Sunday, April 10, 2016
Advice is regularly given in the media and by health professionals about our diet. You hear about needing ‘five a day’ in terms of fruit and vegetables and that your diet should be balanced.
One term that is regularly mentioned is ‘whole grains’ but what do they really include and what do they actually do? Sometimes it is easy just to have a quick glance at the packaging of the food you eat and if it has those words ‘healthy’ or ‘nutritious’ somewhere, then you accept that it is something good to eat. The truth is, in order to improve our diets, we need to actually understand the benefits of certain food types and what we are eating.
Firstly, whole grains are not always easy to spot, as the language on packaging can be misleading. Whole grains are just grains that haven’t had their bran or germ removed by milling; the reason for this is that all the nutrients and goodness are contained within these outer layers.
You can get whole grain rice or even add a whole grain flour or buckwheat into your cooking. Popcorn is also part of the whole grain group of foods. Whilst you may come across brown bread and instinctively think that this is the healthier version, this is not always the case. The colour can sometimes come from colouring the flour and this bread may not always contain whole grains, so it is important to read the labelling carefully to find the words 'whole grain' on it.
Brown pasta, rice and cereals are the easiest way to include this group of foods into our diet, as they can easily be bought in supermarkets. Because they are still in a ‘whole’ state (when compared to the grains in white rice for example), they are a much better choice. Whole grains are full of antioxidants, vitamins and are an excellent source of fibre.
This goodness is all contained within the outer part of the grain, therefore, if you choose to stick with ‘white’ rice and pasta, you will find that the health benefits of these foods are reduced.
Another reason whole grains should make up a part of a healthy diet is because they are also linked to reducing rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain kinds of cancer. As they help to improve bowel movements because of the fibre content, they increase the levels of good bacteria in the colon too.
Choosing food that keeps your heart healthy, helps to regulate your blood sugar levels and keeps your bowel movements regular, is a great way to keep your body healthy. Not only are the health benefits easy to see, but they can also help with weight loss too. Because whole grains are high in fibre and keep you feeling full, people who eat whole grains tend to have a lower Body Mass Index, as they tend to snack less in between meals.
Obviously, everything in moderation is the best approach to any changes in diet. There is still a place for refined grains in your diet, as these are quite often enriched with other nutrients that are essential to your diet. For example, folates do not naturally occur in whole grains, whereas these are often added to other refined grains. Someone who chooses to eat only whole grains needs to make sure that they are getting sufficient folic acid. These can be found in other food groups such as legumes and fruits, however having a balance between whole and refined grains would provide a well-rounded diet.
It is suggested that three portions of whole grain per day are sufficient to reap the health benefits. This can easily be achieved by swapping sandwich bread from white to whole grain. Another way to do this is to add barley or bulgur wheat to soups. When choosing breakfast cereals, you can search for those made with whole grains or even swap white pasta for a whole grain version.
Obviously, the best approach is to make small changes and adapt your food choices to suit your lifestyle. Studies have shown that adding whole grains will undoubtedly provide long lasting health benefits and improve general wellbeing, so it’s worth making some simple changes in the choices you make.