Whole Grains for Whole Health

Grains are so underrated in the health world – in fact, so many people demonise them simply because they’re a form of carbohydrate. This is a huge mistake!

Carbs are your brain’s preferred source of energy and fuel, and are essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle – and whole grains are some of the most nutritious carbs on offer.

Whole grains are packed with far more fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than their fairer, refined-grain counterparts – making them a much smarter carb choice for healthy eaters. Plus, they taste delicious, are easy to cook with, and can help you slim down!

It goes against everything the media tells you, but yes, whole grains are an essential component of your diet.

Whole and refined grains – what’s the difference?

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Whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, predate refined grains, like white rice and refined white flour, by thousands of years. The process of refining grains on a grand scale is relatively recent, made possible only by technological advancements.

Think of a whole grain as a three-part package:

Bran (outer layer) – This layer is packed with fibre, trace minerals, phytochemicals, and B vitamins. 50-80% of the grain’s minerals and other health-promoting plant substances called phytochemicals are contained in the bran.

Germ (inner layer) – The inner layer is rich in antioxidants, phytochemicals, B vitamins, vitamin E, and trace minerals, and contains healthy unsaturated fats.

Endosperm (middle layer) – The middle layer contains complex carbohydrates and protein. It also contains small amounts of B vitamins.

When a whole grain is processed to make a refined grain, two parts of this package – the bran and germ – are removed, leaving only the endosperm. In this process, 25% of the grain’s protein is removed along with at least 17 key nutrients. The refined grain also has five to seven times less fibre than the whole grain.

Why are whole grains so good?

Whole grains are a cut above refined grains and other simple carbohydrates, and are truly a nutrient powerhouse.

Whole grains contain so many nutrients, including phytochemicals and antioxidants, which are missing from refined grains. These nutrients help to fight a number of diseases including:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancer
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Bowel disorders

Studies show people who regularly eat whole grains reduce their risk of all of these diseases. Research also suggests whole grains may be even better than fruits and vegetables as a source of key nutrients for fighting disease.

So next time you’re choosing between white rice and brown rice, remember – go for whole grains, always!

Whole grains for weight control

Though they’re often deemed too “heavy” or high-carb to be a diet food, whole grains have been proven to help with weight control. A study by the Harvard School of Public Health in the USA showed eating 40 g (equivalent to about 1 cup of oats or 3/4 cup of brown rice) of whole grains daily can significantly reduce middle-age weight gain. It’s thought that the fibre and protein in whole grains helps regulate blood sugar, increase satiety and delay the return of hunger. Your body also uses more calories to break down high-fibre foods. So they’re an excellent addition to your diet if you’re looking to lose or manage your weight!

How to go whole grain

First and foremost, don’t rely on your eyes to determine which foods are whole grains – marketing has made the decision far more complex. Many foods sound or look “grainy”, yet aren’t made from whole grains. For example, “brown” bread often gets its colour from molasses or food dye. Words like “multigrain” and “stone-ground” can also be misleading. “Multigrain” simply means that the food contains more than one grain – refined or otherwise – while “stone ground” simply refers to the technique used to prepare the food, not the ingredients themselves.

Here are some handy tips for choosing whole grain products:

Read the ingredients list – If the first ingredient listed contains the word “whole” (such as whole wheat flour), the product is predominantly whole grain.

Check the fibre content – You can find this on the Nutrition Information panel on the packaging. A true 100% whole grain product will have at least two grams of fibre per serving, and often five grams or more.

Easy ways to eat more whole grains

  • Substitute half the white flour in your recipes with wholemeal flour. You could try this in bread, biscuits, muffins, pancakes, etc.
  • Add oats to biscuits, pancakes, and desserts such as apple crumble
  • Pop popcorn! Popcorn is an often neglected whole grain. If you pop it yourself at home, you can control how much extra butter and salt gets added
  • Add half a cup of whole grains, such as cooked bulgur, wild rice, or barley, to soups and stuffings
  • Make all your favourite grain dishes, such as risottos and rice pilaf, using brown rice, bulgur, or quinoa
  • Use wholemeal pasta for all your favourite pasta dishes
  • Look for breakfast cereals made from whole grain ingredients, like whole wheat, oats or buckwheat

Try these whole grains

Grain Description Uses and Cooking Methods
Amaranth Very small seeds with a slightly peppery flavour. Boil in 2.5 cups liquid, such as water or half water and half stock or apple juice, until seeds are tender, about 18 to 20 minutes. Add fresh herbs or ginger to the cooking liquid for a more interesting flavour.
Barley Hulled barley and pearl barley are the most common types of barley. Hulled is more nutritious, but also chewier. Add to soups or stews, or use as the basis of a salad or side dish.
Brown and wild rice Brown rice has a tasty, nutty flavour. Wild rice is actually a grass, but can be served in place of rice and is even more flavoursome than brown rice. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, but can be pre-cooked, frozen and reheated. Try as a substitute in any white rice dish. It’s especially good as a side dish. Wild rice can be used on its own, or mixed with other rice varieties.
Buckwheat (Kasha, Soba noodles) Full of nutrients and high in protein with a rich, nutty flavour. Use in place of rice as side dish. Buckwheat flour is great in pancakes. Also try Japanese Soba noodles, which are made from ground buckwheat.
Bulgur wheat (cracked wheat) Made from whole wheat which has been soaked and baked to speed up cooking time. Cracked wheat takes longer to cook Use in Middle Eastern dishes like tabouli and pilafs.
Corn Corn is the only grain eaten as a vegetable. Popped corn makes a good high-fibre snack.
Couscous (whole wheat) Couscous is a form of wheat pasta. Only whole wheat couscous is a whole grain. Couscous is easy to cook. Bring 1 cup of water to the boil, remove from heat, and add 1 cup of couscous. For extra flavour, cook in stock instead of water.
Quinoa Mild flavour and pleasant, slightly crunchy texture. Rinse before using to remove its bitter coating. Boil in water, stock or fruit juice for 12-15 minutes or until the rings around the centre of the grains detach themselves. Use quinoa in place of rice as a side dish, in pilafs, stuffing or salads.
Whole wheat Most common form is wholemeal flour. Use instead of white flour in baking. Try substituting 25-50% of white flour for wholemeal.
Whole oats Choose whole rolled oats over quick cooking oats. Usually used for breakfast cereal and biscuits.

Other whole grains available in Australia include millet and spelt.

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