of whole grain snacks on hands, like the Barley+ range of muesli bars, or we will often make our own muesli bars, which not only are a great source of whole grains, but double as a great school holiday activity to do together. We made these BARLEYmax muesli bars recently, which are the perfect summer snack food to have on hand.



Whole grain baking and cooking

Just because a recipe does not include whole grains, doesn’t mean you cannot swop out some white, processed grains for more whole grain varieties. Most of the time the recipe will still work perfectly and you will gain the benefit of a whole grain fibre boost to your diet. Some baking / cooking ideas include:

  • Switch half the white flour to whole grain flour in your regular recipes for cookies, muffins, and pancakes
  • Add half a cup of uncooked oats or whole grain bread crumbs for each kg of ground meat when you make burgers for your summer bbq
  • Make risottos, pilafs and other rice-like dishes with whole grains such as BARLEYmax, brown rice, bulgur, millet or quinoa

Have a look at these other great whole grain swaps that Teri has shared in the past.


Whole grain summer salads

Salads are on most summer menus, whether it be entertaining friends with a bbq or a simple family meal at home enjoyed outdoors on the deck. Grains are the perfect accompaniment to any salad and provide a great textured crunch along with a fibre boost.

BARLEYmax Three Grain Salad


Shop whole grains

Grocery stores have come a long way in the last few years and there is no shortage of whole grain varieties of products to choose from. Whether it be innovative whole grain pastas or crackers with a range of grains, we are lucky  to be spoilt for choice. So, when you next do your weekly grocery shop, make it a goal to put one new whole grain product into your trolley.

What other ways do you enjoy whole grains in your diet? Let us know via our Facebook page.

To Grain or Not to Grain?

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A few weeks ago, I attended a live webinar event, where two well-respected dietitians discussed the use of the “low carb healthy fat” diet (LCHF) approach to help people with a range of lifestyle diseases (e.g. Diabetes) manage their health outcomes. These teams of dietitians have achieved some remarkable results with their patients, including improved glycemic control, lower blood cholesterol and better liver function test results.

There is no shortage of research suggesting that a LCHF diet may be just as effective as low-fat diets in improving metabolic risk factors, managing diabetes and reducing weight.1,2 People with insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 Diabetes may be particularly good candidates for a lower-carbohydrate prescription, and a number of leading health organisations have come out in support of these types of diets.



Nutrition is Not an Exact Science

Of course, like most things in nutrition science, for every body of evidence promoting a specific dietary approach, there will be research to contradict that approach. The evidence reviewed by The Institute of Medicine suggests that energy density, rather than a particular ratio of macronutrients, can lead to obesity.3 Although a high fat diet will be energy dense, the fat component alone will not lead to obesity unless energy is chronically consumed in excess of energy expenditure. This argument also applies to carbohydrates. The type of carbohydrate can also markedly influence energy density of the diet. For example, it is easier to increase the energy density of the diet by consuming energy dense drinks with added carbohydrates, compared to whole grain foods, vegetables and fruits, because the extra energy intake from the former source is generally not compensated by a reduction in energy intake from other foods. We know that there has been a major shift in westernised dietary habits over the last few decades, with an increase in consumption of highly refined carbohydrates and sugar. To add to this, less than 4% of us eat enough vegetables every day.4 This is contradictory to what dietary guidelines actually recommend.

In defence of the low-carb-healthy-fat approach that is recommended by dietitians who advocate this diet, the diet would contain a range of high quality foods (e.g. fruits, vegetables, nuts, yoghurt) that would be more nutritious than high-carbohydrate-nutrient-poor foods that are often eaten in a typical Western diet. When it comes to specific nutrients, one could even argue that the LCHF approach may not require the Recommended Dietary Intake levels (RDI) for nutrients such as thiamine, as there is less carbohydrate to metabolise. One of the presenters in the webinar has published a paper in BMJ, using a hypothetical case study design to assess the nutrient intake of a LCHF diet, and concluded that a well-planned LCHF diet would exceed the minimum nutrient reference value thresholds, except for female iron requirements, which achieved between 86-98% of the threshold. 5


But What About….?

However, as I sat watching this webinar, I couldn’t help being left pondering about the long term effects of cutting out or significantly reducing one major food group – whole grains.

We know that whole grains, one of the major food groups, are a vehicle for a range of key nutrients within the Australian diet. Take bread for example (one of the most commonly consumed whole grain foods). Bread is a major source of dietary fibre, iron, thiamine, as well as folate and iodine that has had mandatory fortification to bread making in Australia since 2009. Importantly, following folic acid fortification in Australia, there was a statistically significant 14.4% decrease in the rate of neural tube defects across the population (excluding Victoria, ACT and Tasmania where insufficient data was available).6

 Whole grains feature in dietary guidelines all over the world, and with good reason. Whole grains have been linked to a lower risk of type 2 Diabetes, overweight and obesity, cancer and cardiovascular disease. 7 And whilst fruits and vegetables (part of the LCHF diet) do contain some fibre, whole grains are generally a richer source and also contain a variety of different  fibre types, essential for gut and overall health.

Based on various meta-analysis, an appropriate dietary fiber intake, for example by consuming more whole grain compared to a low intake of whole grain, is linked to a significant disease risk reductions for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, 8, 9 while evidence is growing that weight management may also be supported favourably. 10.11


LCHF and the gut microbiome

Another benefit of whole grains is that they generally contain a lot of prebiotic fibres, including resistant starch, which ferments in the colon to produce short chain fatty acids that lower the PH of the colon. A lower pH has been shown to slow down the proliferation of cancer cells and decrease the production of toxic by-products.


