The wonderful world of wholegrains

Whole grain bread. Assortment of multi-grain bread on old wooden table. oncept of healthy eating.

Image: Nataliia Sirobaba /

You are no doubt aware they exist. You may have seen them on foodie blogs, Instagram feeds or on the menu at your local café. Wholegrains are an important food group essential to a healthy diet. Read on to find out why they are so wonderful and how you can eat more! 

What are wholegrains?

Wholegrains are grains that contain an outer bran layer, middle endosperm layer and inner germ component. They are higher in fibre and phytonutrients than other refined grains, so they pack a nutritional punch! Wholegrains may come in many food forms (e.g. cracked or rolled) and can be manufactured in different food products with varying wholegrain content (think breads, cereals and crackers).

Healthy benefits

According to the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council of Australia, people who regularly eat wholegrains are up to 30% less likely to:

  • Gain weight
  • Have heart disease
  • Develop type 2 diabetes
  • Suffer from gut issues or bowel cancer

Choosing wholegrains over refined grains can also help you to better manage existing medical conditions. It’s never too late to add wholegrains to your plate!

Wholegrain varieties

Commonly known wholegrains include wheat, barley, oats, rye, corn and brown rice.

Less common wholegrains such as millet, sorghum, freekah and teff—as well as ancient grains including kamut, einkorn and faro (emmer)—are also becoming more available in health food stores and greengrocers.

‘Psuedo-grains’ including quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth are also growing in popularity. These varieties are technically seeds, however, they provide similar nutrients and are eaten in the same way, so are usually considered part of the wholegrain family.

Picking the best wholegrain foods

Wholegrains can be processed to varying degrees to create a range of wholegrain foods. The commonly eaten forms of wholegrains include, intact, cracked, rolled, flaked, puffed and milled (flour).

The form of a wholegrain can influence your blood sugar and insulin levels. The more intact the grain, the slower the effect on your blood sugar and the lower the glycaemic index (GI). The more broken down or milled, the higher the GI!

To gain the greatest health benefits, eat your wholegrains in their most natural and intact form!

5 swaps to increase your wholegrain intake

FoodsInstead of this...Use this...
GrainsWhite riceBrown rice*, red rice*, wild rice*, quinoa*, buckwheat*, amaranth*, bulgar, freekah
Pasta/noodlesWhite pasta and noodles, couscousWholemeal pasta, soba noodles*, wholemeal couscous
BreadsWhite or wholemeal bread, wholemeal wraps, pita bread, wholemeal crumpetsWholegrain bread, rye bread, sprouted grain bread, barley wraps, wholegrain English muffin
Breakfast cerealsQuick oats, rice bubbles, cornflakes, Special KSteel cut oats, traditional rolled oats, natural muesli, Guardian cereal, Weet-Bix High Bran, Goodness Superfood Digestive 1st, Freedom Foods Ancient Grains*
CrispbreadsRice cakes, rice crackers, Cruskits, Saos, JatzVita-Weats, Ryvitas, buckwheat crisp bread*

*Gluten-free and low FODMAP

Quick tips for lowering your GI (even more)

  • Slightly undercook your grains (i.e. keep al dente) as this will ensure a smaller rise in your blood sugar than softly cooked grains.
  • Cook up a ‘grain bank’. Save yourself time by cooking in bulk and freezing in ready to use portions. Grains can last for months in the freezer!
  • Avoid sticky rice as it has a high GI.
  • Try blending wholegrains together e.g. brown rice and wild rice or red rice and buckwheat.
  • Add legumes to your rice to lower the GI. Use a ratio of ½ cup legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans) to 1 ½ cups wholegrains.

Sue Radd is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and one of Australia’s leading nutritionists and health communicators. Her most recent book Food as Medicine: Eating for Your Best Health received the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best Health and Nutrition Book in the world for 2016.

Category: Physical Health, Uncategorized

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