Wholegrains are a great addition to a heart healthy diet. Eating them regularly, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, has been linked with a lower risk of developing certain diseases including heart disease.
What are wholegrains?
A ‘wholegrain’ is a grain that contains all parts of the grain:
- the bran – the fibre-rich outer layer
- the endosperm – the middle starchy part
- the germ – the nutrient-rich inner part.
Most of the goodness in grains is found in the outer bran layer and inner germ. When grains are milled, or refined, the bran and germ portions are removed along with the goodness. Many processed cereal foods such as cakes, biscuits, white bread, pastry and white pasta are made from white flour which has had these nutritious parts of the grain removed.
- wholewheat, including spelt and durum wheat
- brown rice and wild rice
- maize (corn)
- bulgur wheat
What are wholegrain products?
Wholegrain products are foods made with grains which have been through some processing, but still have most of their nutrients. Wholegrain products include:
- wholemeal bread, wraps, pittas and chapatti
- wholegrain breakfast cereals
- wholewheat pasta
- rye bread and rye crackers
- oat cakes (reduced or low salt)
- muesli (unsweetened)
- plain popped corn
- wholemeal flour.
The definition of 'wholegrain food' varies from country to country, but most agree that a food product qualifies as a wholegrain if more than half of the ingredients in it are 'wholegrain'.
Watch out for sugar, salt and fat
Some wholegrain products, like crackers and breakfast cereals, can have sugar, salt, fat and saturated fat added to them. Try to choose the product that’s closest to the natural grain and check the labels for salt, sugar and fat.
What is multigrain?
Multigrain is not the same as wholegrain. It means that the product contains more than one type of grain, but it’s not necessarily wholegrain. It’s a good idea to check the labels to make sure the product is wholegrain.
Why eat wholegrains?
Eating wholegrains regularly, as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle, helps to keep us healthy. Diets rich in wholegrains have been associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Eating more wholegrains is a great way to get more fibre into your diet. This is important because many of us don’t eat the recommended 30g of fibre a day.
It is not only the fibre in wholegrains that’s good for us, it seems to be the complete package of nutrients working together that’s beneficial.
How much should I eat?
There is no official recommendation for how much to eat, but most scientists agree that we should eat at least three servings of wholegrain foods every day.
How can I eat more wholegrains?
Swapping refined starchy foods for wholegrain varieties is a simple way to boost your wholegrain intake. For example, swap white bread for wholemeal bread, white rice for brown rice, and white pasta for wholemeal pasta.
Look for the word ‘whole’ in front of the product name to help you, for example, wholewheat pasta and wholemeal bread. You can also check the ingredients list and make sure the grains are high up or first.
The most common grains that can be eaten as wholegrains are wheat, oats, barley, rye and rice.
Choose foods from the list to help you eat more wholegrains.
Type of food
What are some wholegrain options?
What counts as a portion?
|Breakfast cereals – go for unsweetened options||
Unsweetened wholewheat cereals such as: Weetabix or Shredded Wheat, Branflakes, Oat flakes, Puffed wholegrain cereals, Muesli with no added sugar
1 heaped tablespoon (16g) uncooked oats
3 - 4 tablespoons (40g) of breakfast cereal
Granary or wholemeal bread
Wholemeal tortilla or pitta bread
Wholemeal chapatti, made without ghee
1 slice or 1 small roll
1 small tortilla or pitta, or half a standard one
1 small chapatti
Half a bagel
|Crackers and snacks||
Oat cakes (choose reduced or low salt options)
Wholegrain rice cakes
Plain popped corn
2 oat cakes, rice cakes or crispbreads
About 16g of popped corn (a few handfuls)
|Pasta and rice||
2 – 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked pasta or rice
2 – 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked grains
|Flour||100% wholewheat flour||1 heaped tablespoon (16g)|
What about other healthy carbs?
Potatoes with the skin on, yam and plantains are also sources of fibre and energy. Keeping the skin on potatoes and small yams means they keep more of their fibre, vitamins and minerals.
There is a lot of confusion about carbs, but carbohydrates can be a great source of energy and nutrients for a heart healthy diet.