A LCHF diet will naturally be lower in prebiotic fermentable fibres compared to a higher carbohydrate diet. Given the importance of fermentable fibres to maintain a healthy and diverse gut microbiome,12 what would this mean for someone who is following the LCHF approach? Diets low in fermentable fibres have been shown to reduce total bacterial abundance,13 and this makes sense as a reduction in fermentable fibres means less-energy sources for the gut microbes, who depend on substrates to colonise? On the other hand, eating prebiotic fibres and resistant starch will allow for proliferation of intestinal bacteria, as shown in the table below. 14


Effects of non-digestable carbohydrates on gut microbiata

Bacterial Abundance Gene richness Lactobacilli Bifidobacteria Clostridia Enterococcus Roseburia Eubacteria Ruminococcus
Fibre / prebiotics ↑↓
Resistant starch


A Grain of Truth

I certainly learned a lot from this informative webinar looking at the science underpinning the LCHF diet and how to apply in practise. There most certainly is a place for this type of diet for some individuals and any diet that gets people eating more whole foods can only be a good thing.

But for now, I think I will go and make myself a piece of whole grain toast to feed my brain and fuel my body, as I ponder where the exciting world of nutrition science will take us next!



Yours in good health,





Teri Lichtenstein, APD
The Healthy Grain Nutrition Ambassador




  • Hu Tian et al. Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Diets Versus Low-Fat Diets on Metabolic Risk Factors: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials. American Journal of Epidemiology 2012 May; Vol. 176, No. 7
  • Ajala O et al. Systematic review and meta-analysis of different dietary approaches to the management of type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;97 ;505-16
  • Raynor H.A. et al. Dietary energy density and successful weight loss maintenance. Eat Behav. 2001 Apr; 12(2): 119-125
  • Australian Health Survey: Consumption of food groups from the Australian Dietary Guidelines . 2011-12
  • Zinn C. Rush A, Johnson R. Assessing the nutrient intake of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diet: a hypothetical case study design. BMJ Open. 2018;8:e018846
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Monitoring the health impacts of mandatory folic acid and iodine fortification. 2016. Available online:
  • Zhang B et al. Association of whole grain intake with all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality: a systematic review anddose–response meta-analysis from prospective cohort studies. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2018) 72, 57–65
  • Aune D et al. (2016) Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ 353:i2716
  • Ma X et al. (2016) Association between whole grain intake and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Oncotarget 7(38):61996
  • Albertson AM et al. (2016) Whole grain consumption trends and associations with body weight measures in the United States: results from the cross sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2012. Nutr J 15(1):8
  • Vanegas SM et al.(2017) substituting whole grains for refined grains in a 6-wk randomized trial has a modest effect on gut microbiota and immune and inflammatory markers of healthy adults. Am J Clin Nutr 105(3):635–650
  • Holscher HD. Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota. Gut Microbes. 2017; 8(2): 172–184
  • Halmos EP et al. Diets that differ in their FODMAP content alter the colonic luminal microenvironment. 2015 Jan; 64(1):93-100
  • Singh RK et al. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. J Transl Med. 2017; 15: 73.


Microbiome – The missing link in the gut-brain axis

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With the ever expanding trend of gut health that seems to be overtaking mainstream media, there is a lot more information about the role of food in affecting mood, and ongoing research investigating the link between our gut microbiome and mental health. 1,2  Whilst there is some persuasive animal research data, human studies are more limited and the science is probably still a long way off from being conclusive enough to recommend specific therapeutic actions to treat a range of mental health conditions.

We know that there is a direct line of communication between our guts and our central nervous system, commonly referred to as the “gut-brain axis” and Nutritional psychiatrists assert that the “gut-brain” connection is the crux of managing anxiety and depression for many people. 3 And with more than 38 trillion bugs residing in our digestive system, it makes sense that the state of our gut microbiome would have a significant impact on our brain health. Research is still in its infancy and many questions remain regarding the causality between the gut microbiome and mood-related behaviours, specifically mental health conditions and illness such as anxiety and depression. 4,5

Do alterations in gut microbiota result in depression or does a depressive state induce modification of some gut species within the gut and potentially contribute to more severe depression? Certainly a chicken and egg conundrum and one that requires further investigation.

Ref: Molecular Psychiatry (2016) 21, 738-748;



Modifying the gut microbiome to improve mental health?

As with most aspects of science, specifically nutrition science, research doesn’t always provide clear answers.  This is complicated also by the bi-directional relationship between the brain and the gut.

In some studies, rodents showed an onset of depressive behaviour following faecal transplantations from patients with MDD (major depressive disorder), and in others mental induction of stress and depressive behaviour in rodents resulted in reduced gut microbiota richness and diversity.,6,7,8  Systematic reviews of human studies have also found that supplementation with psychobiotics (prebiotics  and probiotics) may help to treat mental health illnesses, but more clinical trials are needed to assess efficacy. 9,10, 11

There are many influencing factors that can alter the microbial community. From where one lives (farm vs. urban city) to illness, stress and overuse of antibiotics. In fact a recent large population study reported that treatment with a single antibiotic course was associated with an increased risk for depression and anxiety, rising with multiple exposures. 13 Of course one of the biggest influencers on the microbiome is diet. Eating a high fat diet has been associated with changes to the diversity of the gut microbiome and reduced synaptic plasticity (ability of synapses to respond to environment) 14,15. In addition, a lack of sufficient fermentable fibres to feed the growth of healthy bacteria can result in a decline in overall bacterial diversity, decreased gut cell wall integrity and increased gut permeability, all of which can influence brain function.

