On the occasion of World Cereal Day on March 7, Joumana Dabbagh, Nutritionist at Nestlé Middle East explains why we need to embrace more wholegrain foods for a healthy diet and dispels some of the myths surrounding it. A recent review commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that fibre in ‘good’ carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread and oats has a protective effect on our bodies.
Eating fibre-rich foods, found in wholegrain cereals, pasta and bread as well as nuts and pulses, will cut people’s chances of heart disease and early death, according to the landmark review1. The review recommended that we should be eating at least 25g to 29g of fibre a day, with indications that over 30g is even better. Most people in the world manage less than 20g.
Among those who ate the most fibre, the study found a 15-30% reduction in deaths from all causes such as Type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, as well as those related to the heart, compared with those eating the least fibre.
In a comment piece in the medical journal Lancet, Prof Gary Frost from Imperial College London said the analysis “provides compelling evidence that dietary fibre and whole grain are major determinants of numerous health outcomes and should form part of public health policy”.
The Whole Grain survey in the Middle East
However, despite the important role of wholegrains in maintaining good health there is a significant confusion among consumers in the Middle East about what whole grains are and how much should be consumed daily. While almost eight in 10 people (80%) believe it is important to eat whole grain, more people (86%) admit they don’t know how much they should consume. Half of those surveyed think they eat enough.
A study of over 2,000 people in UAE and KSA conducted by Cereal Partners Worldwide, the producer of Nestlé Breakfast Cereals, suggested that part of the confusion may be due to people not knowing how much wholegrain to consume or where to find whole grain, with almost four in 10 (38%) saying they think people don’t know what foods contain it.
Perhaps surprisingly, more than one in 4 (25-32%) think seeds and nuts contain whole grain. More than a quarter of people believe it is typically found in white bread. In fact, none of these foods contain whole grain, which is commonly found in whole grain breakfast cereals, brown rice, whole grain pasta, wholemeal bread and porridge oats.
The research also finds that one-half of those questioned (50%) think that people don’t eat enough whole grain because they do not understand the benefits of doing so.
Positive messages cited by participants in UAE and KSA include that whole grain can be high in fibre 64% and 53% respectively and good for digestion (55% on average) but the broader benefits are not as widely known. Half of those who were interviewed believe it is good for the heart and less than a quarter on average think that it can help reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes.
How to incorporate more wholegrains in your daily diet?
Switching to whole grain is easy – and tasty too!
The good news is, most grain-based foods have a whole grain equivalent:
• White bread to whole grain bread – often known as ‘wholewheat’ or ‘wholemeal’ bread – perfect for lunchboxes!
• White rice to whole grain rice – this includes brown rice, brown basmati rice and wild rice (which is actually a wild grass) – always nice to put a little colour on the plate, and it’s delicious with vegetables.
• Pasta to whole grain pasta or ‘brown pasta’ – tastes yummy!
• Pancakes to whole grain pancakes – how many children don’t like pancakes? And they’ll love these.
Help children to choose brown!
Whole grain foods taste great, but the brown colour of some of them can take a bit of getting used to. Children can be suspicious when their pasta, bread or rice is a different colour than normal. With a little time, they’ll get used to it – and here are some tips that could help.
• Mix white pasta with brown (brown pasta takes longer to cook, so start cooking it and add the white pasta later).
• Gradually reduce the amount of white pasta. They’ll be all brown in no time!
• Sprinkle white breadcrumbs over cooked brown rice – making it whiter and crunchily delicious.
• Make sandwiches with one slice of wholemeal bread and one slice of white – a fun way to get the whole grain into their lunchboxes!
Good to Know - Brown foods: Are they necessarily whole grain?
Before you rush off to buy whole grain foods, we need to tell you some ‘brown’ foods are not whole grain at all. They may just be brown because of added ingredients like caramel. So when you see descriptions like ‘multi-grain’, ‘high-fibre’, ‘stone-ground’, ‘100% wheat’ or ‘seven-grain’ – they do not mean the foods are necessarily made with whole grain. Read the label to be sure, and look out for the word ‘whole’. If the product is made with ‘whole grain’, you know you’re getting the real deal. And if whole grain is at the top of the list of ingredients, it’s more than likely to be rich in whole grains. (If you’re buying fresh bread from a bakery, there may be no label, so best ask the baker for a whole grain loaf.)
Wishing you a wholesome world cereal day!