Generation Z getting the message about eating grain

Remember “Wheat Belly”? It was a popular low-gluten fad diet a couple of years ago – so popular, in fact, that a book about it was a New York Times best seller.

The author would have you believe that you should abandon all wheat, barley and rye, including bread, pasta and cereal, because it contains gluten.

I didn’t try it, but I’m not among the low percentage (an estimated 0.5 five per cent) of the population who are believed to be gluten sensitive. However, I keep an eye on trends, and you couldn’t help but notice the impact of this one. It played well into the hands of those who prey on others’ hopes for a magic bullet diet – just eat less grain, and you’ll be better. It’s a flawed premise, but some people are desperate.

Farmers keep an eye on trends, too, and on movements like the latest anti-beef sentiment. Its promoters say beef production is ruining the planet by contributing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.

On the flip side, beef producers are stepping up a campaign called Guardians of the Grasslands, that argues livestock grazing on grass (not in feedlots) is a natural phenomenon that helps fertilize soil, grow grass and sequester carbon.

We are so mixed up as a society about what to eat. This confusion creates a measure of anxiety for farmers. They wonder if whatever they’re planting this spring, or feeding in their barns, will be the next thing that comes into some author’s or activist’s crosshairs.

The best advice remains this: eat a balanced diet, like the one determined by Canada’s Food Guide. Although some say it too is flawed because it overly promotes non-meat protein, it beats following fads.

“Eating to ensure you have beneficial nutrients including fibre, vitamins, and minerals is a great way to shape your eating habits and help your health,” says Michelle Jaelin, a registered dietician with a knack for explaining food choices clearly and concisely.

Like any commodity, its influence on your health depends significantly on how it’s processed. Add copious amounts of fat, salt and sugar to anything including grain, process it to the max, and it’s bound to be unhealthy.

The key is to eat whole grains, the kind that provide you with lots of fibre, like Jaelin advocates.   

Grain farmers like hearing this kind of advice. On Monday, the organization that represents them in this province, Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO), released results from a survey of young people – Generation Z and early Millennials – across the province to see what they think of grain.

The results show that apparently, young people have not been caught up in the anti-gluten movement. GFO says this group is embracing grains as what the organization calls “a trusted source of vitamins and fibre in their everyday diet.” That’s because more than three quarters of this group, aged 18-34, said they eat grain every day. About 43 per cent saying they look for whole grains when making purchasing decisions, suggesting that they’re conscious of the need for fibre.

Surprisingly, at least when it comes to the need for fibre, Ontarians 35-54 years old were less likely to look for whole grains. That means Jaelin and the GFO have some work to do. They have federal guidelines on their side: Canada‘s Food Guide suggests six to eight servings per day, with grains making up one quarter of a healthy dinner plate. Health Canada also recommends that at least half of daily grain choices be whole grain.

GFO’s communications manager Victoria Berry sums it up this way: “Adopting healthy grains in daily diets provide a lifetime of health benefits. It’s never too late in life to reap the health benefits that grains provide.”

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