If you’ve read my blog post all about carbohydrates then you’ll know that despite their sometimes ‘bad reputation’, carbohydrates are actually our preferred source of energy and can be a great source of fibre and other nutrients including the B vitamins. We get carbohydrates from starchy foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta, flour, bread and cereal, as well as fruit, milk and yoghurt, and (not forgetting) biscuits, cakes, sweets and fizzy drinks which contain added sugar (note; we should ideally be cutting down on the amount of added sugar that we eat as these foods provide little in the way of nutrition!).
The amount of fibre, as well as goodness, that carbohydrate foods provide us with varies immensely; for example most of us know that eating fruit, milk and yoghurt, is better for us than eating biscuits and sweets. This blog post and the video below though focuses on ‘grains’; one of the most readily consumed sources of starchy carbohydrate in the UK.
Grains include wheat, rice, oats, barley and rye and they feature in products such as cereals, bread, wraps, crackers and cakes. There are two different types of grains; whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire of the edible part of the grain;
- The hard outer layer known as the Bran – a rich source of insoluble fibre, B vitamin and phytonutrients (healthy plant nutrients)
- The inner Germ – a nutrient rich core packed with healthy fats, vitamins, vitamin E as well as protein.
- The central part known as the Endosperm – this contains mainly carbohydrate in the form of starch (and provides energy).
Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat or wholemeal flour, bulgar (cracked wheat), oats, brown pasta, brown rice, popcorn and rye. Most whole grains are rich in fibre thanks to the bran; if you look at food labels have a look at the fibre content per 100g; the product is a source of fibre if it contains at least 3g/100g, and it’s high in fibre if there’s 6g or more/100g. In the UK, the average adult eats around 18g of fibre a day, which is just 60% of what we should ideally be eating; 30g a day.
In the UK we are advised to choose wholegrain foods over refined foods and in America, the advice is to eat at least 3 servings of wholegrain foods a day.
One serving of whole grains is equivalent to:
- 1 tablespoon (25g) of uncooked porridge oats
- 3 tablespoons (1 small bowl/30-35g) of wholegrain cereal
- 1 bowl (30g) toasted wholegrain oat cereal
- 1 medium slice (40g) of whole-grain or rye bread
- 1/2-1 wholemeal pitta bread or tortilla
- 2 heaped tablespoons of cooked brown rice
- 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked wholewheat pasta
- 2-3 rye crackers or oat cakes
- 3 handfuls of plain popcorn
In addition to fibre (both soluble and insoluble) which benefits both our digestive system and heart health, thus reducing the risk of disease, wholegrain foods provide:
- B vitamins and folic acid which are essential for converting the food that we eat into energy
- Essential fatty acids (omega 3 fat) for heart health
- Protein for healthy growth and repair of tissues including muscle
- A variety of other phytonutrients
Longer term, eating more wholegrains foods is associated with living healthier for longer, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity as well as some forms of cancer including bowel cancer (wholegrain foods help to keep you regular!). Wholegrains may also help in maintaining a healthy body weight.
Shorter term benefits include increased levels of satiety (fullness) and more optimum blood sugar levels as the glucose (energy) is released more slowly in comparison to refined carbohydrates.
If you’re looking for some recipe inspiration on how to use more whole-grain foods in your baking and cooking then check out the following recipes:
Do tag me in on social media if you make any of my recipes (I’m @nicsnutrition) and for more Whole Grain inspiration checkout WholeGrainGoodness.com (or @WhyWholegrain on Twitter) who I was honoured to collaborate with on this post!