Whilst we are probably a long way away from having any clear cut answers, one thing we do know for certain is that our gut microbial communities has a major influence on mental health disorders, and perhaps a ‘microbiome-gut-brain’ model may be more appropriate. 12


The magic of short chain fatty acids

Bacterial metabolites from the gut can have a substantial influence on the regulation of the microbiome-gut–brain axis. When SCFAs (short chain fatty acids) are produced by the fermentation of dietary fibre,  this stimulates the sympathetic and autonomic nervous system, which modulates brain development and behaviour. 16,17 SCFAs have a number of other ‘gut-brain’ roles including regulating brain tissue homeostasis, and releasing gut peptides, which in turn affect gut-brain hormonal communication and can influence appetite control. 18,19

There is no doubt that short chain fatty acids are important molecules and play a key role in the microbiome-gut-brain axis link. Whilst we may be a long way off from truly understanding how they exert their magic, surely it can only be beneficial to include dietary fibres that produce these moleucles in our diet?


The future of health and happiness

The advances in our understanding of the role of the microbiome in brain activity and mental health have been remarkable, and the potential value of microbiome analyses in revealing mechanisms that underpin altered brain development and mental illness is hugely exciting. As the gut-brain axis is extended to include the microbiome, scientists are faced with greater insights, yet also more challenges, to understand the complicated processes behind altered brain function and mental health. The challenge lies in pinpointing the cause and effect of specific bacteria, and translating the results into treatments. And this isn’t easy. Could it be a similar case to that of the human genome – another great hope in predicting disease and personalised preventative medicine, but which becomes more impenetrably complex the more we learn about it? The only difference is that, unlike your genome, which you can’t do an awful lot with, your microbiome is potentially modifiable.



Yours in good health,




Teri Lichtenstein (APD)
The Healthy Grain Nutrition Ambassador



  1. Winter G. et al. Gut microbiome and depression: what we know and what we need to know. Rev Neurosci. 2018 Aug 28;29(6):629-643
  2. Clapp M. et al. Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis. Clin Pract. 2017 Sep 15; 7(4): 987
  3. Carabotti M. et al. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol. 2016; 29(2): 240
  4. Dash S. et al. The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015 Jan;28(1):1-6
  5. Dash S. et al. The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015 Jan;28(1):1-6
  6. Kelly JR. et al. Transferring the blues: Depression-associated gut microbiota induces neurobehavioural changes in the rat. J Psychiatr Res. 2016 Nov;82:109-18
  7. Macqueen G. et al. The gut microbiota and psychiatric illness. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2017 Mar; 42(2): 75–77
  8. Rogers GB. Et al. From gut dysbiosis to altered brain function and mental illness: mechanisms and pathways. Molecular Psychiatryvolume 21, pages 738–748 (2016)
  9. Wallace Caroline. Milev Roumen. The effects of probiotics on depressive symptoms in humans: a systematic review
  10. Schmidt K. et al. Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology 232(10) · December 2014
  11. Sarkar a. et al. Psychobiotics and the Manipulation of Bacteria–Gut–Brain Signals. Trends in Neurosciences, November 2016, Vol. 39, No. 11
  12. Cryan JF, O’Mahony SM. The microbiome-gut-brain axis: from bowel to behavior. Neurogastroenterol Motil 2011; 23: 187–192
  13. Lurie I. et al. Antibiotic exposure and the risk for depression, anxiety, or psychosis: a nested case-control study. J Clin Psychiatry 2015; 76: 1522–1528.
  14. Liu Z. et al. High-fat diet induces hepatic insulin resistance and impairment of synaptic plasticity. PLoS One 2015; 10: e0128274.
  15. Daniel H. et al. High-fat diet alters gut microbiota physiology in mice. ISME J 2014; 8: 295–308
  16. Kimura I. et al. Short-chain fatty acids and ketones directly regulate sympathetic nervous system via G protein-coupled receptor 41 (GPR41). Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2011; 108: 8030–8035.
  17. Macfabe DF. Et al. Short-chain fatty acid fermentation products of the gut microbiome: implications in autism spectrum disorders. Microb Ecol Health Dis 2012; 23; doi: 10.3402/mehd.v23i0.19260.
  18. Prinz M. et al. Microglia and brain macrophages in the molecular age: from origin to neuropsychiatric disease. Nat Rev Neurosci 2014; 15: 300–312.
  19. Wren AM. Bloom SR. Gut hormones and appetite control. Gastroenterology 2007; 132: 2116–2130

Will probiotics and prebiotics have a role in treating allergies in the future?

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The microbiota in our gut are our best “frenemies”. That’s because we have this amazing eco system within our guts that acts like a double edges sword; our microbiome can promote immune and metabolic health, but it can also promote inflammation, when triggered by ‘invaders’ (e.g. allergens, pollen, dust).

The hundreds of trillions of microbes that are found in the human body are concentrated specifically within skin and mucosal surfaces (i.e. Gastro and respiratory tracts. There is a very complex network of immunological interactions that take place in these tracts in order for our immune system to be able to distinguish between “good” and “bad” microbes. These highly controlled mechanisms must be able to discern when immune tolerance is required or when effective attacks against pathogens are necessary. However, in many westernised countries, there have been a number of imbalances in the interactions between the microbiome and immune cells, that has resulted in exacerbated allergic responses and asthma in both animal models and humans.

