24 Apr Wholeheartedly Wholegrain
Earlier this year, we shared a break down of the Eatwell Guide and recommendations for a healthy balanced diet. One of the suggestions from the Eatwell Guide is to “base one third of our diet around potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates, choosing wholegrain versions where possible”.
This seemingly innocent statement can often raise a couple of questions along the theme of “don’t we need to cut carbs for weight loss?”, “is white bread bad for us?” and “what even are wholegrains?!”.
So, this week, we thought we’d delve a little deeper in to why this recommendation is included in the Eatwell guide by covering:
- What are carbohydrates and why do we need them?
- What are wholegrains and how do they form part of a healthy diet?
- How can we include more wholegrain starchy carbohydrates in our diets?
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of the three main sources of nutrients found in food (protein and fat being the other two). Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar) and are the body’s primary source of energy. The two main groups that carbohydrates can be further subdivided into are:
- Free sugars (you can read more about sugar from our guest blogger Linda here)
- Starchy carbohydrates (bread, rice, potato)
The Eatwell Guide recommends eating wholegrain starchy carbohydrates as they are good sources of fibre. There is research to suggest that diets high in fibre may have health benefits such as reduced risk of CVD, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Some types of fibre have also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels.
Foods that are high in fibre also add bulk to meals and help us feel full. As a result, eating high fibre foods can reduce the number of calories in our diet and can help us maintain a healthy weight.
Starchy foods not only contain fibre, but also a range of other nutrients including vitamins and minerals. Therefore, by cutting out an entire food group like carbohydrates, we can be missing out on key nutrients.
Okay, so now we know the benefits of starchy carbohydrates, what about the wholegrains?
The British Dietetic Association describes how cereal plants such wheat, rye, barley, oats and rice have a grain as the seed of these plants. These grains are made up of three parts: the fibre rich outer later (bran), the nutrient packed inner layer (the germ) and the central starchy part (the endosperm).
Usually, refined carbohydrates have the two outer layers removed, leaving just the central starchy part. In contrast, wholegrain foods contain all three parts of the grain, meaning they contain additional fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Because wholegrains contain fibre, this means they have the same benefits of high fibre foods including:
- Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes
- Improved gut health and reduced risk of colorectal cancer
- The fibre found in whole grains can help us feel full and reduce overall intake of energy which may help us maintain a healthy weight.
How can we include more whole grains in our diets?
In the UK there aren’t any specific guidelines on how many wholegrain foods we should be eating. However, here are some examples of foods that provide a source of wholegrain starchy carbohydrate:
- 1 slice of wholegrain bread, 1 small wholemeal roll or 1 small wholewheat tortilla
- 2 oat cakes
- 1 heaped tablespoon of uncooked oats
- 3 heaped tablespoons of wholegrain breakfast cereals
- 2 heaped tablespoons of cooked brown rice, wholegrain pasta, bulgar wheat or quinoa
Wholegrain, wholemeal and brown breads provide energy, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Although white bread does contain vitamins and minerals, it tends to contain less fibre than wholegrain bread. Wholemeal pitta and tortillas are also now widely available!
*Simple swap: Next time you make fajitas, why not try wholemeal tortillas
Wholegrain cereals also contribute to our intake of vitamins and minerals and fibre. Lots of breakfast cereals in the UK contain refined carbohydrates and added sugar, therefore it’s always a good idea to compare food labels on cereal packs to find the healthier options. You can find out more about food labels here.
*Tip: try mixing a wholegrain cereal with your usual cereal and see what you think!
Rice and grains
Rice and grains are an inexpensive source of low-fat energy. This includes things such as brown rice, bulgar wheat and wholewheat couscous. These grains are versatile as they can be eaten hot or cold and make a great addition for hearty salads.
In the Lose Weight with Achieve 6 month programme, one of the recipes we use in the Cook & Eat session is tabbouleh. This is a dish packed of wholegrain couscous, vegetables and fresh herbs like parsley and mint. It makes a great source of wholegrain starchy carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
One of the handy things about increasing our intake of wholegrain foods is that it can be as simple as looking for the word “wholegrain” on products such as breads, pasta and cereals that we usually buy in our weekly shop. A simple swap that can be easily made without too much consideration or planning!
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