Standing in my kitchen I catch sight of a tidy row of glass jars filled with millet, quinoa, brown rice, barley, buckwheat and amaranth and I find myself smiling. They look so beautiful with their natural, earthy tones; so wholesome – sitting on the shelf waiting to be transformed into a nourishing meal. These are whole grains. They haven’t been processed. They are pure and natural.
A 'whole grain' is the term used to describe the entire seed of certain plants. In this whole form the grain consists of three layers: the outer layer referred to as the bran, the starchy section called the endosperm and the inner core known as the germ. Many of the beneficial compounds in grains are found in the bran and germ layers. So the healthiest way to eat grains is to buy them in this whole form and cook them using the absorption method. Then enjoy them hot or cold, in sweet or savoury dishes, adding other wholesome foods for flavour, texture, colour and excitement.
Grains can also be rolled into flakes or milled into flour and used to make products such as breakfast cereals, breads, pastas and biscuits. Wheat, rye and oats are often eaten in this way. Wholemeal flakes and flour still contain the bran, the endosperm and the germ and therefore still contain many of the beneficial compounds. But the flakes or flour may now be mixed with all kinds of ingredients and the final product may not necessarily be a healthy one (for example, sugar-laden breakfast cereals).
Sadly, many less fortunate grains end up being milled into white flour – stripped of their bran and germ layers and therefore depleted of nutrients and phytochemicals. Poor grains!
What health benefits can we expect when we choose whole grains? Short term benefits include regular bowels and a rich supply of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrate, protein, unsaturated fatty acids, fibre and phytochemicals (with wide ranging activities such as antioxidant, cell signalling and liver protective). Longer term benefits suggested by epidemiological studies include protection against chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
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There are lots of good reasons to love whole grains! If you love whole grains too and want to share your favourite ways to enjoy them, or add a whole grain recipe…post your ideas below!