Rye is an essential part of the Finnish food culture and a much-loved ingredient in all Nordic countries. It is a cereal with potential: nutritious and well accepted by Nordic consumers. Now new research sheds light on exactly how and why rye benefits health.
“The sustainability of food and nutrition is an essential part of Fazer’s strategy. New food technologies and innovations open up new possibilities, and research knowledge helps us make the most out of rye. At Fazer, we want to transform science into tasty, sustainable, and healthy products that help people feel good and make the best out of every day,” says Head of Research Jussi Loponen from Fazer’s research and innovation unit Fazer Lab. “We are extremely happy to collaborate with the Nordic research community to help us achieve this goal.”
The health potential of rye-based foods has been actively studied recently, and much of this research is conducted by Nordic research groups.
“We are very pleased that a lot is happening around rye and health in the Nordics. We have had great success in the Nordic way of doing research—using joint efforts and complementary strengths from different actors. Together we have shed light on the health effects of rye, as well as on the role of cereals in the combined healthy and sustainable diet from a Nordic perspective. And this work will continue,” says professor Rikard Landberg from the Nordic Rye Forum, a platform created by Nordic rye researchers.
But what’s so special about rye?
For one thing, rye is rich in fibre. Of all cereals, it is the richest source of fibre—and an important source of fibre in Nordic countries. It is also stuffed with micronutrients, such as group B vitamins, and phytochemicals, such as lignans and phenolic acids, which have been linked with positive health effects.
Rye is also commonly used as whole grain products, and whole grain cereals in general have been found to support weight management and decrease the risk of many chronic diseases. Grains are also the most important—and the most sustainable—source of plant-based protein in the Nordics.
“An increasing number of studies suggest that the intake of rye, and other whole grain cereals, is linked to gut health, cardio-metabolic health and immune health,” says PhD student Laura Pirkola from Fazer Lab.
And why is fibre the talk of the town?
Most of us know that fibre is good for you, but many may be less familiar with gut microbiota and its role in our general well-being. The exact composition and functionality of gut microbiota differs between individuals, and diet is known to have a huge impact on it—particularly the amount and type of dietary fibre it contains.
“Rye contains plenty of both insoluble fibre and soluble fibre. Both are needed to keep the gut well and healthy, but particularly soluble, fermentable fibre has an important role in modulating gut microbiota and in producing health-beneficial short chain fatty acids,” Laura explains. Currently, she is working on her industrial PhD at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, focusing on how different types of dietary fibre impact gut microbiota, and how this affects the brain and our general well-being.
“Gut microbiota participates in the production of short chain fatty acids, which are the signalling molecules and regulators of the immune system and inflammation, for example. They may help prevent the risk of disease and regulate stress reactions,” Laura continues.
Furthermore, there is a complex, two-way connection between the gut and the brain: What happens in the gut may affect the brain, and vice versa. So, it is vitally important to keep the gut healthy and well, and to do that, we need fibre.
Fibre is well known to have an impact on gut well-being, yet in the Western world people generally don’t eat enough fibre. “In the future, I would love to see fibre, and in particular fermentable fibre, even more emphasized in nutritional guidelines. And these are always important to keep in mind in our own product development, too,” Laura says.
Sneak peek into the future of rye
With all this promising research going on, what can we as consumers expect from the future of rye products?
“Research will certainly shed light on how food processing and gut microbiota affect the way in which the human body can absorb and utilize the nutrients of rye. In the future, we will better understand how the technological processing of food affects the bioavailability of grain proteins, how microbiota metabolism affects the bioactivity of the phytochemicals, and the role of fibre in gut fermentation,” says Lead in Health Marika Laaksonen from Fazer Lab.
“This understanding could enable us to develop our food manufacturing processes so that the valuable nutrients of rye are served to the consumer in the best possible format. It will also create opportunities to give tailor-made recommendations of food choices to specific groups of consumers—or even on an individual basis,” Marika continues.
In the future, we may well see the information on beneficial phytochemicals included on the product labelling of rye products, to make them more visible and understandable. To help consumers in the supermarket grasp the valuable health benefits of the traditional, sustainable Nordic rye.
The Rye — “wholy” grain for the gut and the brain symposium was held on December 14, 2020. Due to the current corona situation, it was a completely virtual event. The symposium was a part of the Nordic Nutrition Conference 2020.