Grains are small, hard seeds that grow on grass-like plants and are harvested for humans to eat.
Grains tend to make up the bulk of our diets and are good sources of carbohydrate.
Any food made from cereal grains such as wheat, rice, oats and barley are classed as grain products.
Grains are made up of three parts: the bran; the germ and the endosperm.
The bran contains fibre and B vitamins. The germ contains higher amounts of unsaturated fats, minerals, protein and b vitamins. And the endosperm is the largest part of the grain and comprised mostly of starch.
There is a key difference between wholegrains and refined grains.
Whole grains have been through a very minimal amount of processing and so they still contain the bran, germ and endosperm, all three parts of the grain.
By contrast, refined grains are made up of just the endosperm.
Refined grains still contain protein and carbohydrates but they are missing a lot of the goodness from the other parts of the grain.
There are lots of ways to add wholegrains to a balanced diet through baking, cooking and adding them to meals. Here are some of our favourite suggestions:
Using grains in baking
Vital Wheat Gluten is a completely pure gluten flour which is great for baking bread.
It is high in starch which means that it adds elasticity to dough. It is also good at binding ingredients together, so it results in perfect loaves.
Organic Millet Grain is a good example of a whole grain. It is gluten free with a sweet, nutty flavour and can be used in cereal, soup and making wholegrain bread.
Grains as an accompaniment to meals
Bulgur wheat is a really good alternative to rice and so can be used to accompany curries, chillies and used in salads.
Bulgar wheat is vegan-friendly, high in fibre and a great source of protein which helps muscle maintenance and repair.
This is particularly useful for anyone following a vegan diet as it can sometimes be difficult to get the required amount of protein that the body needs without eating meat, fish or eggs.
Organic Pearled Spelt is another option if you are looking for an alternative to rice.
It is a valuable source of protein and high in fibre, which helps to support a healthy digestive system. Organic spelt can also be used in soups, stews and salads.
Using grains in salads
Some grains make a great base for salads. Quinoa is especially great for this. Just add vegetables, fruits or meat and you have a delicious, light lunch or a side salad.
Quinoa may be small, but it packs a punch. It is really beneficial to the body as it is high in fibre.
The one you choose will simply be down to personal preference. White quinoa has a delicate taste and light texture whereas red quinoa has a slightly nuttier flavour and the texture is chewier and heartier. All three types of quinoa are excellent in salads.
Using grains as a thickener
Whole grain brown barley can be used to thicken soups and stews. It has a slightly nutty taste so will add extra flavour to any dish too.
Freekeh is another grain which can be used in a similar way to wholegrain barley.
Freekah is delicious when added to casseroles, soups and salads. There are lots of recipes that have been put together especially for using freekeh and it is also a good alternative to rice and quinoa. Freekeh is high in fibre and a source of protein.
As well as adding grains to meals, there are a number of grain products available which are ready to eat, without further preparation.
Merchant Gourmet Mexican Grains & Pulses are ready to eat straight from the packet. Delicious as they are, they can also be heated up.
Suitable for both vegetarians and vegans, these tasty grains and pulses include quinoa, long-grain rice and adzuki beans, and are low in saturated fat.
Perfect for a quick meal when you don’t have time to cook from scratch.