Think wholegrains are just another food fad? The experts have other ideas...
Fibre packed, nutrient-rich wholegrains are essential to a healthy diet keeping bowels healthy and preventing certain chronic diseases, yet a recent study from the British Journal of Nutrition found that 80 per cent of us are not eating enough. And what’s more shocking is that one in five of us are not eating any at all. There’s no excuse: they’re found in many of our everyday foodstuffs – from wholemeal bread to porridge oats – and just three small servings will ensure you meet your daily requirements. Here, our dietary experts give the lowdown on how and why you should be upping your intake.
What are wholegrains?
“Wholegrains, by definition, are made up of three components,” explains registered dietitian Dr. Megan Rossi. “The outer layer is rich in dietary fibre and antioxidants, and we typically refer to that as the bran layer. The central starchy part is called the endosperm, and then finally you have the germ, which is packed with lots of nutrients, such as fatty acids and essential minerals.” Wholegrains are also part of the carbohydrate family and can be found in many different foods, from wholewheat pasta to quinoa dishes
They’re carb-rich. Is that a good thing?
“The common perception is that the fewer carbs we eat the better, with some of us avoiding them altogether,” says NHS health consultant Dr Sally Norton. But is this a healthy option for our bodies? Well no, not really. “We know that starchy, refined carbs aren’t great for us – and we do eat far too much of them – but carbs can help us to feel full and provide us with a lot of healthy nutrients and essential fibre. We just need to make sure we are eating the right sort – and wholegrains fit into that category.”
How much should I be eating?
“Although in the UK, there are no strict rules as to how much we should have, if we look at the international guidelines, they suggest between three to five servings as a minimum per day,” says Megan, “which equates to roughly 48g.” So how can we make sure we’re getting enough? “Swapping refined carbs for wholegrain is a great place to begin,” says Sally. “One portion is the equivalent of three slices of wholemeal bread, a bowl of porridge or wholegrain breakfast cereal and a portion of wholegrain rice, pasta or quinoa.”
Multigrain, wholemeal, refined grains… What should I be looking for?
“When you’re searching for wholegrains, you should always look for the word ‘whole’ in front of the ingredient – for example, wholewheat, wholemeal or whole oats,” explains Megan. “Multigrain means that it’s got several different grains in it – not necessarily all whole – and refined grain is the exact opposite of wholegrain: it only contains the endosperm, and it ditches off the bran and the germ layer in the milling process. When you take away that bran and the germ you lose 25 per cent of the protein, 75 per cent of the fibre and you decrease your intake of at least 17 key nutrients.”
Nutrients aside, why do we need wholegrains?
“The wholegrain diet has been linked to a number of different health benefits, including a decrease in chronic diseases like diabetes and some cancers, such as breast and bowel cancer, plus slower cognitive decline in older people,” says Megan. “It’s also linked to better weight management.” Sally goes onto explain: “Products made from refined white carbs are more likely to contain higher levels of fat and sugar, and because they’re refined, they’re not as filling, meaning we eat larger portions in order to feel full. That’s why we often feel bloated, or sluggish after eating a huge bowl of white pasta or rice.”
Any easy food swaps you can recommend?
“For bakers, I always recommend switching half of the white flour for wholewheat flour in the recipes so you still get the fluffy texture but you’ve increased the fibre exponentially,” says Megan. “If you’re having canned or homemade soup, throw in half a cup of wholegrain, such as barley or quinoa. If you’re making something like meatballs or burgers for dinner, add 3/4 cup of uncooked oats for each pound of mince. And for a quick convenient dessert, I would suggest stirring in one tablespoon of whole uncooked oats into a pot of yoghurt.”
Dr. Megan Rossi is a registered dietitian and media spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. For more information, visit drmeganrossi.com
Dr. Sally Norton is an NHS health and weight loss consultant, and the founder of online health hub Vavista Life. For more information, visit vavistalife.com