You often read about “low carb” diets and how we should be cutting back on carbohydrates but hold on a minute, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Highly processed carbohydrates such as white bread, cakes, biscuits and sugary drinks are often referred to as having empty calories. They provide calories for our body to use, but that’s it. There is very little of the good stuff – vitamins, minerals, fibre, etc. They also don’t give us a feeling of fullness. Having meals and snacks based on these foods will mean our bodies are missing out on vital nutrients. It also makes it likely we will crave more sugary foods and may cause us to overeat because we never feel full.
On the flip side, wholegrain carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals, brown rice, oats, barley, wheat germ, millet and quinoa, not only provide us with calories but also many nutrients like dietary fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E and healthy fats.
Wholegrains are important for wellbeing. They can reduce our chances of getting heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If you have diabetes they help stabilise blood sugars. They also help maintain a healthy weight by giving us a feeling of fullness so we don’t overeat. Wholegrains are high in dietary fibre. Fibre feeds the good bacteria in our gut and prevents constipation.
We know that older New Zealanders don’t have a high daily intake of dietary fibre: 16-17 grams for women and 20-21 grams for men (65 years +), whereas 30g is a good target to improve health. Here’s a few tips for helping you up your intake.
How to up your wholegrains
- New Zealanders get most of their wholegrains from bread and breakfast cereals, so it’s important to look for whole grains and check the fibre content on these products. Aim for more than 5g dietary fibre per 100g when you are checking the label. Swap white bread for wholemeal or wholegrain. If you’re comparing two cereals or breads that you enjoy, go for the one with more dietary fibre.
- Oats make a great breakfast choice, either as porridge, muesli or soaked with added yoghurt and fruit. See our recipes for some new breakfast ideas.
- Try brown rice instead of white rice. If you live alone or with one other, you can now buy handy pouches that take just 90 seconds in the microwave. Or make a larger amount and freeze in portions. Brown rice salad is a lovely way to enjoy this nutty grain.
- Mix and mingle your grains – try bulgur (cracked wheat) in a salad, add a sprinkle of wheat germ to your morning porridge or a barley-based soup in the winter.
- Make changes that you enjoy. There’s no point forcing yourself to eat porridge if you don’t like porridge!
- Change what you can manage. If you find you can’t chew like you used to, choose softer options like well-cooked barley or softer wholemeal bread. Cooking does not destroy fibre so high-fibre foods don’t have to be rough.
- Make changes slowly to give your body a chance to adjust. Drink plenty of fluid. Increasing wholegrains without added fluid can cause a sore gut.
- There’s no single food or food group that is a magic bullet for health. Up your wholegrains but also enjoy plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, oily fish and reduced-fat milk and milk products. Variety is the spice of life!