For many people, the start of Spring is a happy time. The blossoms are out, the days are warmer and the smell of summer is on its way. But for 4.5 million Australians (nearly 1 in 5), the arrival of Spring means loading up on hay fever medication, staying indoors and keeping tissues nearby.

For almost three decades, a growing body of research has linked the increases in asthma and allergy rates to ‘the hygiene hypothesis’1 – the idea that our modern urban living environments have become too sterile and germ-free, leading our immune systems to become imbalanced and reactive. 2


The early life opportunity

When it comes to allergy and asthma, researchers believe that most of the protection is conferred very early in life, starting with the development of the foetus in the womb where beneficial microbes may help to “train” the immune system. Contrary to what was previously hypothesizes, we now know that babies are not born with a sterile gut, and the stability and diversity of the gut microbiome increases during the first 3 years of life, with various factors influencing this development including mode of birth delivery, breast or bottle feeding, microbial environment (e.g. living on a farm or in a city, dogs in the house or no dogs) and antibiotic use. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

A 2016 study from the University of California San Francisco found that babies who were lacking particular gut microbes at one month old were three times more likely to develop allergic reactions by age 2, and asthma by age 4. The paper demonstrates that the perturbed microbial ecosystem present in these at-risk babies produces molecules that reduce the abundance of a key type of immune cell known to help prevent allergy. The researchers surmise that having fewer of these cells leads to a hyperactive immune system and eventually to chronic asthmatic inflammation of the lungs. 8


The microbiome in allergy and asthma

It was previously thought that healthy human lung tissue was sterile, but in the last decade, studies have shown that the respiratory mucosa has its own microbial population. As it happens with the gut microbiota, the airways microbiome also develops very early in life and is influenced by the number of microbes in the environment, age, health status, and birth mode. Children raised in farms or who live with animals (e.g. dogs or cats) are exposed to a higher microbial diversity in house dust, which leads to higher nasal microbiome diversity and less risk of asthma and respiratory allergies (e.g. Hayfever)

People with altered gut and lung microbiomes could revert these imbalances  through the use of pre and probiotics to support restoration. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as adding a whole lot of pre and probiotics to a capsule and simply swallowing a magical pill. The inflammatory responses experienced by asthma and hay fever sufferers is influenced by a multitude of factors including the environment, nutrition, as well as the status of the gut and respiratory microbiome. It will be necessary to determine if variations in the microbiome are the cause or effect of allergies and asthma, and longitudinal studies are essential to control for different confounding factors. The ultimate goal is to understand whether aspects of the microbiome are linked to disease and whether manipulation of the microbiome will be useful to preserve lung function, prevent, and treat allergies.

And in the meantime, the good news is that the for those who suffer from Spring time sniffles, this hay fever season is likely to be less severe as a result of Australia’s drier-than-average winter season.


Yours in good health,





Teri Lichtenstein (APD)
The Healthy Grain Nutrition Ambassador


  1. Okada H et al. The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ for autoimmune and allergic diseases: an update. Clin Exp Immunol. 2010 Apr; 160(1): 1–9.
  2. West CE et al. The gut microbiota and inflammatory noncommunicable diseases: associations and potentials for gut microbiota therapies. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2015 Jan; 135(1):3-13.
  3. Lozupone CA et al. Diversity, stability and resilience of the human gut microbiota. Diversity, stability and resilience of the human gut microbiota. 2012 Sep 13; 489(7415):220-30.
  4. Dominguez-Bello MG at al. Delivery mode shapes the acquisition and structure of the initial microbiota across multiple body habitats in newborns. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jun 29; 107(26):11971-5.
  5. Yatsunenko T, Rey FE et a. Human gut microbiome viewed across age and geography. 2012 May 9; 486(7402):222-7.
  6. Harmsen HJ et al. Analysis of intestinal flora development in breast-fed and formula-fed infants by using molecular identification and detection methods. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2000 Jan; 30(1):61-7.
  7. Tanaka S et al. Influence of antibiotic exposure in the early postnatal period on the development of intestinal microbiota. FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2009 Jun; 56(1):80-7.
  8. Fujimura KE et al. Neonatal gut microbiota associates with childhood multisensitized atopy and T cell differentiation. Nature Medicine volume 22, pages 1187–1191 (2016).

Functional Foods in Japan

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It is common opinion that the Japanese are ahead of the game in many industries. I personally experienced this myself when I visited the country last year as was amazed by the high level of efficiency in day to day life. The complicated Tokyo train system is a perfect  example of proof that just because something is complicated, doesn’t mean it cannot work exceptionally well!

Digressing to a completely different industry – functional foods. The Japanese were one of the early adopters of functional foods, that is, foods that provide special health benefits beyond the basic nutritional components of energy, vitamins, minerals etc. In the early 80s, the Japanese academic community defined functional foods based on three functional levels; the primary being nutritional, secondary sensory and third physiological. 1  So great was the interest and adoption of functional foods, that in 1991,  The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) set up ‘Foods for Specified Health Use’ (FOSHU) as a regulatory system to approve the statements made on food labels concerning the effect of the food on the human body. This was the first-time food could legitimately be labelled and categorised as possessing specific health promoting or disease preventing properties.

