Whole grains – what are they all about?

June 14, 2012 1:34 pm

You might be familiar with “5 A Day” for fruit and vegetables, but did you know that we should all be trying to eat three portions of wholegrains daily? You may already have a good idea of what constitutes a wholegrain food and their benefits, but if you are unsure, read on.

Cereal crops such as wheat, barley, corn, rye, oats and rice are commonplace in our diet. Their seeds, known as grains, have three parts to them – an outer layer high in fibre known as the bran, the middle area full of starch known as the endosperm and the inner core packed with vitamins and minerals known as the germ. While refined cereals tend to have the bran and germ removed, wholegrains contain all three elements of the grain still. This means that wholegrains pack a much greater nutritional punch, as they are high in fibre and contain Vitamin E, B vitamins and minerals such as iron, selenium and zinc.

Regular consumption of wholegrains is linked with a lower incidence of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers of the digestive system. Wholegrains are also thought to promote fullness, so can help prevent weight gain. It is thought that the health benefits are conveyed by the combination of fibre and micronutrients found in wholegrains. However, at the moment most of us don’t manage the target of three portions of whole grains daily and some people don’t eat any at all.

Now that you know the science behind whole grains, in practical terms what are they and how can you eat more? The following foods would all be classed as wholegrains and the number in brackets indicates how much needs to be eaten to provide 16g of wholegrains which is equivalent to one portion:

Switching to wholemeal varieties of everyday foods can help reach your target of 3 portions of whole grains per day

• Oats (45g)

• Wheat-based cereals such as Weetabix and Shredded Wheat (1 biscuit) or Shreddies, Branflakes, Cheerios (3 tablespoons)
• Wholemeal, granary, multi-grain, wheatgerm, soya and linseed breads (1 slice)
• Rye bread (1 slice) and rye crispbreads (3)
• Wholegrain rice cakes (3)
• Oatcakes (3)
• Wholewheat pasta (3 heaped tablespoons when boiled)
• Brown rice (2 heaped tablespoons when boiled)
• More unusual grains such as bulgar wheat, quinoa , pearl barley, millet and triticale

Three servings of wholegrains daily can easily be achieved by switching from refined versions of cereals such as white bread, cornflakes, cream crackers and white pasta or rice for the wholegrain varieties above. Even if you don’t include wholegrains at every meal, it is still possible to meet the target. When doing your food shop check labels to help you choose wholegrain varieties – a lot of cereals now flag up on the packaging that they are wholegrain and the word “whole” in front of a cereal such as wholewheat pasta or wholemeal bread is a good indicator.

Yes, wholegrains mean that there is another aspect to consider when making your food choices, but with the long term benefits for health that they may provide, isn’t it worth it?

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