by Jaimee Hughes, Accredited Practising Dietitian
Whole grains are nutrient powerhouses that provide big benefits for health, but few Australians eat enough. Whole grains are often misunderstood, which limits their inclusion in the diets of many Australians. The good news? New research has found we’re all open to consuming more whole grains (1). So to help you reach your daily whole grain target, we’ve answered a few of the most common questions on the humble whole grain!
So what exactly is a whole grain?
The term ‘whole grain’ is used to describe an intact grain, wholemeal bread, cereal or flour where the food contains all three parts of the grain; the bran, germ and endosperm. Together, they deliver over 26 nutrients and other active substances which nourish the body and help to reduce risk of chronic disease.
What are some examples of whole grains?
Popular whole grains include oats, brown, red and black rice, quinoa, freekeh, cracked wheat, buckwheat, wholemeal and whole grain breads, whole grain breakfast cereals, wheat or oat flake breakfast biscuits, whole grain crispbreads, wholemeal pasta, muesli bars and popcorn. Did you know that pearl barley isn’t actually a whole grain? Instead look for rolled or hulled barley to benefit from barley’s whole grain goodness!
The term ‘whole grain’ is used to describe an intact grain, wholemeal bread, cereal or flour where the food contains all three parts of the grain; the bran, germ and endosperm
So how will I benefit from eating whole grains?
Recent research has found that increasing our whole grain intake is even more crucial than getting our daily fruits and veggies. According to the Global Burden of Disease study, diets low in whole grain rank just behind diets high in sodium as the leading dietary risk factors for early death and years lost to all causes of disease (2).
Most of us know whole grain foods are high in fibre, but whole grains provide so much more than that! They contain more than 26 nutrients and phytonutrients such as protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, B group vitamins and antioxidant Vitamin E.
Whole grain foods like brown rice, pasta, oats and wholemeal bread are packed with nutrition, and there’s good evidence to suggest that people who eat them regularly are less likely to develop heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even bowel cancer. Whole grains can also help us to maintain a healthy weight(3) and they’re great for our gut as the fibre in whole grains ‘feeds’ our good gut bacteria.
Now for the big question, how much should we be eating?
We recommend enjoying 3 serves – or 48g – of whole grain every day to help reduce our risk of chronic disease. One “serve” of whole grain equates to:
- One slice of wholemeal or whole grain bread
- One third of a cup of cooked oats
- A quarter of a cup of whole grain cereal
- A quarter cup of cooked whole grains like brown rice
See our handy serve size guide here for more serves sizes.
Diets low in whole grain rank just behind diets high in sodium as the leading dietary risk factors for early death
Try the simple swap
It’s much easier to reach your whole grain target than you might think. The trick is the keep it simple and swap from refined grain foods to whole grain varieties.
- At breakfast simply choose a bowl of whole grain, high-fibre cereal or oats
- At lunch, choose wholemeal or whole grain bread
- At dinner, choose red, brown or black rice, wholemeal pasta or other whole grains including buckwheat, quinoa or freekeh
- And at snack time, choose plain popcorn, whole grain muesli bars or crackers
How to find foods high in whole grain in the supermarket?
The easiest way to choose foods higher in whole grain, is to look for the claims ‘high in whole grain’ or ‘very high in whole grain’ on pack labels. You can also look for words in the ingredients list such as oats, whole grain, whole wheat / whole [wheat, buckwheat, spelt, rye, barley etc], stoneground whole [wheat, buckwheat, spelt, rye, barley etc], wholemeal flour, brown, wild, black, purple or red rice.
So what’s the bottom line?
We recommend enjoying 3 serves of whole grain foods daily to help reduce the risk of disease(4). Making the simple swap from refined grain foods to whole grain varieties such as brown rice, wholemeal pasta, oats, wholemeal bread and whole grain breakfast cereals will ensure you hit your daily whole grain target!
Look for the claims ‘high in whole grain’ or ‘very high in whole grain’ on-pack
- Barrett E, Foster S, Beck E. Whole grain and high-fibre grain foods: How do knowledge, perceptions and attitudes affect food choice? Appetite. 2020;149:104630.
- GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators. Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. The Lancet. 2019;393 (10184):1958-72 DOI 10.016/S0140-6736(19)30041-8.
- Harland JI, Garton LE. Whole-grain intake as a marker of healthy body weight and adiposity. Public Health Nutr. 2008;11(6):554-63.
- McRae MP. Health Benefits of Dietary Whole Grains: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses. J Chiropr Med. 2017;16(1):10-8.