The FOSHU system was introduced to encourage the maintenance of health, prevention of lifestyle-related diseases based on the consumption of functional foods with scientific evidence. To secure FOSHU status, there must be adequate evidence of effectiveness of the products; there must be identification of active constituents and guarantee of its safety. The process for FOSHU approval is very strict and in 2015, another system was established – Food with Nutrient Function Claims (FNFC).

For FOSHU, the government is required to evaluate the safety and effect and the CAA (Consumer Affairs Agency) gives approval for labelling of each food product that satisfies the requirements. The FFC however, is only a notification system, where manufacturers need to meet six criteria to make a claim on pack. 2 This self-substantiated system is similar to the FSANZ health claim system in Australia and New Zealand.

The Japanese are recognised as one of the healthiest nations in the world with a very low rate of obesity. Is this connected to the neba neba (sticky and slimy) foods eaten in Japan? Natto is a classic example of neba neba. It  is fermented soy beans and must rate as the equivalent to Vegemite in Australia; looks awful and has a very ‘distinctive taste’ that non-Japanese rarely take to. The sticky slime in natto may be fermented by the colonic bacteria and produce short chain fatty acids that may provide a mechanism to link neba neba consumption to gut health and weight control.


Whether a product has FOSHU or FNFC status or not, one thing is clear, the Japanese appetite for functional foods is not waning. Claims exist for ingredients such as lactoferrin, chitoglucan and licorice glabridin all linked to reducing visceral fat.

Japanese researchers have also noted that probiotic effects can be observed with non-viable probiotic preparations, which opens up the introduction of prebiotic ingredients derived from probiotic bacteria. Within this market where functional foods have become very mainstream, it was a natural fit for the introduction of a prebiotic wholegrain like BARLEYmax

There are over 20 products with BARLEYmax in Japanese supermarkets. These include granola, soba (buckwheat noodle), biscuits, snack bars, rice mixtures, a smoothie, bento (lunch box) and onigiri (rice ball).

Whilst Japan may be ahead of its time, globally there is growing consumer awareness of the benefits of consuming prebiotics and the positive effect such consumption may have on the risk factors for many chronic diseases. Consumers are in turn looking for functional foods that link these benefits to changes in the gut microbiome.

The Healthy Grain company has recently commissioned a Strategic Literature Review, conducted by Dr Tim Crowe, to examine whether BARLEYmax™ barley prebiotics support digestive health. On the basis of the positive conclusion of this SLR, The Healthy Grain company has formally notified FSANZ (Food Safety / Standards Australia & New Zealand) of this self-certified health claim.

Australian and New Zealand food manufacturing businesses who are producing prebiotic rich foods featuring BARLEYmax™ are now able to include on-pack statements regarding digestive health. These statements are critical to informing and educating the modern consumer who is increasingly interested in the importance of gut health and who is seeking functional foods that can help to achieve this.

If your business is interested in how BARLEYmax can be used as a functional food ingredient, get in touch with us to discuss the findings of our strategic literature review.

Yours in good health,




Teri Lichtenstein APD
The Healthy Grain Brand Ambassador



  1. Shimizu T. Health claims on functional foods: the Japanese regulations and an international comparison. Nutr Res Rev.2003 Dec;16(2):241-52.
  2. Maeda-Yamamoto, Mari. Development of functional agricultural products and use of a new health claim system in Japan. Trends in Food Science and Technology. Volume 69, Part B, November 2017, Pages 324-332

Defining Digestive Health

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Open up the pages of any mainstream media today and you are likely to quickly spot the term “gut health”. As nutrition professionals, we are also inundated with medical literature discussing every aspect of gut health, whether that be the direct links to our brain activity or the controversial use of faceal microbial transplantation to treat a range of diseases.

But amongst all this discussion about this vital body organ, there appears to be very little consensus around the actual definition of “gut health” or a slightly more clinical term “digestive health”, despite the terms being used widely in scientific journals.1,2,3,4 Given our digestive system includes the salivary glands, mouth, oesophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, colon and rectum, it is big challenge for scientists to develop a simple yet relevant definition to encompass all digestive health.


The definition of health

The World Health Organisation defines health in a positive manner as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” 5

One could therefore extrapolate using this positive definition of health and define digestive health as overall positive mental and physical well-being in the absence of gastrointestinal disorders or disease. From a scientific point of view though, this definition would not be very clear and also does not provide physiological markers that can be measured to determine whether or not an individual is in a state of good digestive health. If the role of the gut is to perform at optimal functionality for the overall well-being of the host, then it is important to identify entities that can be used to assess gut functionality. The obvious entity that affects every aspect of gut functionality is the microbiome ecosystem.


The gut microbiome

The GI microbiome consists of about 1014 bacteria that are mainly located in the large intestine. There is plenty of evidence that a key functional entity required to achieve gut health is the gut microbiome. 6,7,8,9 The microbiome plays a number of roles in achieving and maintaining gut health, from preventing colonisation by pathogenic bacteria, to maintaining an intact GI barrier and regulating the immune system (see image below). Specific signs of a normal gut microbiome that may indicate positive digestive health include no bacterial overgrowth, normal composition and vitality of the gut microbiome and no gastrointestinal infections or antibiotic-associated diarrhoea. 10


Mechanisms of action of the intestinal microbiome on the gastrointestinal barrier



The delicate microbiome ecosystem

Maintaining a healthy microbiome is like lawn care. With the right type of fertilising food (i.e. prebiotics), our turf (i.e. The beneficial microbes in our gut) will flourish. This delicate management of our gut ecosystem becomes even more important when interventions like antibiotics have substantially changed the number and composition of the gut microbiome. Without appropriate therapy, especially after a severe intervention, the ecosystem could become unbalanced, with less desirable microbes taking over, akin to weeds strangling a lawn. Although we are beginning to learn what a healthy microbial community looks like, our understanding of which strategies for altering the microbiota work best, and predicting which will work for a given individual, is still in its infancy.

