Wholegrain like oats, rye and brown rice were once regarded as a bit cranky, often only for sale in health food shops alongside joysticks and pachouli oil. But now they are mainstream. All the major supermarkets have a range of wholegrains on sale - some at very reasonable prices others with a hefty price tag.
What are wholegrains?
Wholegrains, sometimes referred to as ‘ancient grains’, are the intact part of a grain after the inedible hull and husk has been removed. The wholegrain kernel can be ground, flaked or cracked.
Wholegrains include the seeds of grass plants and psuedo-grains, the seeds of non-grass plants.
Other examples of wholegrains are: buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, freekeh, faro, einkorn, chia, millet and pearl barley (sometimes referred to as pot barley).
Why are wholegrains important in the diet?
Wholegrains are fantastically nutritious and contain up to 75% more nutrients than refined grains. Their contribution to the vitamin and mineral content of the diet is crucial for health. Wholegrain are rich in protein, vitamins including folic acid, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids and minerals including iron, manganese and zinc. Wholegrains have a relatively low calorie content and can displace high calorie foods in the diet.
They are also higher in the two types dietary fibre (soluble and insoluble fibre) important for the ‘good’ bugs in our gut to thrive. Many wholegrains are gluten free such as chia seeds and buckwheat.
What is the link between wholegrain and health?
Studies have linked diets high in wholegrain with numerous health benefits such as a much lower risk of developing bowl cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
The dietary fibre in wholegrains contributes to a healthy population of ‘good’ bugs in our body which is important for maintaining a healthy immune system and a healthy gut.
There is some evidence to suggest wholegrains help in weight management as they displace higher calorie food in the diet and help you to stay felling fuller for longer. Wholegrains need to be chewed for longer and which is a good thing if you are trying to manage your weight.
What do they taste like?
Wholegrains such as brown, black and red rice have a nutty flavour and a chewy texture. They have stronger flavour than white rice which is why chefs like to use them. Each wholegrain tastes different and they can be mixed together to create an interesting combination of flavours and textures.
Are wholegrain easy to cook?
Wholegrain need to be rinsed before cooking and then cooked in a pan of boiling water but the cooking times differ. Quinoa, for example takes 12 minutes to cook whilst wholegrain rice and pearl barley takes about 20 minutes to cook.
What sort of dishes can I make with them?
Inexpensive wholegrains such as pearl barley are fabulous added to traditional dishes such as stews, casseroles and soups. They bulk out the meat, thicken the gravy and add texture to the dish. Cooked wholegrains can be used as the basis of a salad and sprinkled over vegetable dishes.
Wholegrain such as quinoa and spelt can also be used in baking breads, cakes and biscuits. Oats for example can be milled and added both to bread and biscuits. Chia seeds can be soaked and added to cakes and used as the basis for a breakfast cereal.
All or nothing?
You can add wholegrains to your diet a little bit at a time. You do not have to stop eating white bread for ever just add more of the wholegrain version to your diet as and when you can.