By Rosie Schwartz, RD, FDC
Whole grains are little nuggets packed with nutrition. In fact, in the fields where they’re grown, these whole grain kernels are actually the seeds from which a grain plant grows. Whole grains provide an entire package, including the fibre-rich outer coating of the bran, the central endosperm and the nutrient-packed inner germ.
During the milling process, refined grains, such as white bread and white rice, have their bran and germ removed and only the endosperm, the least nutritious part of the grain, remains.
It was previously thought that the only significant difference between refined and whole grains was the fibre content. Maybe there were just a few nutrient shortfalls, but since refined grain products are generally enriched with certain nutrients, such as folic acid and iron, that concern seemed to be no big deal. But scientific research has exploded that myth. As a result, the recently released Canada’s Food Guide now recommends selecting whole grains rather than refined ones.
Whole grains offer a much wider range of nutrients including fibre, various vitamins and minerals and assorted phytonutrients.
The fibre itself has long been known as a boon to bowel regularity and may reduce the incidence of a host of bowel ailments, including diverticular disease and hemorrhoids. Eating whole grains is also linked to a variety of other health benefits including a lower risk of heart disease and stroke, certain cancers, diabetes and obesity.
Check out the label
As you move towards including more whole grains into your eating plan, be sure to read labels to ensure that your choices are indeed whole grain. Don’t be fooled by a name, such as multi-grain, or the colour of a product as it may contain colouring agents such as caramel. As ingredients are listed in descending order by amount, look for those which state whole grain as the first ingredient.
Be a good host and feed your healthy bacteria
More and more studies are pointing to the importance of a healthy microbiome – that balance of bacteria in your gut – to maintain a well-functioning immune system and defend against a range of ailments. While many people are looking at probiotics – the introduction of healthy bacteria into your gut through various foods and supplements – it’s also key to feed these bacteria with prebiotics: foods that stimulate their growth. And up there on the list are whole grains with their fibre, just what these bacteria like to eat.
Don’t forgo your whole grains if you’re eating gluten-free
If you avoid gluten due to health concerns such as celiac disease, there are still plenty of whole grain options you can consume. Amaranth, buckwheat, corn, sorghum and quinoa – even some quinoa is grown in Canada –all of these are gluten-free. If you’re looking for oats, only purchase those labeled as gluten-free.
A variety of tastes and selections
Canadian farmers grow a wide selection of grains across the country including barley, corn, flax, oats, rye and wheat. But then there are also different varieties of some grains such as wheat including durum, spring and winter wheat. Consider that as various grains supply different tastes, textures and nutrients, eating a variety of grains offers an assortment of health benefits along with palate-pleasing flavours.
Expand your grain horizons
While you may think of only breads and cereal products as a way to eat your grains, there are so many more ways to enjoy them and reap their advantages to health. For example, whole grain products such as barley or wheat berries can make for a tasty pilaf or soup. They’re also delicious in salads. They also absorb flavours well so you can sample cuisines from around the world with your grain offerings, such as Roasted Squash and Quinoa Salad, Mushroom Barley Soup or Peach, Tomato and Corn Salad with Haloumi Cheese.
If you tend to stick to only one or two whole grains or dishes, such as whole wheat or rye, try to incorporate a new whole grain product or preparation every few weeks.