Reference: Lozupone_et_al-2012-Nature. Diversity, stability and resilience of the human gut microbiata


Prebiotics – our gut fertiliser

If the gut microbiome is like the treasure chest in the search for the ultimate definition of digestive health, then prebiotics is the gold that is inside the treasure chest; the real treasure. The term ‘prebiotic’ as a concept was introduced around 20 years ago, though despite some revisions to its definition, there is still some variability in the definition used. The generally accepted consensus definition of prebiotics is ‘a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.’ 11


Fructans – the ultimate gut fertiliser

Of all prebiotics, it is fructans that have received a lot of research attention regarding their beneficial health effects in humans, particularly around the area of gut health and bowel function.

Fructan prebiotics are polymers of (mainly) fructose and serve as the naturally occurring storage carbohydrates of a variety of foods including onions and garlic, cereals including barley and wheat, agave, artichokes, asparagus and leeks. Dietary fibre, of which fructans are a component, has well-known beneficial effects on human regularity (laxation), increasing faecal weight and transit time. Fructans are selective substrates for probiotic bacteria in stimulating probiotic bacterial growth, which can confer health benefits to the host and maintain a desirable microbial ecosystem, which is one of the entities required for optimal digestive health.


The role of fructans in digestive health

The arrival of fructans in the large bowel leads to an increase in fermentation by resident intestinal microflora. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are the end products of fructan fermentation by the bacteria of the colon and are absorbed and used by the cells of the human colonic epithelium, stimulating their growth as well as the absorption of salts and water, which increases the humidity of the caecal bolus through osmotic pressure, resulting in increased intestinal motility. 12 Fructans can therefore exert a favourable digestive health benefit by maintaining normal intestinal transit regularity and increasing stool frequency.


BARLEYmaxTM prebiotics support digestive health

Fructans are classified according to their degree of polymerisation (DP) into small (2 to 4), medium (5 to 10), and relatively large chain lengths (11 to 60 fructose units). The term FOS is used for shorter fructans with a DP of around 3–5 derived from sucrose while the term oligofructose is used for molecules with a DP of 3–10 derived from native inulin. 12 The fructan profile of BARLEYmaxTM whole grain is unique in that it is predominantly composed of fructans in the dp range of 3 to 12, which covers both FOS and inulin.

The Healthy Grain company has commissioned a strategic literature review outlining the evidence that BARLEYmax™ barley prebiotics support digestive health.


On the basis of the positive conclusion of this SLR, The Healthy Grain company has formally notified FSANZ (Food Safety/Standards Australia and New Zealand) of this health claim.  If you would like to know more about The Healthy Grain SLR and BARLEYmax™ prebiotics, let us know in the comments below or send us an email and we will be in touch.


Yours in Nutrition,





Teri Lichtenstein (APD)
The Healthy Grain Nutrition Ambassador


  1. Tuohy KM, Probert HM, Smejkal CW, Gibson GR: Using probiotics and prebiotics to improve gut health. Drug Discov Today. 2003, 8: 692-700. 10.1016/S1359-6446(03)02746-6
  2. Ferguson LR, Shelling AN, Lauren D, Heyes JA, McNabb WC, Nutrigenomics New Zealand: Nutrigenomics and gut health. Mutat Res. 2007, 622: 1-6. 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2007.05.001
  3. Johnson IT: Gut health, genetics and personalised nutrition. Genes Nutr. 2007, 2: 53-54. 10.1007/s12263-007-0020-y.
  4. Jacobs DM, Gaudier E, van Duynhoven J, Vaughan EE: Non-digestible food ingredients, colonic microbiota and the impact on gut health and immunity: a role for metabolomics. Curr Drug Metab. 2009, 10: 41-54. 10.2174/138920009787048383
  5. World Health Organization.Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19–22 June 1946; signed on 22 July 1946 by the representatives of 61 States (Official Records of the World Health Organization, no. 2, p. 100) and entered into force on 7 April 1948. In Grad, Frank P. (2002). “The Preamble of the Constitution of the World Health Organization”. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 80(12): 982.
  6. Fasano A, Shea-Donohue T: Mechanisms of disease: the role of intestinal barrier function in the pathogenesis of gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases. Nat Clin Pract Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2005, 2: 416-422
  7. Nieuwenhuis EE, Blumberg RS: The role of the epithelial barrier in inflammatory bowel disease. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2006, 579: 108-116. full_text.
  8. Meddings J: The significance of the gut barrier in disease. Gut. 2008, 57: 438-440. 10.1136/gut.2007.143172
  12. Schaafsma G, Slavin JL. Significance of Inulin Fructans in the Human Diet. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf 2015;14:37-47.

Fruits of the Season

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One of the many reasons that I love living in Melbourne is that we have such well-defined seasons. At the moment we are right in the middle of a very cold winter. Everywhere I look I see bare trees, grey clouds and people wearing thick coats and gloves. The other thing I see is the delicious array of mandarins in the grocery stores, a sure sign of the colder weather.

