Whole grains 101


Thank you for continuing to read on until week 5 of our #nutritiontuesdays series! Each week we’ve aimed to give you small, actionable tips - realistic, manageable changes to your behaviour that, when layered up slowly, can lead to a big shift and life-long healthy habits.

Now we need to talk about rice. A staple part of our diets in India. It can play an important role in a balanced diet for sure- but all too often we see people eating large piles of white rice - which is a refined grain- with all sorts of myths about brown rice! We want to pitch to you to make some easy switches to get more whole grains in your life!

What do we mean when we talk about grains?

Rice, wheat, sorgum, and barley are considered grains. Millets and quinoa are pseudograins- they look and act like grains in many ways but are actually seeds and have varying nutritional profiles.

What is the difference between whole grains & refined grains?

All grains are originally whole grains in their natural state, they essentially make up the entire seed of the plant. This seed which is known as the ‘kernel’ is made up of the bran, germ and the endosperm, which is protected by an inedible husk.  The outermost layer is called the bran. The process of refining strips the grains of this nutritious outer layer. A refined grain refers to a grain that is not whole as it is devoid of one or more of the three key parts (germ, bran or endosperm).

This is a problem because the bran is rich in Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Riboflavin, Niacin, Phosphorous and Thiamine. Bran is also an excellent source of fibre which prolongs digestion and causes a gradual rise in your blood sugar levels and keeps you feeling full for longer periods of time. This is relevant as consuming fibre rich foods can keep those food cravings at bay.

White rice  and white flour (maida) are examples of refined grains where both the germ and the brain have been removed. Refining a grain is found to remove a quarter of the protein and about half to two thirds of a number of nutrients.

Whole grains are grains where the three parts are in tact- as nature intended. They contain a number of valuable vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals that promote digestion and maintain the health of your intestines.

 What are the health benefits of eating whole grains?

Fibre is a key reason as to why you should switch to whole grains. The recommended dosage of fibre is between 25-35gm/day, which research has shown most people struggle to reach. Whole grains contain both soluble and insoluble fibre which are both beneficial. Fibre tends to digest slowly and hence when you eat fibre rich foods it keeps you feeling fuller for longer periods of time.  In fact, fibre rich foods essentially help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.

Let's talk a little more about fibre: fibre increases the bulk of waste material that is passing through the digestive system. When the waste is adequately removed from the body, the body is better equipped to absorb all the nutrients present in food. It also helps in creating and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.

A number of studies have found that eating whole grains resulted in a lower consumption of calories and reduced systemic inflammation. In contrast, excessive consumption of refined grains have been associated with elevated inflammatory markers in the blood.

Whole grains are an important source of a number of B vitamins, which include thiamin, niacin, folate and riboflavin. The dietary fibre found in whole grains has been found to help in reducing cholesterol levels and may even lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. This fibre is important for proper bowel function, and has been found to help reduce constipation.

 An example of the difference in nutritive value between whole grains and refined grains can be seen below :


Why shouldn’t you be eating refined grains?


Conversely, when it comes to refined grains, most of the nutrients and the fibre has been removed making them a purely carbohydrate source with a high glycemic index.  Consumption of refined grains has been linked to diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Due to the low fibre content of these grains they can be digested quickly and hence can cause huge fluctuations in blood sugar levels which often leads to overeating.  Most of us have experienced a short-lived sustenance after eating refined grains or fast food; so much so that you can eat another junk food meal within 2 hours of eating the first meal! This is because high GI (glycemic index) foods promote a feeling of short-term fullness, whereas low GI foods such as whole grains promote a feeling of sustained fullness which lasts for considerably longer.

Consumption of excess sugar and refined grains (white rice, maida, white bread etc) has been found to result in chronic, low-grade inflammation (for more information on inflammation read post) that has been known to cause a number of diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease etc. In comparison whole grains contain fibre, antioxidants and certain phytochemicals that can regulate blood sugar and protect against systemic inflammation.


 It’s important to gradually transition to whole grains as your body may not be used to a whole lot of fibre which can cause you to experience some amount of bloating.

