Whole Grains

Although the structures of the various cereal grains are different, there are some common features they all share:

Grain cross section

  • Bran – the multi-layered outer skin of the grain which is rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fibre.
  • Endosperm – the food supply for the germ, which is dense in starchy carbohydrates and protein.
  • Germ – the embryo, which contains the genetic material for a new plant, is abundant in essential fatty acids, vitamin E, B-group vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

The term ‘whole grain’ is used to describe an intact grain, flour or a food that contains all three parts of the grain. Together they deliver over 26 nutrients and other active substances which nourish the body and help to reduce risk of disease. Processing grains does not necessarily produce ‘refined grains’ or exclude them from the Australian definition of a ‘whole grain’.

“The intact grain or the dehulled, ground, milled, cracked or flaked grain where the constituents – endosperm, germ and bran – are present in such proportions that represent the typical ratio of those fractions occurring in the whole cereal, and includes wholemeal.”  (Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code)

Why eat whole grain?

Whole grains tick all of the boxes of good quality carbohydrate foods. They are:

  • Nutrients dense; delivering vitamins, minerals, trace elements, proteins and carbohydrate for energy.
  • Rich in a range of dietary fibres.
  • A source of protective phytonutrients.
  • Naturally low in saturated fat and salt.

In addition, enjoying a variety of whole grain foods can help to lower the overall glycemic index (GI) of your diet. Examples of foods made with whole grain or wholemeal ingredients include wholemeal and mixed grain breads, rolls, wraps, flat breads and English muffins, whole grain breakfast cereals, wheat or oat flake breakfast biscuits, whole grain crispbreads, rolled oats, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, popcorn, bulgar (cracked wheat) and rice cakes.

The health benefits of whole grains 

With an impressive nutrition profile it is no wonder whole grains and whole grain foods are recommended as part of healthy diets around the world. The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend we eat a variety of grain foods each day choosing mostly whole grain and/or high fibre varieties.

This emphasis on whole grain and high fibre grain foods is based on the scientific evidence that people who eat grain foods, particularly whole grains are 20-30% less likely to:

  1. Gain weight
  2. Have heart disease
  3. Develop Type 2 diabetes
  4. Suffer from bowel cancer

Whole grain Foods

Intact, cracked or kibbled (chopped) whole grains can be cooked and enjoyed as a side dish, in salads, casseroles or as porridge. Being so versatile in the kitchen whole grains have been traditionally enjoyed by cultures around the world.

In addition, for thousands of years whole grains have been ground into flours (milled) to make breads and other nutritious grain foods. Today whole grain foods are made from milled whole grains as well as intact, cracked, flaked or puffed grains include whole grain or wholemeal breads, multigrain breads, whole grain breakfast cereals, whole grain crispbreads, wholemeal pasta and wholemeal couscous.

Not all whole grain foods are the same.

Whole grain foods like bread and breakfast cereal contain between 1.5 grams and 70 grams of whole grain per serve.

Choose Foods Higher in Whole Grain

Looking for bread higher in whole grain? Or need to get kids a breakfast cereal with more whole grain?

A clear and simple way to identify and choose better whole grain foods is to look for products which state:

  • Contains whole grain
  • High in whole grain
  • Very high in whole grain – the highest level of whole grain

Other helpful ways to choose foods higher in whole grain include:

  • Look for the percentage whole grain in the ingredient list – the higher number the better. Remember that wholemeal or whole wheat means whole grain. Look out for words such as ‘whole’, ‘whole meal’, ‘mixed grain’, ‘cracked’, ‘flaked’, ‘kibbled’ or ‘puffed’ next to the name of the grain in the ingredient list.
  • Look for the whole grain Daily Target Intake statement – the higher the percentage the better. i.e. ‘One 45g serve of Sunrise cereal contributes 70% towards the 48g whole grain Daily Target Intake’
  • Download a list of products registered to carry whole grain ingredient content claims for your clients click here.

Identifying Whole Grains

When checking to see if a food contains whole grain ingredients look for these words in the ingredient list:

Words in Ingredient List Is this Whole Grain?
whole grain [name of grain], whole wheat / whole [other grain], stoneground whole [grain], wholemeal, brown rice, oats, oatmeal, multigrain, sprouted, whole grain, malted whole grain, sorghum, quinoa, buckwheat Yes, these are whole grain
wheat, or wheat flour, semolina, durum wheat, organic flour, stone ground No, these are usually not whole grain
enriched flour, de-germinated (corn) bran, wheat germ, legumes such as soybeans, lupins, lentils, seeds like chia, linseed, sesame seed, etc. No, these are not whole grain

For more information on choosing whole grain foods and the recommended amount of whole grain check our page The Whole Grain Daily Target Intake.