Think carbs are off the menu? Not so fast! Dietitian Lana Hirth shows you why humble whole grains are vital to good health.
We often hear the words ‘wholegrain bread’, ‘wholegrain crackers’ and ‘wholegrain cereals’, but how do we know if our favourite bread or cereal is made with whole grains — or better still, if it’s high in whole grains? It’s time for the wholegrain truth.
What is a whole grain?
A whole grain has three parts to it — a bit like an egg. The outside bran layer is the ‘egg shell’, the middle endosperm layer is the ‘egg white’, and the centre of the grain is the germ, or ‘egg yolk’.
When you eat the whole grain, you’re eating all three parts and getting all the nutrients of the entire grain seed. But this doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily see them. For example, the grains in wholemeal bread have been milled into fine flour particles. So, while the bread doesn’t have grains that are visible to the eye, as long as all parts of the grain are there, then it is considered to be a wholegrain product.
However, the milling process often bumps up the Glycaemic Index (GI), which means that a wholemeal slice won’t be as filling as a slice with plenty of intact, visible grains such as soy-linseed bread. And if the grain is refined further into white bread, this removes most of the valuable nutrients and fibre, leaving a very unsatisfying slice of bread.
Four wholegrain health benefits
1. They’re good for your weight
Researchers found that women who eat more whole grains and high-fibre grain foods weigh less, have smaller waists and are more likely to keep weight off in the long term. This may be due to the fact that whole grains are packed with nutrients and fibre to keep you feeling full for longer.
2. They help manage diabetes
Choosing wholegrain foods lowers the overall GI of your diet, which helps you manage your blood sugar levels. Wholegrain foods take longer to break down than refined carbs, making them ideal if you have diabetes. In fact, those who regularly eat whole grains cut their risk of developing diabetes by 25 per cent.
3. They’re great for your gut
Looking for an easy way to eat more fibre? These glorious grains are a simple way to keep you ‘regular’. They keep your bowels moving — and your ‘good’ gut bacteria love feeding on the goodness that whole grains provide.
4. They look after your heart
The beta-glucan in oats and barley help lower your ‘bad’ cholesterol. By eating the recommended daily amount of whole grains, you can lower your risk of heart disease by 30 per cent.
How much should I have?
The Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council recommends we enjoy grain foods three or four times a day, choosing at least half as whole grains. This will be enough to meet the recommended
Daily Target Intake of 48g of whole grains per day.
Buying wholegrain foods
The wholegrain content of foods varies greatly — two slices of wholemeal bread, for example, can have as little as 3g, or as much as 70g! To make it easier to get more of the good stuff, try these tips.
Go higher and choose foods ‘high’ or ‘very high’ in whole grains, rather than those foods that simply ‘contain’ whole grains. Aim for more than 50 per cent whole grains.
Look out for key words in the ingredients list, such as ‘whole’, ‘wholemeal’, ‘multigrain’, ‘oatmeal’ or ‘sprouted’.
Spread it out by eating whole grains at each meal to keep your hunger satisfied right through the day.
Mix it up and make it your goal to eat a wide variety of grains, such as brown rice, pasta, oats and quinoa. It makes going with the grain much easier!
Good grains guide
Learn about different grains, and how to prepare and serve them.
What is it? Amaranth is a gluten-free grain with a slightly peppery taste. It is thought to have cancer-preventing properties.
How to cook it? Boiled with equal parts of water and grain, amaranth absorbs the water and is ready to serve in 20 minutes.
How to use it? It’s great in soups and stews, or you can ‘pop’ it like corn and use it in muesli bars.
What is it? One of the first grains to be widely used, this nutty-tasting grain is a good source of beta-glucan for a heathy heart.
How to cook it? Cook one part barley and three parts water on the stovetop for 45 minutes until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
How to use it? Pearled barley is a delicious, easy addition to a vegetable soup or to slip into a beef casserole for a hearty winter meal.
What is it? Don’t be fooled by their bland taste, oats are versatile and known for their high beta-glucan content to help lower cholesterol.
How to cook it? To make traditional porridge the tried and true way, cook 1 cup of rolled oats in 11/2–2 cups of water or milk to serve two.
How to use it? For a quick and easy breakfast option, make some overnight oats or Bircher muesli the night before. You could also add a tablespoon to your favourite fruit smoothie.
What is it? Spelt, a type of wheat, is higher in zinc than regular wheat. It has a sweet, nutty taste.
How to cook it? A cup of spelt left to simmer in 1½ litres of water will be ready in 30 minutes.
How to use it? Spelt can be used in salads, just as you would use rice or couscous. It’s also a great grain to serve with slow-cooked stews.
What is it? Rye has an ‘earthy’ taste and a lower GI than most other grains to help you manage your blood sugar levels.
How to cook it? Boiled just like rice, rye ‘berries’ can be cooked, one part rye to four parts water, in about 45 minutes.
How to use it? Sprinkle it over a salad, stir into a pot of soup, or enjoy it in a slice of sourdough rye.
What is it? Quinoa is slightly crunchy and is popular due to its unusually high protein. Packed with all the essential amino acids, this complete protein is perfect for vegetarians — plus it’s gluten free.
How to cook it? Quinoa takes just 15 minutes, using a ratio of 1 cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water.
How to use it? This nutty ‘grain’ is perfect for any salad. Alternatively, you could make quinoa porridge, or use it in place of rice.
What is it? Freekeh has a smoky flavour with double the protein and fibre of brown rice to help you feel full for longer.
How to cook it? Cook it just as you would brown rice. Choose the cracked varieties to have it ready in under 20 minutes.
How to use it? Use freekeh instead of rice or barley in your risottos, salads and pilafs.