Whole grains are an important part of a health diet. Or they should be. Unfortunately many Americans do not eat anywhere nearly enough of the recommended amounts of whole grains in their diet. Instead they continue to eat products made from refined flours, which offer very little in the way of healthy nutrition—an effect known as the whole grain gap.
Where are whole grains found?
Whole grains are exactly what they say on the packet: they are grains in their entire form as opposed to grains that have been refined during the manufacturing process. Whole grains include corn, rice, barley, rye, wheat, quinoa, oats, spelt and sorghum. If you are eating a reasonably good diet, you might already have whole grains in your diet, but many of us do not eat nearly enough and have a tendency to eschew whole grains in favor of refined products instead.
What are the health benefits of whole grains?
Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains are full of nutrients. They contain high levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals, and in many cases are a far better source of these important nutrients than your favorite fruits and vegetables! So rather than adding an extra portion of vegetables to your diet, you can eat more whole grains and enjoy a greater health benefit.
Because whole grains are packed full of essential nutrients, they help the body to fight disease and reduce inflammation. Research has shown that increasing your consumption of whole grains reduces your risk of developing serious and potentially life threatening health problems such as coronary heart disease, cancer, strokes, and type 2 diabetes. People who eat higher levels of whole grains are also less likely to be obese, which is a major cause of health problems in the US.
How much whole grains should I eat?
Most of us do not eat enough whole grains and some of us eat no whole grains at all, so we have a long way to go before we meet the recommended guidelines of between three and five portions of whole grains per day. Even children should be eating two or three portions of whole grains per day, so take a good look at your family’s diet and see where you can make improvements.
How can I improve my intake of whole grains?
It is very easy to add whole grains to every meal, which will substantially improve your intake of essential whole grains. For example, you could have a whole grain bread roll with your evening meal or have a serving of porridge oats at breakfast—it is much easier than you realize once you start thinking more about the food you eat.
Whole grain flours can easily be substituted for white flour in any number of recipes. Instead of using white flour for your pancakes, muffins and cookies, try adding half whole grain flour instead. You can also add some extra oats to dessert dishes and yoghurt smoothies or even into your ground meat when you make burgers or meatloaf. It is also a good idea to substitute whole grain pasta for traditional pasta made from 100% white flour and brown rice for white rice.
In many cases, an improvement can be made by substituting whole grain bread for traditional white bread. Not only will you notice a dramatic improvement in taste, but you will also enjoy the health benefits of extra fiber in your diet. Whole grain flour is a far tastier alternative to white flour and whole grain breads are much nicer than the tasteless and bland white bread we see stacked on supermarket shelves. Thanks to modern manufacturing processes, there is very little in the way of nutrition left in white bread, so choosing whole grain bread is a much better choice as whole grain bread contains far more nutrients and essential dietary fiber.
Whole grain bread usually has a richer, nuttier flavor. If you are used to eating white bread, this can come as a bit of a shock, so start off small and build up your consumption slowly. Children are often the most resistant to eating whole grain bread as they prefer their old favorite, white bread, but you can introduce whole grains gradually by mixing and matching different grains and varying the types of bread you experiment with.
Make your own whole grain breads!
Modern bread makers have turned bread making from a chore into a five minute task and thanks to the wonders of technology, having a bread making machine in the kitchen means you no longer have to spend ages kneading dough and waiting for it to rise. Instead you can pop the ingredients into the pan and leave your bread making machine to work its magic, before removing a perfect loaf, fresh and warm and ready to eat.
There are lots of whole grain flours and associated bread recipes available in books and on the internet, so experiment with your bread making machine and see what tasty and healthy breads you can make. You can even stick to your basic white loaf recipe, but substitute a third of the white flour for some whole grain flour—this will help to increase your consumption of whole grains without changing the flavor of the bread too radically.
Can I eat whole grains if I am gluten intolerant?
Millions of people are gluten intolerant, which means that they cannot eat wheat, barley, rye, and other wheat related grains. This makes it harder to consume enough whole grains in the daily diet. Nevertheless, there are many whole grains that are not derived from wheat, so it is possible to improve your whole grain intake by choosing gluten free whole grains.
Examples of whole grains for gluten intolerant people
Good examples of gluten free whole grains include oats, corn, millet, rice, wild rice, quinoa, sorghum, buckwheat, and teff, although it is worth noting that oats are often contaminated by wheat during the growing and harvesting process, so you must be careful to only buy oats guaranteed as “pure”.