Whole grains: the gains

What is it?

Whole grain is defined by the Whole Grains Council, a standards-based non-profit organisation, as a grain that retains all three parts of the original grain—the germ, the bran, and the endosperm—in its original amounts after it’s been processed.

“Whole grain” for the purpose of this page is defined as products that contain whole grain. It is recommended that you look for 100% whole grain products, as the regulation of products with the whole grain name differ from country to country, assuming regulations exist. Please be aware that seeds, nuts, and legumes are not considered whole grains, as their nutritional content differs significantly from that of grain.

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Why is it so special?

Whole grain foods are the direct opposite of refined flour foods. Conventional foods made with grains that are refined involve stripping the grain of the germ and bran, while whole grain retains all of the bran, germ, and endosperm. The stripping of the germ and bran is what leads to food products made with “enriched” flour; the flour here being enriched with the nutrients lost due to the removal of the other two parts of the grain.

Among the nutrients lost during the refining of white flour include fibre and protein (bran), vitamin B (germ), and trace minerals (both). It should be noted that the enrichment process does not restore all of the nutrients lost, merely a small amount of it.

 Just like oatmeal, whole grain foods have a low glycemic index (GI) compared to white flour and refined flour-based foods. Diabetics and pre-diabetics who need to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels will benefit from consuming whole grain foods due to the slow release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream, compared with white flour and refined flour foods.

Who is this suitable for?

Those who are concerned about the nutritional value of the food they consume, regardless of their diabetic status. The U.S. FDA recommends no less than three servings of whole grains a day.

Those who are allergic to gluten should not consume whole grain foods unless they claim to be gluten-free. Wheat, barley, and rye are among the three common grains that contain gluten, and should be avoided at any cost. Gluten-free grains include buckwheat, corn, millet, rice, sorghum, and wild rice.

When should I eat this?

Whole grain foods can be eaten at any time of the day. To best utilise its low GI, breakfast and lunch are the optimum times for consuming it. Eating whole grain foods in the morning ensure that no snacking will happen between breakfast and lunch, while eating whole grain foods in the afternoon helps to counter the soporific after-lunch effect by blunting the blood sugar spike that usually comes after eating high GI foods.

A light pre-workout snack also serves as an efficient use of whole grain, as the constant and steady release of carbohydrates ensure that adequate energy is supplied throughout the workout instead of a sharp spike in energy that immediately tapers off.

How is it usually served?

Whole grain foods don’t necessarily have to be in bread or bakery-related products! Consider switching from your regular white rice or wheat pasta to brown rice or whole grain pasta to reap the benefits of whole grain in a different type of food. Although not as common as rice or pasta, look for whole grain noodles if you eat it frequently, and serve with your meals as you normally would.

The trick to switching to whole grain is to not think about it as much—while the taste and texture might differ slightly from what you’re used to, once you’re on it for a long while you’ll never want to go back to white flour foods.