Carb-free diets are all the rage these days. But is there any grain of truth in the assumption that all wheat products are bad for you? Today, Nikki explores the options and examines the health benefits of including certain carbohydrates in your daily menu.
Many people steer clear of whole grains but would do well to give them a second look.
In recent years they have fallen in with the “bad crowd” of foods that dieters avoid like the plague, despite having much to offer those who want to lose weight.
But many others simply avoid them because they don’t know what to do with them or how to prepare them.
I can help you with that. But first things first, let’s separate the wheat from the chaff.
What is a whole grain?
Grains should be considered an essential part of a healthy diet.
They are good sources of complex carbohydrates, contain key vitamins and minerals and are naturally low in fat.
And better yet, they have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other health problems.
But a word of warning: Not all grains were created equal.
- Whole grains
Whole grains are unrefined grains that haven’t had their bran and germ removed by milling. Whole grains are better sources of fibre and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium than any other type of grain. Whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, barley wild rice, spelt and oats among others.
- Refined grains.
Refined grains are milled, a process that strips out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life. The refining process also removes many nutrients, including fibre. Refined grains include white flour, white rice and white bread. Many cereals, crackers, desserts and pastries are made with refined grains, too.
- Enriched grains.
Enriched means that some of the nutrients lost during processing are added back in. Some enriched grains are grains that have lost B vitamins added back in — but not the lost natural fibre. Fortifying means adding in nutrients that don’t occur naturally in the food. Most refined grains are enriched, and many enriched grains also are fortified with other vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and iron. Some countries require certain refined grains to be enriched. Whole grains may or may not be fortified.
How do you make the right choices?
For optimum health you need to include whole grains in your diet and avoid refined grains. It’s not always easy to tell what kind of grains a product has, especially bread. If you’re not sure something has whole grains, check the product label and look for the word “whole”. Make sure whole grains appear among the first items in the ingredient list.
Eat whole grain, live longer
Research suggests that including whole grain products in your diet is very good for you indeed.
One survey, carried out last year suggested that a simple bowl of cereal each day could reduce the risk of two of Britain’s leading killers – heart disease and cancer – by a third.
And health campaign called Whole Grain for Health (WGFH) also revealed that consumption of whole grain food could save almost 24,000 lives each year in the UK alone.
What are my options?
Here are some whole grains you should try to incorporate into your diet:
- Brown Rice
Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice because it offers you vitamin E (important for healthy immunity, skin, and many essential functions in your body) and is high in fibre. It contains high amounts of the minerals manganese, magnesium, and selenium and tryptophan.
How to eat it: Brown rice can easily replace white rice in almost any recipe: soups, stews, and pilafs. It is an excellent choice for those who are gluten-sensitive or celiac.
Barley was used as far back as the Stone Age for currency, food, and medicine. It contains plentiful amounts of both soluble and insoluble fibre to help aid bowel regularity. It is also bursting with vitamins and minerals.
How to eat it: Barley can be added to soups, stews, cereal, salads, pilaf, or ground into flour for baked goods or desserts.
Spelt has a higher nutritional value than whole wheat and is packed with the minerals manganese, magnesium, and copper, and also contains high amounts of the mood-regulating and energy-boosting B-vitamins niacin, thiamine, and riboflavin.
How to eat it: You can buy spelt bread or pasta to replace white options.
Oats are help stabilise blood sugar and lower cholesterol, and are high in protein and fibre. The best options are the less refined ones like steel-cut, rolled, flakes, and bran.
How to eat it: Porridge is an excellent way to start the day. Alternatively oat flour is an excellent substitute for wheat flour in baking recipes.
Unlike most grains, quinoa is a complete protein and is high in iron, magnesium, B-vitamins, and fibre.
How to eat it: Quinoa forms an excellent base for salads.
- Wild Rice
This tends to be a bit pricier than other grains, but its high content of protein and delicious nutty flavor make wild rice worth every penny. It’s an excellent choice for people with celiac disease or those who have gluten or wheat sensitivities.
How to eat it: Delicious with curries or as a substitute to white rice in any dish.
Here are some ways to add whole grains at meals and snacks:
- Enjoy breakfasts that include whole-grain cereals, such as whole-wheat bran flakes, shredded wheat or oatmeal.
- Make sandwiches using whole-grain breads or rolls. Swap out white-flour tortillas with whole-wheat versions.
- Replace white rice with brown rice, wild rice or quinoa.
- Use rolled oats or crushed whole-wheat bran cereal in recipes instead of dry bread crumbs.
- Add whole-grain flour or oatmeal when making biscuits or other baked treats.
- Try a whole-grain snack chip, such as baked tortilla chips.
- Popcorn, a whole grain, can be a healthy snack with little or no added salt and butter.