Whole grains are considered the healthier option when it comes to grains. Here are some tips to maximise its benefits.
If you have made any effort at eating healthier, chances are high that you would have come across some of the following statements.
“Brown rice is more nutritious than white or polished rice.”
“Wholemeal bread is healthier than white bread.”
What you may not realise is that brown rice and wholemeal bread are actually examples of whole grains and its products, which contain more nutrients and dietary fibre compared to refined or processed grains such as white rice and white bread.
You might also be consuming some really healthy whole grains too without knowing it, including tasty foods such as popcorn, oatmeal and barley.
There is no denying that whole grains are inherently healthier for us.
According to the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), whole grains are rich in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Besides contributing to bowel health, they are also associated with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
“Grains and their products are a food group that form the base of the Malaysian Food Pyramid,” says the NSM in one of its publications on whole grain.
“Being at the base, one’s daily diet should comprise adequate amounts of grains (e.g. rice, oats, wheat, barley), with daily recommendations of four to eight servings.
“Most of our daily energy needs should be supplied by grains and their products,” the society explains.
What’s wholesome in a whole grain?
The difference between a whole grain and refined grains is the germ and bran – the nutrient-rich outer layer all grains have when they are harvested.
The germ layer contains vitamins B and E, unsaturated fatty acids, and phytochemicals – all nutrients that nourish the body.
The bran is rich with dietary fibre, vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc.
In refined grains, one or both of these two layers are removed to enhance the taste, texture and shelf life of the final product.
What is left is the endosperm, which contains mainly carbohydrates – the body’s main energy source.
While eating whole grains is good for you, it is not advisable to fulfil your daily four to eight servings of grains with whole grains alone.
A serving of grain can be roughly translated to half a cup (quarter of a bowl) of cooked brown rice, one slice of whole grain bread and one cup of cereal.
The Malaysian Health Ministry recommends whole grains make up only about 50% of our daily grain intake.
As whole grains are high in dietary fibre, make sure you drink more water to facilitate bowel movement.
In this respect, refined grains should not be viewed as a “bad grain” because they are easier to digest and are capable of delivering energy to our body more efficiently.
Most nutritionists and dietitians would agree that a good mix of whole and refined grains is best, and the Health Ministry recommends whole grains make up only about 50% of our daily grain intake.
Choosing and storing your whole grains
Once we set our minds to incorporating more whole grains into our diet, the next step is to choose healthy whole grain products.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the following tip: look for the word “whole” at the beginning of the ingredients list.
“Some whole grain ingredients include whole oats, whole wheat flour, whole grain corn, whole grain brown rice, wild rice, and whole rye.
“Foods that say ‘multi-grain’, ‘100% wheat’, ‘high fiber’, or are brown in colour, may not be a whole grain product,” the USDA cautions.
We can also look for whole grain logos, which usually contain the word “whole grain” or a picture of wheat.
After making our selections, we must also take extra care in storing whole grains and their products, as they generally have shorter shelf lives.
The USDA recommends storing whole grains in tight-fitting lids in cool and dry locations, and purchasing smaller quantities to reduce spoilage.
It is still best to store whole grains in their original packaging with sealing ties and clips, and finish them as soon as possible. However, it is not always practical.
For those who buy in bulk, whole grains can also be kept in refrigerators to prolong their shelf life.
“Most whole grain flours keep well in the refrigerator for two to three months, and in the freezer for six to eight months.
“Cooked brown rice can be refrigerated three to five days, and can be frozen up to six months,” says the USDA.
With these tips in mind, we should be able to consume whole grains safely and healthily.
However, we need to remember that whole grains are not free passes to indulge in unhealthy eating.
A whole grain energy bar with high levels of sugar and brown rice taken with lots of fried foods is unlikely to do our health any favours.
> This article is courtesy of Nestlé.