John Von Arnim takes a look at claims wholegrains can reduce the chance of diabetes and heart disease.
Wholegrains have become big news in recent years and the latest superfood to make world headlines is black rice. Known as ‘forbidden rice’ in ancient China, where it was exclusively commandeered by the aristocracy, scientists from Louisiana State University recently discovered that the noble grain is packed with healthy fibre and plant compounds that fight heart disease and cancer.
According to the researchers behind the discovery, food manufacturers could potentially use black rice bran to improve the health benefits of cereals, drinks, cakes and other foods.
One trot down the supermarket aisles today, though, reveals that the big food conglomerates are already beefing up their product lines to attract more health-conscious buyers.
“Made with wholegrain goodness” has become the come-on of a wide variety of packaged foods, from chips to the sugary breakfast cereal you loved as a kid. Sure, it’s better than nothing, but just because a pop-tart is made with wholemeal flour that doesn’t mean it’s the best choice to increase the amount of wholegrains in your meals.
Wholegrains became contentious in zoos when the US Department of Health and Human Services revised its dietary guidelines. Australia quickly picked up the ball and dieticians now recommend that at least half of all grains eaten should be wholegrains. In the past, their importance rested on their fibre content and its ability to ensure ‘regular movements’. Today, though, they are more important than ever before because eating 90g of wholegrains a day helps to reduce the risk of diabetes and coronary heart disease. They also make you less likely to overeat.
So what are wholegrains? The ones most of us are familiar with are whole oats, brown rice and bulgur, the crunchy cereal used in felafels. Wholegrains contain all the parts of the plant or seed. The bran or outer layer is the motherlode of regulatory fibre, while the germ inside is a powerhouse of nutrients including B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, magnesium and selenium. In refined flours and grains, the bran and germ are removed. When you see the term “enriched flour”, however, it means that the product has been fortified with the missing vitamins and iron.
That’s all the science you need to know and there’s no need to invest in a set of kitchen scales. According to Peter Williams, an associate professor at the University of Wollongong, who co-authored The Grains and Legumes Health Report: “If every Australian ate the equivalent of three slices of wholemeal bread a day, the resulting health benefits could theoretically cut the nation’s yearly health bill by $1.2 billion.”
Four servings a day of grain-based foods is the way to go, he says. “That’s as easy as having a wholegrain cereal such as oats for breakfast, a wholemeal sandwich or roll for lunch, snacking on a muesli bar or crispbread, and eating wholemeal pasta or brown rice with your evening meal.”
Lowering your blood pressure and cutting the risk of cancer and heart disease are incentive enough to switch from white bread, but eating wholegrains may also help to prevent asthma and gum disease, says Professor Williams. “There is also evidence that eating more wholegrains can improve mood and cognitive function.”