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Whole Grain Foods

vegan grains sign

It is generally agreed that we need between 6-11 servings of cereal grain foods per day, and at least three of these should be whole grain foods. But why are whole grains so good for us and which foods are considered whole grain?

grain kernel

Whole grains are complex carbohydrates which are packed full of disease fighting vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in the three parts which make up the whole grain:

The bran - which is the protective outer layer and contains a high amount of fibre, thiamine (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3), riboflavin (vitamin B2), magnesium, iron, zinc and phosphorus.

The germ - which is the small embryo of the seed and contains vitamin E, riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), thiamine (vitamin B1), magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc. The germ also contains a small amount of protein and heart healthy fats.

The endosperm - is the bulk of the grain and contains the majority of the protein and carbohydrates of the grain.

Foods which have been made with refined grains lose many of their nutritional qualities (up to 90%) because refined grains are milled and stripped of the bran and the germ. This is done to give the grains a finer and lighter texture and to also improve their shelf life.

A whole grain is any cereal which contains all three parts of the grain such as barley, oats, wheat, rice and spelt.



List of common whole grains:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Brown Rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Spelt
  • Whole Wheat

    The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) recommends between 6-11 servings of grains per day. At least three of these servings should be whole grains:

    One serving could be:

  • 1 slice of wholemeal bread (made with wholegrain flour)
  • 1/2 cup of brown rice
  • 1/2 cup cooked wholegrain cereal
  • 1/2 cup of wholemeal pasta
  • 1/2 a wholemeal pitta bread
  • 1 wholemeal tortilla

    Some more examples of whole grain foods would be - wholegrain bagels, pumpernickel or rye bread, whole grain cereal such as oats, rye crackers, plain popcorn, oatcakes, wholewheat roll, wholewheat waffles and wholegrain noodles.

    When you are choosing your wholegrain product, always check the ingredient list rather than thinking it looks like a wholegrain product. This is because some products are refined products which have been coloured with molasses or caramel to look healthier than they actually are.

    Just to be more confusing where colour is concerned - whole grain foods may also be light in colour, such as those made from oats or white wheat.

    Check the label of the product and if it says 100% whole (wheat, grain), then the product is a whole grain food. The whole grain should be listed as the first ingredient. If the product just says "whole grain (or wheat)" then that doesn't mean the product is a whole grain product as it may only contain a tiny amount of whole grains with the rest of the ingredients made up with refined cereals.

    If it says 100% wheat, that does not mean the product is whole wheat either and could be 100% refined wheat.



    If you have a gluten intolerance then you may want to choose your grains carefully. The good news is that there are several gluten free grains for you to choose from:

      Grains with gluten
    • Wheat, including spelt, kamut, farro and durum; and products like bulgur and semolina
    • Barley
    • Rye
    • Triticale
    • Oats
      Gluten free grains
    • Amaranth
    • Buckwheat
    • Corn
    • Millet
    • Quinoa
    • Rice
    • Sorghum
    • Teff



    Three of these whole grain foods are complete proteins. Protein is an important building block of bodily processes such as building and repairing bodily tissues and making hormones and other chemicals which help to keep us strong and healthy.

    Protein is made out of amino acids. Twelve of these amino acids are made by the body - but another nine (called essential amino acids) need to be obtained by the food that we eat. A complete protein is a protein that contains all the essential amino acids which our bodies cannot make on their own.

    Now, these are easy to get if you are not a vegan because most animal proteins contain complete proteins - but us vegans can still get complete proteins through various plant based foods.

    Amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa are all complete proteins as is soya, and spirulina.

    You can get all your proteins throughout the day by consuming various foods - you do not need to eat them in the same meal.



    Why are whole grains so good for us?

    The reasons why we should eat whole grain foods are quite impressive when it comes to our health. Studies have shown that eating whole grains reduces the risk of stroke, type two diabetes, asthma, colorectal cancer and heart disease. You may also help to reduce gum disease by eating whole grains, have healthier blood pressure levels and better weight management.

    Whole grains (and whole grain foods) provide us with vitamins, minerals and a high amount of antioxidants and other healthy plant based nutrients. Whole grains contain protective antioxidants in amounts near to or above those which are found in fruits and vegetables and also contain some unique antioxidants not found in other foods. Whole grain foods may also help to lower cholesterol levels, and as is the case in all vegan foods, contain no cholesterol whatsoever.

    Refined cereal grains have a higher GI content than whole grains do which means there will be a steep increase in blood sugar levels. Whereas with whole grain foods - which has a lower GI content - this does not happen. Eating whole grain foods will make you feel fuller for longer and help to maintain your weight.




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