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Wholegrains - A Whole Lot of Goodness

Digestion, Heart, General | August 10, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

cholesterol, bowel, Digestion

Wholegrains - A Whole Lot of Goodness

If you’ve been told to eat more wholegrains but aren’t exactly sure what they are – let us explain. Wholegrains are any type of cereal such as wheat, oats or rye, that retains the whole part of the grain. This improves the nutritional value by increasing the amount of fibre, vitamins and minerals in the final product.

Why are wholegrains so healthy?

The answer is simple. Including wholegrains in the diet have been linked to lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and diverticular disease.

Grains explained

Also called cereals, grains or wholegrains are small, dry, hard seeds of grasses that are cultivated for food. A grain consists of three layers:

Bran—this is the outer layer of a grain that is rich in fibre, B vitamins, fats and minerals. The role of the bran is to protect the grain.

Germ—the inner layer that is rich in nutrients such as antioxidants, B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, protein and fats. The germ is the grains core and has the capability of sprouting into a new plant.

Endosperm—this makes up the bulk of the kernel. It is where the carbohydrates reside with some vitamins and minerals.  

Often the endosperm is all that’s used when grains are refined, i.e. white bread.

Wholegrain refers to when all three layers of the grain are used.

Types of grains

Examples of grains include:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oats
  • Spelt
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Triticale

These grains can be made into popular foods such as breakfast cereals, bread, porridge, crackers, popcorn, biscuits and pasta.

Pseudo cereals

Although technically not a grain, pseudo cereals can still provide the same benefits of wholegrains.

A pseudo cereal is the term used to describe a plants that are not cereal grasses, which have either seeds or fruits and are prepared like a grain.

Examples of pseudo cereals include:

  • Amaranth
  • Chia seeds
  • Teff
  • Buckwheat
  • Millet

Refined grains

In contrast to wholegrains, refined grains are those that have been milled to have the bran and germ layer removed, leaving only the endosperm. This gives the final product a finer texture and an extended shelf life. Unfortunately, while many people prefer the taste of refined grains the refining process removes many of the nutrients in the grain such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Examples of refined grains include white rice, white bread and white flour. These refined grains are found in many processed foods such as pizza, desserts, pastries, biscuits and crackers.

Why are wholegrains so healthy?Consuming more than half of your grains as refined grains instead of wholegrains increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and overall mortality.

When you eat refined grains they cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. This is because they generally have a higher glycaemic index rating in comparison to wholegrains.

Heavily processed refined grains such as pastries, biscuits and waffles are examples of high glycaemic index (GI) foods and usually have extra salt, fat and sugar added into the final product.
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The benefits of wholegrains

Weight maintenance

Consuming wholegrains can help keep you in a healthy weight range and reduce abdominal fat. When you consume foods that are rich in fibre, they make you feel full for longer—helping your body to naturally control food intake. Wholegrains are lower in calories, have a lower GI rating and are full of nutrients important for overall health.

Healthy blood sugars

Diets high in wholegrains are associated with a 20-30% reduction in risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This can be attributed to a variety of wholegrain components—notably dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Most phytochemicals function as antioxidants and have the potential to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation which are implicated in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes. 

Healthy heart

Having a high fibre diet and eating wholegrains have been shown to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. One of the risk factors for heart disease is high cholesterol levels. Wholegrains are rich in soluble and insoluble forms of fibre which help to reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood stream. Beta glucan is an example of a soluble fibre found in oats which studies have shown can reduce cholesterol levels.

Bowel health

Eating high fibre foods such as wholegrains assists in the movement of food through the digestive tract, preventing constipation. Fibre is also a food source for beneficial bacteria which reside in our gut and are important for overall health and wellbeing.

Studies have found that consuming wholegrains decreases your risk of developing colorectal cancer and diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis is a condition where pouches form in the intestinal wall—allowing food to get stuck and harmful bacteria to multiply.
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Recommended serves

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating recommends adults eat approximately 4 to 6 serves of cereal foods daily, most of which should be wholegrain.

Reading labels

When purchasing wholegrains look for words such as wholegrain or wholemeal. Usually wholegrain products are darker in colour and have a denser, grainier texture. Be careful when purchasing bread as you might have to read the label. Multigrain bread usually contains white flour with other grains added. Look for a wholemeal multigrain bread to make sure you are getting the good stuff. Wholemeal products may not be 100% wholemeal and contain some refined flours and this should be reflected on the label.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Belobrajdic DPBird AR. The potential role of phytochemicals in wholegrain cereals for the prevention of type-2 diabetes. Nutr J. 2013 May 16;12:62

Cho SS, et al. Consumption of cereal fibre, mixtures of whole grains and bran, and whole grains and risk reduction in type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Aug;98(2):594-619

Harland JIGarton LE. Whole-grain intake as a marker of healthy body weight and adiposity. Public Health Nutr. 2008 Jun;11(6):554-63

Aune D, et al. Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2016 Jun 14;353:i2716

Whitehead A, et al. Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat β-glucan: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Dec;100(6):1413-21

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