Whole grains are a source of fibre, vitamins and minerals, and research shows that whole grain foods offer a variety of health benefits. September is designated as Whole Grains Month in the United States, and dietitians at The Ismaili Nutrition Centre are challenging all our readers — in the USA and elsewhere — to increase their daily intake of whole grains.
The new 2010 US dietary guidelines emphasise the need to cut back on refined grains, while eating more whole grains. One way to start is by substituting at least one whole grain food for a refined grain item.
For example, try chapati made with whole wheat flour instead of white flour, and eventually increase your servings of whole grains to about 3–4 per day. A slice of whole wheat bread, a whole wheat chapati (six inches in diameter), or half a cup of cooked brown rice or whole grain pasta are examples of a single serving. The British Dietetic Association also provides some ideas for including more whole grain foods in your daily diet.
What is whole grain?
The whole grain is made up of three major components — bran (a source of antioxidants, vitamin B and fibre), germ (a source of vitamin B, minerals, protein, and healthy fats), and endosperm (a source of carbohydrate, protein, and some vitamins and minerals). Because the different parts of the grain provide different nutrients, it is most beneficial to eat the whole grain.
Whole grains are not the same as enriched grains. White flour is “enriched” by adding back some vitamins and minerals that are lost during the refining process. It is not possible to add all of the rich nutrients back into a processed product. Fibre is part of the “bran” component of the whole grain, so a bran cereal can be rich in fibre without being “whole grain”. Increasing your intake of whole grains as part of a healthy lifestyle may help prevent or manage heart disease, diabetes, and digestive disorders. These benefits are lost in refined grain products.
How can I tell if a product is whole grain?
Whole grains like bulgur (or cracked) wheat work well in salads, like this Tabouleh. Photo: Nazma Lakhani
The US-based Whole Grains Council has some useful information on determining the accuracy of labels. Look for the term “whole” before the grain (e.g. whole wheat, whole corn, whole oats, whole grain) in the ingredient list. If it is the first listed ingredient (or second after water), the product is likely to be whole grain. There are also some foods that are inherently whole grain and may not have “whole” preceding the grain — these include oatmeal, quinoa, wild rice, and brown rice to name just a few.
Watch out for terms like “multigrain”, ”made with whole wheat”, “7-grains,” etc; these may contain the benefits of fibre without providing the benefits of the whole grain. Always check the ingredients list.
Many new children’s food products contain whole grain, such as sweetened cereals, cookies, bars, and other snacks. However their fibre content and overall nutritional value may not be as good as you might think due to the high amounts of sugar, fat, or salt in these foods. Choose wisely when it comes to cereals and snacks.
Whole grains can be part of a gluten-free diet
An increasing number of individuals are unable to tolerate gluten — a protein commonly found in wheat, barley, triticale, and rye — and suffer from severe digestive discomfort when consuming gluten-containing foods. (Oats are gluten-free, but have a higher risk of being contaminated during growing and processing.)
But even if you are among them, you can still enjoy and reap the benefits of whole grains. A range of whole grain products exist that are gluten-free. These include, brown rice, brown rice flour, wild rice, whole corn, whole chana, and whole chana flour (besan).
The websites of the Celiac Sprue Association and Coeliac UK provide more information on which grains are gluten free. Always read labels to ensure there is no cross contamination and that you are consuming a whole grain product.
Start the challenge today and set a goal to substitute at least one whole grain item for a refined grain each week. For example, try choosing oatmeal for breakfast instead of cornflakes, and next week switch from white to whole grain bread. Whole grains add more texture and flavour to food, so you may find yourself enjoying your healthier choices.
Source: The Ismaili