I've been discussing the Mediterranean Diet lately and a key component is to have plenty of whole grains. Why are they so important, what is a whole grain, how much and how do I use them. Read on to find out....
What makes a whole grain?
In today’s world of ultra processed foods, too often some of the most valuable components of a plant are removed. The advancement of processing of wheat in the 1870s led to the mills being able to remove the outer layers of the grain to produce white flour, which quickly gained popularity over traditionally grey & grainy milled flours. Unfortunately the processing of grains removes valuable nutrition.
Consider that a grain is just a dry seed of a plant. For a grain to be considered a whole grain, it must contain the bran (outer layer), the germ (the energy source of the new plant that would grow from the seed), and the endosperm (the embryo of the plant that would grow). Brown rice, quinoa and bulgur wheat are great examples.
Which whole grains are common in Mediterranean cuisine?
Since the diets of cultures surrounding the Mediterranean are wide and varied (think Northern Africa to Spain to Greece), the choice of whole grains is also plentiful. We are spoilt for choice with buckwheat, bulgur, faro, freekeh, barley, oats and more. Oats do come in many forms, remembering the more human intervention the food has had, the more processed it will be. Rolled oats are still a good choice, but quick oats can make your blood sugars spike quickly. Oat groats are the best choice as they have had the least processing, but they do take a little longer to cook. I’d like to nominate quinoa as a guest whole grain to your Mediterranean diet. Even though it harks from South America and not the Mediterranean, it’s a wonderfully nutritious choice.
What are the nutritional benefits of whole grains?
We all tend to think of the fibre when considering whole grains. Fibre fills us up, attracts water to bulk the stool while reducing constipation and is an important prebiotic for our gut microflora. Oats are rich in a soluble form of fibre called beta-glucans which has been widely studied and is known to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides and hence cardiovascular disease.
Whole grains are also rich in iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, and importantly protein. All of these are important for our energy, metabolism, cellular function, appetite control and immune system.
How do I use whole grains?
Whole grains are super versatile. Grains such as brown rice, bulgur and barley can be added to soups and stews, or simply cooked in a low sodium stock. I love to use them in salads. Enjoy whole grain breads rather than white varieties. Oats of course can be made into porridge, muesli, crackers and as a treat – healthy muffins!
How much should I have?
It is recommended that we consume around 4-6 serves of whole grain foods per day. Examples of a serve are 1 slice of whole grain bread, ½ cup of cook bulgur/quinoa/brown rice, 1/3 cup of porridge and ¼ cup of muesli.
Let’s enjoy more whole grains in our diet and get creative with our menu. Try out an easy Freekeh Salad and learn about how great this amazing super grain is!