In recent years whole grain foods have been given a bad rep due to their high carbohydrate content. Low-carb eating plans such as the Atkins and Paleo programs – which minimise or completely eliminate grains from our diets – are increasingly becoming the go-to for weight-loss, but there is a great debate among dietitians and nutritionists as to whether this is safe or effective.
With several health benefits to be gained from consuming whole grain foods, should we be ditching fads and opting for balance instead?
“There is a growing trend towards diets that eliminate sources of carbohydrate to aid weight loss. However, the science shows that these diets are no more effective than calorie-controlled diets that include grain foods,” says dietitian and GLNC Nutrition Program Manager, Michelle Broom.
“In fact, people who eat 3-5 serves of mainly whole grain foods each day are more likely to have smaller waists than people who eat less grain foods.”
According to a study by the University of Sydney, a high protein diet that restricts carbohydrates puts a person at a higher risk of diabetes and can reduce their life span. “Eliminating grain foods puts you at risk of missing out on a unique set of essential nutrients and phytonutrients important for good health,” Michelle explains.
“For example, grain foods are the leading source of fibre in the Australian diet, and many people don’t realise that people who eat diets rich in fibre from grain foods are more likely to be a healthy weight.”
Research shows that grains are the leading contributors of seven key nutrients, including zinc for healthy hair and nails, Vitamins B2 and B3 for soft, smooth skin and magnesium for brain function and muscle fuel. “On a daily basis, these vitamins and minerals in grain foods support your metabolism which helps you to feel less fatigued…” Says Broom.
”In the longer term, whole grain and high fibre grain foods promote health and protect against putting on extra kilos and developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.”
The recommended amount of whole grains is three to four servings a day, so what grains should you be eating and how can you incorporate them into your diet without going overboard? Michelle suggests “starting the day with oats or a high-fibre cereal, choosing a whole grain sandwich or sushi for lunch, and enjoying a stir-fry with rice for dinner.” Different grains like “black rice, barley, freekeh, quinoa or kamut” also make for great substitutes to mix up your week night recipes.
Before you start to panic and reject the concept of eating more carbs, Michelle insists that it will NOT lead to weigh gain. Of course, individual dietary and nutrition requirements need to be considered, as no one body is the same, but “research shows that people who eat higher intakes of whole grains and high fibre grain foods have a lower risk of weight gain and obesity in the long term.”
Now, before you go tucking into a large big mac or something of the unhealthy sort, there are particular whole grains that should be restricted or avoided altogether. Things like muffins, cakes and pizza are an obvious no-no, but Michelle says that it is okay to indulge in your favourite dish of white rice, pasta, low fibre cereal or white bread “once a day,” as long as you’re “careful to limit foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients.”
Essentially, the key here is balance and moderation. The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council says the healthiest way to boost the whole grains in your day and take the guess work out is to look for foods labelled ‘high in whole grain’ or ‘very high in whole grain.’ They also recommend checking nutritional standards.
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