A Grain of Truth

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A consumer’s guide to choosing whole grains

There are many studies looking at what communities or societies have eaten over long periods of time. An interesting finding has been that diets rich in whole grain foods are associated with lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, some cancers, and type 2 diabetes.

So what do we mean by a ‘whole grain’?

A whole grain is the entire seed of a plant, directly harvested from the field and before it has been milled and refined. The whole grain contains an outer husk (the bran), and also known as ‘fibre’, the starchy endosperm, and the inner germ, rich in vitamins B and E, minerals such as iron and calcium and healthy fats. It is the bran and the germ that are removed in the refining process leaving only the carbohydrate rich endosperm.

Why is the removal of the bran and germ important?

It turns out that the bran (fibre) and the germ portion

  • encourage healthy gut bacteria,

  • are friendly to our pancreas by slowing insulin release and this in turn help keep our blood sugar levels more stable

  • help us feel more satisfied following a meal.

  • help reduce cholesterol levels by holding onto cholesterol as it passes through the gut and carries the cholesterol out of the body as waste.

  • contain vitamins and minerals

Some studies have shown that a fibre rich breakfast results in less calorie consumption at lunch.

The loss of nutrients during the refining process is considered important enough that manufacturers are mandated by law to add the B vitamins and iron back into milled, refined white flour, creating enriched white flour.

What about ancient grains?

Ancient grains bring an old world rustic feel to the kitchen. Grains such as quinoa, teff, kamut, wild rice, amaranth and barley can bring a new and interesting texture and flavour to foods.

Some have specific and unique health qualities, for example quinoa is a great source of protein, containing all the essential amino acids while barley is great source of selenium.  As well as keeping dishes interesting, a variety of grains may prevent gut reactions associated with eating the same type of grain daily.

How to identify whole grain products

Unfortunately, in Canada there are no regulations protecting the term ‘whole grain’ on product labels so consumers have to be vigilant.

However, recognising whole grains is easy when you know what to look for.

  • they should be first on the ingredient list

  • they must include the word ‘whole’ such as ‘whole barley’, ‘whole oat’, ‘whole wheat’

What about multigrain?

Be cautious with ‘multigrain’ products. Although they may contain many grains, these may not be ‘whole’ grains. Similarly with ancient grains such as amaranth and kamut, check the label for the word ‘whole’.

Whole grain grains

Almost invariably amaranth, quinoa, oats, bulgur, buckwheat and teff are whole grains.

There are many health benefits associated with choosing a variety of whole grains, bringing the nutritional benefits of each. Try adding grains to soups, salads, and stews and enjoy their nutty and chewy textures.

All content provided on this website is for general information purposes only and is not intended to replace medical or specialist advice.

A qualified Medical Herbalist is always your best resource for information related to herbal medicines.

Registered Dietitians are a reliable and trusted resource for nutrition related information, always up to date and always ready to work with you to realise your goals.

NutritionJill Burns