What are grains?
Grains are the seeds of cereal plants, such as wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, and barley. So bread, pasta and breakfast cereals are usually grain foods. Quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth are often eaten in the same way as grains, but are actually made from seeds.
Should I be eating more grains or fewer?
Carbs in general, and grains in particular, often attract strong views on whether we should be eating more – or none at all. Several diets (such as Paleo, low-carb or gluten-free) pretty much ban grains – and many advocates say they feel healthier without them. Of course if you’re coeliac (unable to tolerate gluten – the protein found in certain grains), then avoiding these is a must. But for the rest of us, government advice is to base your meals on starchy foods. These don’t have to be grains – try jacket potatoes (eat the skin – it’s where most of the fibre is); a quinoa and roasted vegetable warm salad; or adding brown rice to bulk up soups.
How are grains good for my health?
The key is the type of grain you choose. Wholegrains are much better for us than refined grains. The former uses the entire grain kernel – but refined grains have been processed to remove the bran and germ (the hard outer layer and the core). This produces a finer, whiter, longer-lasting grain – but also removes many of the nutrients. Refined grains (such as white rice, white bread, white pasta) tend to be digested quickly as they have already been partially broken down, and can cause blood-sugar spikes (high GI).
Wholegrains, on the other hand, are low GI so keep you feeling fuller for longer. They are important sources of fibre, B vitamins (including folate, niacin, riboflavin and thiamin) and iron, magnesium and selenium. Research points to certain wholegrains (in particular, the beta-glucans found in oats and barley) lowering cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Even if you’re avoiding gluten you can still include wholegrains in your diet – brown rice, gluten-free oats and millet are all good choices. For everyone else, variety is the spice of life – but aim to keep it wholegrain!
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