March 17, 2017


Grains are an important part of a healthy diet and are good sources of complex carbohydrates and some key vitamins and minerals. Grains are also very low in fat making them an excellent choice. They have been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and other health problems. Whole grains are the healthiest kinds of grains.

Types of grains

  • Whole grains. These grains are unrefined and have their bran, germ and endosperm intact. They include whole wheat, oats, rye, barley, popcorn, corn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, millet, sorghum, quinoa and bulgur (cracked wheat).
  • Refined grains. These are milled and so do not contain the bran, germ and endosperm. This is done so as to improve their shelf life. In the process of milling, they lose many nutrients such as dietary fibre, vitamin B, and iron. Refined grains include wheat flour, white rice and enriched bread. However, most refined grains are enriched, that is, they have been fortified with the B vitamins and iron since milling removes them. However, they are not fortified with dietary fibre.

Health benefits of whole grains

Many whole grains are excellent sources of dietary fibre. Not all refined grains contain dietary fibre. In fact, most grains contain little fibre. Cholesterol levels can be improved when dietary fibre from whole grains is taken as part of an overall healthy diet. Whole grains may be associated with reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes. After eating dietary fibre, you may feel full; and as a result eat fewer calories. To manage a healthy weight, include whole grains in any diet plan.

Whole grains are important sources of many nutrients. They include the B vitamins; folic acid, which is one of the B vitamins, helps in haematopoiesis (formation of new cells) and can also prevent certain birth defects. They also contain iron (involved in oxygen transport), magnesium and selenium (helps the immune system and regulates the action of the thyroid hormone).

Because all grains do not contain the same amount of nutrients, it is important to eat grains from a number of sources.

The colour of foods cannot tell if they are made from whole grains. If a food, say bread, is brown, it could be as a result of molasses and other ingredients. Thus, to identify whole grains product, it is advisable to read the ingredients of food labels to see if they contain whole grain. Many whole grain products usually have “whole grain” before the name of the actual grain.

Tips on how to enjoy whole grains

  • Eat breakfasts that include cereals made from whole grains. Cereals like whole-wheat bran flakes (be careful as some may contain just the bran and not the whole), shredded wheat or oatmeal.
  • You can make sandwiches out of whole grain breads or rolls
  • Replace white rice with brown rice
  • Add whole grains such as cooked brown rice or bread crumbs from whole grain to ground meat or poultry
  • Include rolled oats or crushed whole wheat bran cereals in recipes instead of using dried bread crumbs

When you eat whole grains, you are not just eating to gain more nutrients to promote health, but are also making meals and snacks more interesting.