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Study: Rye bread really is the healthier choice

New doctoral research has backed up previous findings that rye bread results in lower blood sugar and insulin levels than white bread. Yet despite the unwavering popularity of traditional Finnish dark bread, domestic farmers have been turning away from growing rye, forcing bakers to import the crop from abroad.

Good for you - but is it good for farmers? Image: Arja Lento / Yle

New doctoral research by Jenni Lappi at the University of Eastern Finland has found that blood sugar and insulin levels were lower in consumers who had just eaten rye bread than their white-bread-eating counterparts.

The effects were observed both in healthy consumers as well as those with metabolic syndrome, a condition associated with increased risk of stroke or developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The use of wholegrain products has been found in previous studies to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Official nutritional advice in Finland recommends eating three portions of wholegrain products a day.

Home-grown shortage

But although rye products continue to stock Finland’s breadbaskets, the farmers’ union MTK is warning that domestic production is failing to keep up with demand, forcing half of all rye used in Finland to be imported from abroad.

The majority of home-grown rye is sown in the autumn, yet the crop can be easily spoilt by overly rainy and wintry conditions. This risk, combined with the long-time low price that rye commands, has led to a slump in domestic production, the MTK says.

The shortage of Finnish rye has a knock-on effect on the milling and baking sectors. The director of Fazer’s Mill and Mixes division, Pekka Mäki-Reinikka, says that half of the rye flour that used by their subsidiaries – such as Oululainen which produces their Reissumies rye bread range – is now brought in from overseas.

Domestic production hopes

Mäki-Reinikka says the company is aiming to increase the amount of domestically grown cereal so that Oululainen products will no longer use any imported rye within two years.

”This goal is something we ourselves want to achieve,” Mäki-Reinikka says, ”but the idea has come from consumers, and the bakery has latched onto it,” he admits.

Whether Fazer manages to make this transition, though, depends on the farmers. A slight rise in the price of rye in the last couple of years could be starting to attract more domestic producers to the crop. Large industrial bakeries such as Fazer and Vaasa have also begun campaigns to encourage more rye cultivation in Finland.

For Fazer to shift to only using home-grown rye, domestic production would need to reach about 35,000 hectares per year, Mäki-Reinikka estimates.

Green shoots in sight

That’s some way ahead of current levels, although the Union of Agricultural Producers (MTK) say that production levels are moving in this direction. At the beginning of the most recent growing season, around 26,000 hectares of rye were sown, which is around 6,000 more than normal, according to the MTK’s agriculture representative Max Schulman.

”The good weather last autumn has got the market going,” Schulman says, adding that he believes the crop’s popularity will continue to grow.

However, a real shift in the market won’t be felt for another few years, Schulman says. “I would like to see over 40,000 hectares of rye being grown in the years to come,” he says.

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