Whole grains have been getting a bad rap lately. And that’s a shame. Because the peer-reviewed literature has shown, time and time again, that wholegrain consumption is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and all-cause mortality.
I do not believe in cutting food groups out of our diet, including the much-maligned grains. If you are celiac or have non-celiac gluten-sensitivity then of course eliminate wheat, barley and other gluten-containing grains. But there are so many other healthy and delicious grains out there, and they should be a part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Whole grains are a good source of B vitamins, and also contain minerals like iron, magnesium and zinc. But most importantly, whole grains are an excellent source of fibre! To minimise cardiovascular disease risk, Australian men are recommended to consume 38g of fibre a day, whilst women are recommended 28g a day. And sadly, the great majority of Australians are falling well short of this target.
We've been urged to choose wholegrain options for decades now. We know refined carbohydrate foods like white bread are less-than-ideal choices for every day. The body treats them much like sugar, so they spike blood glucose and cause insulin to surge, which over time can contribute to insulin resistance.
But one big problem I have is where highly processed foods are incorrectly labelled as "whole grain" or "wholemeal". Those sneaky food companies have managed to be pretty, ummm, flexible (or to put it less politely, downright misleading) about what that means, and sadly, many products labelled as "wholegrain" are not much better than their refined counterparts.
This makes it tough for people who just want to make the best choice for themselves and their families when they're at the supermarket. They purchase these products in good faith believing they have chosen the "healthy" option, but they are still so refined that they will spike blood-sugar and insulin.
So here is a fantastic rule of thumb for you to follow when choosing breads, crackers and other baked goods:
Step 1: Check the label, and focus on the "per 100g" column.
Step 2: Look at the amount of Carbohydrate (total carbohydrate). It will be listed there in grams.
Step 3: Look for the amount of fibre. Again, it will be listed in grams. And here's a pro tip: if fibre isn't listed you can be pretty sure it's basically non-existent in that product!
The ratio of carbohydrate to fibre should not be higher than 10:1. If it is, the product is actually too refined to legitimately be classified as "wholegrain".
Basically, if you are buying a grain-based product like bread, check the carb-to-fibre ratio, and give it a miss if it is more than 10:1. If the product has a carb:fibre raio of 7:1 or lower, it gets the green light.
Given the myriad benefits of fibre, and the fact that we tend to get a LOT of carbohydrate in our diets already, it is helpful to seek out products with the lowest possible carb:fibre ratio.