Mandarins originally hail from Southern China and are named after the Chinese officials of the Imperial Court – the ‘Mandarins’. Luckily for those of us who live in Australia, this juicy fruit is widely available and comes in a variety of types. It is high in vitamin C, which makes it a perfectly timed seasonal fruit to help stave off winter colds.

Mandarins are an extremely versatile fruit and whilst they are delicious on their own, they can be included in a variety of cooking and baking recipes. I recently made a delicious mandarin pudding, which I adapted from the Monday Morning Cookbook Recipe and included BARLEYmax flour for an extra fibre boost. I love cooking with BARLEYmax flour as I find, unlike some other alternative flour types, that you don’t need to change too much of a regular recipe to accommodate the different flour structure. It adds a delicious nutty flavour and a light brown colouring to most baked goods.

This pudding recipe is a perfect warmer winter and can be enjoyed with a dollop of fresh cream or ice cream for real comfort food.


  • 50g butter, at room temperature
  • 100g castor sugar
  • 2 tsp finely grated mandarin zest
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/3 cup BARLEYmax flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 200mL full cream milk
  • 1/3 cup mandarin juice
  • Cream or ice cream to serve

  1. Preheat an oven to 180°C . Butter 4 x 1-cup ovenproof ramekins.
  2. Beat the butter, sugar and zest until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well. Stir in the milk and juice.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the batter and mix until smooth.
  6. Pour into the prepared ramekins, then place them in an ovenproof dish. Pour boiling water into the dish until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes or until the puddings are golden. Serve immediately with cream or ice cream.

Recipe adapted from Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Feast Goes On


I’d love to hear from you – what’s your favourite winter treat?




Teri Lichtenstein (APD)
The Healthy Grain Nutrition Ambassador

Six Facts About Resistant Starch

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Resistant Starch includes the portion of starch from plant foods that can resist digestion by human pancreatic amylase in the small intestine and as a result, it reaches the colon where it is fermented by bacteria. There are a number of well-established health benefits associated with resistant starch including improvements in glycemic control and decreased risk of developing cardiovascular and bowel disease.

Resistant Starch has become a bit of an adjunct buzz term linked with the non-abating digestive health trend that is a big craze at the moment with food manufacturers, scientists and of course consumers. Resistant starch is often touted by media and health experts as one of the key dietary fibres to achieving optimal digestive health. Whilst there is a growing body of evidence to support these claims, there is still a lot that we don’t know about this unique starch and exactly how it imparts these health benefits.

To help nutrition professionals and food scientists understand more about resistant starch, we have delved a bit deeper into some of the unique characteristics of this not very well understood, yet very important prebiotic fibre.


  • Five different types

Up to five different types of resistant starch have been identified. Different foods contain different types of resistant starch and some contain a number of varieties1,2:  

  1. RS1 includes physically inaccessible starch within cell walls. It is heat stable and is therefore a preferred ingredient in many foods
  2. RS2 comprises starch granules with a structure that limits the accessibility of digestive enzymes. after cooking, most of the starch becomes highly digestible as a result of starch gelatinization.
  3. RS3 is the starch formed after cooking and is found in cooled pasta and potatoes and bread crusts. RS3 is of particular interest to food manufacturers because of its thermal stability. Whereas RS1 and RS2 can be destroyed during cooking, RS3 can be formed.
  4. RS4 includes modified starches used by food manufacturers to alter the functional characteristics of the starch
  5. RS5 refers to amylose-lipid complex that resists amylase digestion. RS5 has been found to promote the formation of short chain fatty acids like butyrate, which can help prevent colon cancer.


  • Foods with surprisingly high amounts of resistant starch 1

Many people know that resistant starch is found in whole grains, cooked and cooled pasta and rice, as well as green bananas. But there are actually a number of other food types that you may not necessarily associated with resistant starch yet are relatively high sources. Some of these less common foods are listed in the table below.


Food Type Resistant Starch (per 100g)
Lentils 25.4
Corn 25.2
Wheat 13.6
Potato Chips 4.8
Spaghetti 3.3




  • Resistant starch improves the population of the gut microbiota

Whilst resistant starch has a great repertoire when it comes to health benefits, not many people understand just how these health benefits are realised. The content of resistant starch has a high ratio of amylose and a low ratio of amylopectin. It is this physical structure that allows resistant starch to improve the population of gut microbiota by triggering cell signalling pathways that are associated with reducing diabetes, obesity and diabetes. The exact mechanism as to how this happens is still unknown and is an exciting area for emerging nutrition science.


  • The “second-meal effect”

Resistant Starch has been associated with improved insulin sensitivity of up to 50% by consuming 15-30g of resistant starch per day 3,4 . Resistant starch is also very effective at lowering blood glucose levels after a meal. This is known as the “second-meal effect”. If you eat resistant starch at breakfast, it is likely to produce a lower blood sugar spike at the lunch meal a few hours later. 5 By improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood glucose levels, resistant starch can decrease the risks of developing metabolic disease.


  • Resistant starch has fewer calories than regular starch.

Resistant starch functions like soluble fibre when it comes to weight loss, by increasing feelings of fullness and reducing appetite. SCFAs can trigger the release of hormones that reduce the drive to eat (leptin, peptide YY, glucagon like peptide).  This is an exciting area of research to potentially help fight the global obesity epidemic.


  • Resistant starch imparts health benefits via SCFAs

We hear a lot of information about the fermentation of resistant starch in the colon and the associated production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). But what exactly is it about SCFAs that makes them so useful?

