Whole grains are the heart of a healthy cereal
By: admin On: 25 April 2022
Whole grains Whole grains are unrefined grains that still have their natural structure
If whole grains are, quite literally, the heart of a healthy breakfast then it makes sense to choose a healthy cereal to start your day. In our article 'what is a healthy breakfast' we discovered that a nutritionally sound breakfast is made up of a portion of wholegrains, a portion of dairy, and a portion of fruit. In other words; healthy breakfast cereal.
But what are wholegrains exactly? Why are they so good for you? Let's find out, beginning with the obvious question...
...what are cereal grains?
Grains, or cereal grains, are the edible seeds of certain grasses. In Australia, wheat is the most commonly grown grain followed closely by oats and rice. In many parts of the world, rice is more widespread than wheat. Other grains include rye, barley, corn, millet, and sorghum. There are many different varieties of wheat, with ancient strains such as spelt, emmer, and eikorn, regaining popularity.
Some other foods come under the heading of grains yet are not actually true grains despite being nutritionally similar and used in the same way. All of these grains, pseudo or otherwise, are used in healthy breakfast cereals.
What are whole grains?
Whole grains are unrefined grains that have their natural structure, and therefore their nutrients, intact. Refined grains, such as those found in white bread and pasta, have been stripped of their nutritious parts.
Whole grains are made up of three layers; bran, endosperm, and germ. The tough outer skin is the bran. Bran is full of fibre and also contains vitamins and minerals. Under this fibrous layer lies the endosperm. This is the starchy part of the grain that has little in the way of nutritional value beyond the carbohydrate energy it provides. As we see in our nutritional primer on superfoods, carbohydrate is an essential nutrient yet has more value when it comes with the rest of the plant parts that nature provided. If you want to understand more about nutritional value then this article 'what are superfoods' is a great introduction to the basics.
At the core of the whole grain lies the germ, the nutrient packed part from which the plant grows. Think germination, right? It makes sense that this is the nutritional store of the plant. The germ is filled with vitamins, healthy fats and valuable phytochemicals.
Why are grains good for you?
As we have seen, whole grains have more nutritional value than refined grains. But what does this mean in terms of health benefits for us?
Bran - the benefits
The fibre in bran slows down the breakdown of starch, which leads to better blood sugar control. That means steady blood sugar levels without the spikes or slumps. Fibre also helps to lower harmful cholesterol, and helps to move food through the bowel.
Bran is also rich in minerals such as iron, copper, zinc and magnesium, as well as a wide variety of beneficial phytonutrients. We look at these in more detail a little later in this article.
Germ - the benefits
As the energy source of a growing plant, the germ contains energy dense unsaturated fatty acids such as Omega-3. Essential fatty acids play a key role in our biological functions, not least of which is the uptake and absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Vitamin E is one of these and it is no accident that grains happen to contain lots of it. Often known as the beauty vitamin because of its role in skin health, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. It also plays a role in heart health, lipid balance, hormones, fertility and immune health. Incidentally, milling of flour can cause up to an 80% loss of this vital nutrient.
As well as powerful phytonutrients that can vary from grain to grain, germ is also a rich source of B vitamins. This group of vitamins plays a number of important roles in the body, yet are mainly concerned with metabolism and maintenance of healthy cells.
Endosperm - the benefits
The starchy part of the grain isn't all bad, it is just better as nature intended. Aside from the energy value of its carbohydrate content, the endosperm can contain some protein with vitamin B and minerals in small amounts.
Whole grains in breakfast cereals
Here's a closer look at some of the whole grains in our breakfast cereals, and the specific benefits of each.
Quinoa is a pseudograin. Easy to digest, and gluten free, it is a complete source of protein with all the essential amino acids that are vital for tissue growth and repair. Rich in the beneficial fatty acids oleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid, quinoa can help lower LDL cholesterol. A good source of antioxidant vitamin E, it also contains the antioxidant flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol (both examples of phytochemicals).
Spelt is a true grain. A variety of ancient wheat, it is high in fibre and has more protein than modern wheat. It is also said to be easier to digest than modern wheat, and although not gluten-free it does contain less gluten.
Spelt is high in fibre, and is rich in soluble fibre that helps lower LDL cholesterol and blood sugar regulation. It is a good source of B vitamins, in particular B3 which aids in energy metabolism and the synthesis of fatty acids. The mineral profile of spelt includes copper, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus.
Rice is a true grain. It is also gluten free. Brown rice is the unrefined whole grain, whilst white rice has had the husk (or bran) polished away. Rice contains phytosterols that have shown to help with hormonal balance.
Rice has a rich mineral profile that includes selenium, which has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, and magnesium which can help to lower the risk of diabetes.
Oats are a true grain. They are considered to be a true superfood and as such form the basis of many healthy breakfast cereals. A nutrient powerhouse, oats contain more soluble fibre than any other grain. Easy to digest, they also contain a natural sedative.
Barley is a true grain. High in fibre, it is far better at controlling blood sugar than wheat is. Barley is also considered a prebiotic as it helps to feed good bacteria in the gut. Helpful for lowering LDL cholesterol, barley is a good source of magnesium and manganese.
Buckwheat is a pseudograin. Like barley, buckwheat is a prebiotic that helps feed good bacteria in the gut. Packed with both insoluble and soluble fibre, buckwheat is also a good source of amino acids. Gluten free, it contains the plant chemicals quercetin and rutin; both powerful antioxidant flavonoids.
Triticale is a true grain. A hybrid of wheat and rye, it is higher in fibre and protein than either and offers better blood sugar control. With a rich mineral profile, triticale is said to be good for the circulation with its combination of iron, copper and folic acid contributing to healthy red blood cells.
We will be looking at triticale in more detail in an upcoming article.
Remember - whole grains foods are not always healthy
Including foods that contain whole grains is an excellent start, but just because it contains whole grains doesn't necessarily make it a healthy choice. Many of the foods that we buy are marketed as wholegrain but contain enough refined sugars to cancel any health benefits out. We recommend that you always check the label and take the other ingredients, particularly sugar, into consideration. Breakfast cereal manufacturers can be especially guilty of over emphasising the wholegrain content of products. You may find our article on low sugar cereals useful.