Should you give up grains?

I notice low-carb diets are doing the rounds again, in various guises.

Some encourage us to give up all grains – so no bread, cereal, rice, oats or pasta. I can’t imagine doing this myself – especially when there are so many interesting, healthy and delicious whole grains around. While eating a diet very high in carbohydrates – especially the refined ones – is not ideal, there is a place for healthy carbohydrates, especially whole grains. There are all kinds of health benefits to a high intake of whole grains, ranging from better heart health to lowered risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer. So it’s a great idea to swap refined grains for whole grains whenever we can.

At its simplest, 'whole grain' means what it sounds like: the whole, intact grains are present in a product. These are the grains we see in that lovely dense, grainy bread. But whole grain can also mean the grains have been ground, milled, cracked or flaked. As long as the three parts of the grain – endosperm, germ and bran – are present in the same proportions as in the intact grain, a product can say 'whole grain' on the label. That’s how something that looks pretty refined, like some cereals, crackers and breads, can still claim to be whole grain.

To me, the tastiest whole grains are the ones that are pretty close to their original state. You don’t have to eat loads of boring bran cereals to get them. Brown rice is a whole grain and has a delicious, nutty flavour that’s so much more interesting than white rice. One of my favourite snacks, popcorn, is also a whole grain – pop it yourself so you can add your own flavourings and avoid added fat.

Oats are another favourite whole grain – they’re easy to find and make heart-warming, yummy porridge. In baking you can sneak oats easily into recipes and make their goodness feel like a treat. Wholemeal flour, as the name suggests, is another good way to get whole grains in – experiment with swapping half the flour in your favourite baking recipe for wholemeal flour.

Quinoa, buckwheat and wild rice are also delicious, and they’re considered to be whole grains even though they’re not officially part of the grain family. These are all great if you’re eating gluten-free. And other interesting grains are becoming more and more available now. Recently I tried spelt couscous, which was delicious and cooks just as quickly as more refined couscous. Barley is another nutty and interesting grain that’s also inexpensive when you buy from the bulk bins – it can be used in salads and added to soups and casseroles.

So while I’m finding lots of inspiration in the ‘new grains’, I’m also encouraging our recipe writers to include more of these different whole grains in our recipes in the magazine, and I hope you’ll enjoy experimenting as much as we are.

First published: Oct 2013

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