These SCFAs include acetate, butyrate and propionate which can be absorbed into the body or used by bacteria for energy. There are a number of benefits of SCFAs which include:

  • stimulate blood flow to the colon
  • increase nutrient circulation
  • inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria
  • help us absorb minerals
  • help prevent us from absorbing toxic/carcinogenic compounds

The amount of SCFAs we have in our colon is related to the amount and type of carbohydrate we consume. And if we eat plenty of RS, we have plenty of SCFAs.

This video explains the role of SCFAs in feeding our hungry gut microbiome.

CSIRO has recommended that intakes of resistant starch should be more than 20 grams per day, which is almost four times greater than a typical western diet currently provides. 6 An estimate of resistant starch intake for Australian adults derived from the most recent National Nutrition Survey, suggested the range of intake to be from 3-9 grams per day with adult men consuming more resistant starch than women. 7

As the suggested intakes for resistant starch are significantly higher than current consumption, there is considerable scope for food manufacturers to increase resistant starch consumption on a population basis. Innovative food product development should look to include ingredients that are naturally good sources of resistant starch, to help consumers all over the world achieve optimal digestive wellness.


Have a question about Resistant Starch? Feel free to leave a comment below!






Teri Lichtenstein  (APD)
The Healthy Grain Nutrition Ambassador


A Winter Warmer for Your Gut

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My late granny was a great cook. I loved visiting her house and seeing her big cast iron pot sitting on the stove as I knew there would always be something delicious bubbling away inside. I inherited this wonderful pot and every winter I use it to make hearty soups and stews. It always  brings back great memories of warm tummies filled with comfort food that was eaten together around the dining table.

This week I made a roasted vegetable soup in the family pot. Roasting the veggies really draws out the flavour and this winter recipe is a perfect family meal all on its own providing an abundance of different coloured vegetables as well as the different whole grain fibres found in the BARLEYmax kibble.

It’s a hearty, warm and delicious soup that’s perfect for a cold winter’s day….or night.


4 Roma tomatoes, cut in half
3 carrots, diced
1 onion, cut into quarters
1 red pepper, diced
3 zucchini, diced
1 small eggplant, diced
200g butternut pieces
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 litres vegetable stock
1 bay leaf
½ cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup BARLEYmax kibble
Chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste



  1. Preheat an oven to 200°C.
  2. Spray a large roasting pan and arrange tomatoes cut side down in the pan. Along with the other vegetables. Drizzle the olive oil all over the vegetables and place in the oven. Roast for about 50 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
  3. Remove half the vegetables and process in a food processor until smooth.
  4. Place the remaining vegetables into a large pot with the vegetable stock, mushrooms, bay leaf and kibble.
  5. Simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes or until the kibble is softened. Then stir in the processed vegetables.
  6. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper as required. Add extra stock if the soup is too thick.

I hope you and your family enjoy this nutritious (and delicious!) winter warmer as much as mine do!






Teri Lichtenstein (APD)
The Healthy Grain Brand Ambassador


Let Food be Thy Medicine

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In Australia, we have just started our winter season, which means increased sales of cold and flu medicine, more work absenteeism and in some states,  we have even run out of supplies of the flu vaccine!

Whilst the cold air and frosty weather would have some impact on our health, emerging science is showing a greater association between food and the gut for overall immunity and there is certainly more truth than ever in the age old saying that ‘we are what we eat.’

All the food that we eat and drink passes through our GI tract, which is lined with mucous that contains millions of bacteria, commonly known as the gut microbiome.  A healthy person will have a balanced microbiome with diverse types of bacteria, allowing the body to harvest nutrients from food, whilst at the same time reacting to harmful pathogens that can cause illness and disease.

Illness, stress, overuse of antibiotics are some of the factors that can result in an unbalanced gut microbiome, which can lead to gut inflammation and decreased ability to fight infection and increased illness. Diet plays a critical role in supporting good immunity via a balanced microbiome, especially fermentable fibres , which encourage growth of healthy bacteria. This is known as the “prebiotic effect” when these fibres are selectively utilised by the host microorganism to confer a health benefit. 1

A typical Western diet of high fat, high protein processed foods is low in these fermentable fibres, which can result in an imbalance of bacteria within the gut. A lack of sufficient fermentable fibres to feed the growth of healthy bacteria results in a decline in overall bacterial diversity, decreased gut cell wall integrity and increased gut permeability (often referred to as ‘leaky gut syndrome’) . As a result, specific immune pathways are affected, leading to greater increase of illness and disease.

To combat illness and disease, we need to let food be our medicine. We need to feed the trillions of bacteria with prebiotic fibres from foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. When the bacteria break down these fibres through fermentation, short chain fatty acids (acetate, propionate, butyrate) are produced, which nourish the lining of the cell wall and help to maintain immunity.

There is increasing research into prebiotic fibres and stimulation of the immune system. It is possible that the effect is indirect, that is it is mediated through the increase in healthy bacteria such as lactobacillus and bifidobacillus. Or it is possible that the prebiotics may act directly on the immune system. The gut contains the largest pool of immune cells in the body which are separated only by a single layer of cells from the gut lumen and so the dietary components might be able to act directly on these immune cells.

One thing is for certain though, the path to illness or good health goes directly via our gut. So whilst the flu shot may help stave off winter illness, make sure you look after your gut at the same time!

Yours in good health this winter,





Teri Lichtenstein (APD)
The Healthy Grain Brand Ambassador




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