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The Grain Debate: Friend or Foe?

In recent years, carbohydrates and grains have been unfairly given a bad wrap (pardon the pun!).

We’ve seen the rise and fall of the paleo diet and the ‘keto’ diet seems to be gaining in popularity again (even though it’s just the old Atkins diet rebranded).

Besides life being a little bit less enjoyable (who wants to cut bread and pasta out forever?), completely removing ‘carbs’ from your diet is unnecessary and may even be harmful to your health. For example, the paleo diet has now been shown to cause higher levels of a biomarker linked to cardiovascular disease. (1)

High fibre, wholegrain carbohydrates also help our microbiome by feeding our healthy gut bugs. Long term, cutting these healthy carbs means losing specific types of fibre and resistant starch, which could ‘starve out’ important types of bacteria in our gut and may have negative effects on our heart, brain, skin and immune system.

However, this doesn’t mean all carbohydrate foods equally improve our health. Eating too many highly processed grains can also cause a fibre deficiency with negative impacts on your gut health and risk of diseases. These types of carbohydrates are also often the ones high in added salt and sugar.

The main thing to be aware of is choosing options that are ‘whole’ grains so that they still contain all the beneficial vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and low-GI carbohydrates whilst being naturally low in sugar. Examples include rolled oats, barley, wholemeal pasta, grainy wholemeal breads and brown rice.

Choosing these more often than processed varieties (like white bread or white pasta) will give you more energy, better concentration levels and keep you satisfied for longer after a meal. It can also reduce your risk of inflammatory diseases, heart attack, diabetes, dementia and lower cholesterol levels.

Here’s some simple swaps you can make to include smarter carbohydrates in your day:

  • swap from white bread to a wholemeal, wholegrain option

  • try using wholemeal pasta in place of white pasta

  • porridge, muesli or cereals that are low in sugar and high in fibre make a great breakfast choice

  • choose grainy crackers as a snack instead of white options

  • use brown rice and quinoa as an accompaniment or in salads

  • add pearl barley or quinoa to soups

  • use wholemeal flour in recipes

For a list of my recommended ‘Healthy Choice’ products, click here.


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