8 grain swaps that help support optimal health

  1. Swap brown rice for barley
  2. Swap pasta for wholemeal pasta
  3. Swap basmati rice for quinoa 
  4. Swap wholemeal bread for mixed grain bread
  5. Swap sourdough bread for rye bread
  6. Swap instant porridge for rolled oats
  7. Swap wholegrain cereal for muesli
  8. Swap wheat biscuits for bran cereal.

Yes, the first options are excellent choices when compared to refined cereals like most white breads, white rices, low-fibre cereals, rice crackers and noodles.

But you can still go one better if you choose.

Research suggests that slowly digested, fibrous grains are the healthiest of them all.

Eating foods that tick each of these 2 criteria will likely help to:

  • feed your gut bacteria and make you feel fuller, within hours,
  • improve markers of your heart and metabolic health, within weeks, and
  • substantially lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, bowel cancer and weight gain, over the coming months and years.

When deciding which grain to eat, it is important to remember that both slowly digested grains and higher fibre grains provide health benefits that are unique and equally important.

An optimal diet, therefore, is one that consistently contains both.

The real impact of grains on our health

If you happen to get your nutrition information from Google, you have likely heard about the idea that eating grain-based foods is detrimental for your health.

Yet a wealth of scientific research actually tells us time and time again that people who eat fibre-rich grains:

You see, fibrous grains, which include wholemeal breads, high-fibre cereals, wholemeal pasta, oats and barley, are minimally processed plant foods that do not only provide fibre, but also:

  • magnesium,
  • zinc,
  • B vitamins,
  • Vitamin E,
  • resistant starch, and
  • an abundance of different antioxidants, too.

What’s more, these health benefits associated with fibrous grains are actually significantly greater than what we see for fibrous fruits and vegetables. This has been shown consistently in the literature for a:

It appears most difficult to achieve optimal health with just the fibre from fruits and vegetables alone.

To best understand the impact of grains on our health, we need to be aware that:

  1. The type of grain matters. Please note that these impressive nutrition and health benefits are mostly or completely absent in refined grain foods, such as white bread, refined cereals, white rice, biscuits, cakes and pastries. When people tell us that carbohydrates or grains are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us, we must remember that it is far too simplistic to assume that all carbohydrates or grains have an equal effect on our health.
  2. The amount also matters. Just 40-50 grams of fibre-rich grains a day is commonly thought to be enough for these significant health benefits to develop over time. To put this into perspective, this is only slightly more than 1 slice of wholemeal bread, or 1 bowl of oats. The idea that our diets must have grains as it’s foundation is outdated and invalid. We simply don’t have to eat a lot.

But the concern for me is that most of us seem to be falling short of the small amount that is consistently associated with optimal health. What’s more, we are now seeing the popularity of anti-grain fad diets, such as low-carb, gluten-free and Paleo, associated with a further marked decline in our grain intake.

And whilst these fad diets are correct in that we should be limiting the intake of refined grain foods, encouraging a long-term absence of fibrous grain foods from our diet is, I believe, most likely to do more harm than good.

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