One of the problems with being a dietitian is that you know exactly the things you should eat and sometimes you don’t really want to eat them. For me, it’s wholegrains. I know I should eat wholegrains. I know they are so good for you in so many ways. Knowing what I know it’s completely daft not to eat more wholegrains. Even worse, I tell other people to eat wholegrains and I don’t want to be hypocrite with wholegrain induced guilt . Our group published a paper recently that found that an increase of 7g of fibre a day reduces risk of strokes by 7% (ref 1). So it’s definitely worth it. Wholegrains are a major source of fibre and there is a list as long as my arm of health benefits with really strong evidence behind them; reduction in hypertension, cholesterol reduction, reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes and insulin sensitivity, reduction in risk of colorectal cancer…I could go on. Pre 1900 most grains consumed were wholegrain but then processing became the norm, stripping 75% of the goodness away with the fibre rich husk of the grain.
So how much wholegrain should we eat?
Surprisingly there are no UK recommendations on how much. The Food Standards Agency just recommend the somewhat wooly ‘eat a variety of wholegrains whenever possible’. In the States people are advised by the USDA to consume 3 servings of wholegrain and at least half of grains consumed should be wholegrain. A serving would be considered for example; one slice of medium wholemeal bread, 2 heaped tbsp cooked brown rice, 3 tbsp of wholegrain cereals. So the message is to eat a fair bit of wholegrain but according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey in 2000/2001 only 5% of the British population were managing the recommended 3 portions a day. So, it would seem it’s not just me, most of the country are not eating enough wholegrains.
This could be to do the elephant in the room when it comes to wholegrains. I’m a dietitian so I’m not meant to say this but, well, don’t they just taste a bit cardboardy? If I could have a lovely bowl of white starchy tagliatelle or some brown pasta it’s a bit of a no brainer for me to be honest. Taste is subjective of course but there are some easier ways to get 3 serving a day that are acceptable and palatable.
Here are 3 ways to get 3 servings a day.
1) Popcorn. Yes you read that right. Popcorn is a wholegrain. 3 cups of popcorn is the equivalent of one serving of wholegrain. Ditch the lashings of sugar, salt, butter or toffee of course and you are on to a winner. Other wholegrain snacks might include oatcakes, wholegrain cereal bars, wholemeal scones.
2) ‘Interesting’ grains – quinoa (pronounced keen-wa, I was calling it ‘quee-no-ah’ for long enough for it to be embarrassing), bulgur, millet, spelt and barley (not pearl). All seem to be having a bit of a renaissance and all whole grain. I find these to taste really nice and with minimal fuss. For example, you can chuck some barley into a chicken stew near the end and quinoa makes a lovely salad.
3) Oats – porridge oats taste nice and an easy way to get wholegrain. In fact choosing a wholegrain breakfast cereal (e.g. weetabix, shreddies, bran flakes, wholegrain museli) is probably one of the easiest ways to increase wholegrains. Breakfast is one of those things where we tend to eat the same thing by routine so it’s easier to build it into your life automatically.
How do you know something is wholegrain?
To call itself wholegrain in the UK a product must have at least 51% wholegrain content. If you look at a food label the first word on the product should be ‘whole’ (as in wholemeal or wholegrain) or ‘oats’ and then you know it’s high in wholegrain.
So these are my secrets for increasing wholegrain without feeling like you are eating cardboard. Would love to hear any other tips?