Wholegrains, Wholemeal, Freekeh and Farro. What are they all about?

Wholemeal and wholegrain; freekeh and farro; sorghum and spelt; chickpea and brown pasta. What on earth do these words mean; are they a healthy choice and is the social-media fuss worthy? Here we explain a few key points and what to look for when buying grain and cereal based products.

In Australia common grains include wheat, oats, rice maize, barley and rye. Grains such as spelt, freekeh, farro, millet and sorghum are also becoming more widely available and more readily enjoyed. In their whole-form these foods have been shown to have strong benefits to health including weight management and a reduced risk of some cancers. Like many things in our food supply, excessive processing and changing these whole-foods can strip away much of the goodness and diminish these positive health effects. That’s why it’s important to be able to recognise the difference between whole- and refined-grains and aim to include mainly wholegrains in the daily diet.

Pic credit: Vivian Au

Pic credit: Vivian Au

What to look for when buying grain and cereal products.

One of the main factors to consider in making a good choice for a bread or cereal product is that it is a WHOLEGRAIN. What this means is that it has been made by using the WHOLE-grain (outer bran + endosperm + germ). This is the “power house” of the grain where things such as fibre, protein, healthy fats and a range of vitamins, trace minerals and antioxidants live. By eating the WHOLE-grain all of this good stuff remains.

Pic credit: Vivian Au

Pic credit: Vivian Au

Other things to look for are the addition of vitamins and minerals. For many people (particularly kids) it can be hard to eat enough iron each day. Many breads and cereal products have iron added to them and can be a valuable contribution to meeting daily iron requirements. Look out for words such as “Minerals (iron)” in the ingredients list or check nutrition information panels to see if your choice might be a good source of iron. Iodine and folate are also commonly added to grain-based items.

Wholegrain versus wholemeal. What’s the difference?

To make matters slightly more confusing, differences exists between different wholegrain products. Often, wholegrain breads use refined/white flour as the main ingredient and sprinkle in some wholegrains. Wholemeal breads, however, more often use whole wheat flour as the main wheat ingredient, and so will have more nutrients than their counterpart.  Overall wholemeal OR wholegrain breads tend to be a better choice compared with white varieties.

How much is enough?

Australia’s Dietary Guidelines recommend people ‘eat a variety of grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high fibre varieties, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley.’  Grains are recommended because they are the leading source of a range of essential nutrients as well as fibre in the Australian diet.

The amount of breads and cereals needed depends on age, sex and activity levels. For most 2-11-year old’s 4 servings per day is a good amount (a little more for boys); 5-6 serves per day for children aged 12- 14 years old and about 7 serves for most 14- 17-year olds. This is when a serving is considered 1 slice of bread, 1/2cup cooked pasta, rice or other grain or about 2/3 cup cereal

Getting more wholegrains into the day.

Simple swaps, meal-planning and some smart grocery shopping can all make it easy to get more wholegrains into the day

Wholegrains as part of meals

  • Select to brown bread or wraps. A multi-coloured sandwich (i.e. 1 x white, 1 x wholegrain slice) can be a good way to transition for those kids reluctant to trial something new

  • Use wholemeal pita or Lebanese bread for base of pizza in place of pre-made pizza base.

  • Add wholegrains such as brown, wild rice, wholemeal pasta, or quinoa to stews or casseroles

  • Use brown rice in place of white rice for salads, hot meals and home-made sushi

  • Select chickpea, wholemeal or legume pasta varieties for meals and salads

Wholegrains as snacks

  • Popcorn- make your own with no added salt. Use cinnamon or even chilli flakes to flavour

  • Baked or toasted wholemeal Lebanese bread- perfect with dips or made as “chips”

  • Wholemeal crackers such as Vita-weet – with ricotta + jam, natural peanut butter, vegemite or cheese

  • Baked beans on wholegrain toast- not just a great breakfast but snack too

  • Brown-rice sushi- can be made up to 2 day in advance

  • Smoothie made with fruit, a crushed Weetbix or tablespoon of oats and your favourite milk.

Helping you kids to accept wholegrains

It can be difficult for children to try new foods. This includes wholegrains and foods that might be more nutritious than their preferences. Often telling them of the benefits of increased fibre and “reduced risk of cardiovascular disease” does not quite reach their little hearts and the struggle for acceptance can be great. As always, it’s best to guide and show them how to eat well, support them with repeated exposures to new foods and always serve a meal that contains something that they will accept (even if it’s in a small amount). Practice patience and persistence and add in a few helpful words too “This bread is delicious. It makes my tummy feel good!”

For more information and great ideas on how to make nourishing grains and legumes as part of your daily diet, visit Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council! or contact us for more personalised advise and information for supporting your family.