  • Drink adequate water on a daily basis; a minimum of 2.0- 2.2 litres/day as this aids in digesting complex carbohydrates and fibre rich foods..

  • When it comes to breakfast grains always opt for whole grains with a high bran content like rolled or steel cut oats, ragi, buckwheat, millet and bran cereal. Make sure you learn to be discerning when you read ingredient labels- as many products listed as whole-whole or multigrain have a very small percentage of whole grains and the rest are made up of refined grains. Don’t be tricked by bread that looks brown, it may be coloured with molasses or caramel. Avoid added sugar which is sometimes added to bran cereals to make them more palatable. 

  • A great breakfast option is our overnight oats- use rolled oats, soaked in almond milk or coocnut milk and topped with delicious fruits and nuts

  • When it comes to lunch and dinner; always opt for brown rice over white rice, 100 % whole-wheat bread or pasta, quinoa, millet (porso, fox-tail, sorghum,  ragi pearl-millet etc).

  • Soak wholegrains- brown rice, and 

  • Swap your white flour (maida) with whole grains like whole wheat flour, ragi, buckwheat flour whenever you're cooking or making rotis. Don’t worry it will not compromise on the taste of your muffins, cakes, pancakes and cookies! You could start by replacing 3/4th of the flour with whole grains and increase the amount slowly.

  • Use rolled oats as a coating when you are baking fish or chicken or making cutlets instead of white breadcrumbs or batter made from white flour. 
    Swap cornflour and maida for regular whole wheat flour when thickening soup or white-sauce.

  • Swap regular white rice for whole grains like brown rice, millet, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat etc that have not been polished. You can cook and eat like rice alongside a curry or subzi- or try experimenting with salads and grain bowls- our 7 steps to a really great salad will help you to create something delicious and nutritious!

    1. Pick 2 to 3 star vegetables. You can choose any vegetables, such as zucchini, capsicum, gobi, red pumpkin, brinjal, green peas. You want 1-2 cups of vegetables per person. 

    2. Select a protein. If you are non-veg, select from chicken, egg, prawns or pulled lamb. If you are veg, select from channa or another type of gram like horse gram (you want something that will hold its shape), or you could add tofu. Aim for 1/2 cup to a whole cup of protein per person.

    3: Pick a grain: millet, quinoa and sorghum work well here, as does red or brown rice. Grains absorb the dressing of salad so will ensure that every bite pops with flavour! As a rough guide, you need 1/2 cup of cooked grain per person. Grains are essential to a salad in order to make it filling and hearty. Just vegetables are great for a light summer salad when you want a light meal, but if you’re looking for a filling meal which will feel light, a grain based salad is the way to go.

    4. Pick one of the following to bring sweetness: pomegranate seeds, strips of mango, watermelon, diced apple, or caramelised seeds (mix honey and water in 1:1 ratio, add your preferred spices, and coat the seeds and then fry or bake them until golden brown). 

    5. Pick one of the following for crunch: toasted cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds or watermelon seeds. I like to coat the nuts in a spice mixture such as salt, chilli powder and turmeric and then roast or dry fry in a pan until golden brown.

    6. Pick your leaf. Iceberg lettuce (that very pale, watery lettuce) is not an option here, it is pointless and flavourless. Select from dark green, earthier leaves like palak, arugala (rocket) or methi leaves. Include mint and coriander leaves for a further hit of flavour.

    7. Pick your dressing ingredients- you need a cold-pressed oil (cold-pressed sunflower oil works well, or Extra Virgin Olive Oil - EVOO is the only imported ingredient you will ever find me mentioning), something sharp (either lemon juice or vinegar), salt, pepper, and a handful of chopped herbs like mint or coriander. You can crush some garlic (one clove is enough!). Tahini, almond butter or another nut butter can also be a great addition to thicken a salad dressing. For more of a South-east Asian dressing include soy sauce and freshly grated ginger. You want to prepare your dressing in a ratio of 3:1 oil: vinegar/lemon juice. The other ingredients you add according to your preference.  

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