People who eat plenty of whole grain foods reduce their risk of diabetes and heart disease and are less likely to be overweight. The health benefits of whole grains are not just down to the fibre content and the fact that they tend to have a low glycaemic index (GI), as they also provide a whole package of vitamins, minerals, proteins and healthy fats.
Experts are recommending 3 servings of whole grain foods each day, but in the UK many of us don’t even manage 3 per week!
What is a whole grain?
A whole grain is made up of the outer shell (bran), the endosperm and the germ. Together, these form a highly nutricious grain providing essential nutrients including:
- B Vitamins and folic acid
- Minerals (iron, zinc, copper, selenium)
- Vitamin E
- Unsaturated fats including Omega 3
When grains are milled or refined (e.g. white flour, white rice) most of the fibre, vitamins and minerals are lost and only the endosperm is left, which is far less nutricious and usually has a much higher glycaemic index (GI).
Which foods are whole grain?
This is the tricky bit, as it is not always easy to tell. The most common types of whole grain foods are wheat, barley and rye foods labelled as whole grain or wholemeal and anything containing oats (including rolled oats and oatmeal). If you can eat gluten and/or wheat then it is relatively easy to switch to whole grain breakfast cereals, breads and pasta, but if these foods are excluded from your diet you will need to find your wholegrains elsewhere.
Gluten Free & Wheat Free whole grain
The obvious choices here are rice (brown or wild) and oats (although oats are not usually suitable for people with coeliac disease).
However, there are many more gluten free, nutrient-packed whole grain options (e.g. buckwheat, maize, quinoa, amaranth, millet, sorghum) and once you are familiar with them you will find it easy to include more in your diet.
We are currently working on a list of whole grain ‘free from’ products to give some ideas, also look out for fussy foodie recipes using alternative grains.