Daniel Davy: It's time to go against the actual grain
We have been told by health-promoting organisations for decades that we should consume copious amounts of wholegrains in our diet for energy, fibre, micronutrients and to reduce the risk of various diseases.
According to the Department of Health, we should consume a minimum of six (but up to 12!) servings of food from the bread/ cereal/ potato categories daily, and choose wholegrain varieties where possible.
The marketing around wholegrain foods has been such that you can now easily find wholegrain biscuits, cereals and snack bars with the “wholegrain” label claim in most shops and food service ventures.
These foods are suggested to be “healthy” by virtue of their wholegrain content. However, as most of you will know, the majority of these products are laden with sugar and processed fats, and should actually be avoided rather than included in your diet.
Again, this is a case of not being fooled by the fact that even though a food product may contain one valuable component, there are many other ingredients in the product that are best avoided.
Journalist and food writer Michael Pollan offers salient advice in this regard. He says: “If you’re concerned about your health, you should probably avoid products
that make health claims. Why? Because a health claim on a food product is a strong indication it’s not really food, and food is what you want to eat.”
Regular readers will know that, rather than eating food “products”, I am a firm believer that you can get all you need from an approach based around fresh, whole, minimally-processed foods including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish and quality meats.
In relation to grains, there are a number of options that can be included as part of a healthy diet. Moreover, these foods are particularly beneficial if you are an athlete or regularly active as many grains are rich sources of carbohydrate.
While there has been a backlash against grains in recent years as a gluten-free craze has emerged, there are several healthy grains and grain-like foods that provide slow, sustained release of energy, lots of fibre, micronutrients including B vitamins, essential amino acids, and, in some cases, disease-fighting antioxidants.
Oats are probably the best-known healthy grain. Plain oats trump any breakfast product claiming to be “wholegrain”, as they are minimally processed and have nothing added.
The following examples might seem unconventional, but can be easily found in local health food shops and in whole foods section in most supermarkets.
Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) has the appearance of grain but is actually a herb and not a true grain.
Unlike most grains such as wheat and rice, quinoa is a complete protein source (contains all essential amino acids) and is a good source of iron, magnesium, B vitamins, and fibre.
Quinoa is a highly versatile grain that has a slightly nutty flavour that can be used to make a wide variety of healthy dishes. It is particularly popular with athletes because of its high carbohydrate content, complemented by the complete protein profile, making it an excellent alternative to the athletes’ all-time favourite, pasta.
Buckwheat is the seed of a flowering fruit that is related to rhubarb. It is naturally gluten-free and, despite its name, is unrelated to wheat and all other grasses in the wheat family.
Buckwheat is a good source of manganese, magnesium and fibre, but importantly is also naturally rich in protein and contains all eight essential amino acids. Buckwheat is also a source of flavonoids, particularly rutin.
Again, due to being a good source of carbohydrate, buckwheat is an ideal food to use on days you are active, or for athletes carbohydrate-loading in preparation for competition.
Once considered a weed, amaranth is now known for its rich nutritional value and being naturally gluten-free.
It is rich in fibre, magnesium, calcium, and a great source of the amino acid lysine and other essential amino acids, therefore making it ideal for vegetarian or vegan meals.
Amaranth is also a source of iron and calcium, two nutrients that are important for vegans. Further, it is an especially high-quality source of plant protein.
Wild rice is a type of aquatic grass seed that naturally grows near lakes and rivers. Contrary to the name, wild rice is not actually a member of the rice family, although it is a grain-producing grass.
It is gluten-free and is a great choice for people with coeliac disease or those who have gluten sensitivity.
Wild rice can be used similarly to other varieties of rice with curries, as a side dish or in salads. It has more flavour and a slightly different texture to plain white rice varieties, which makes it a nice alternative to traditional rice.
Millet is technically a seed but is usually classified as a wholegrain. It is low in starch and a good source of the minerals phosphorous, manganese and magnesium. Like the other foods listed, millet is relatively high in protein and is a good source of vitamins and minerals,
If you are looking for some recipes incorporating many of the grain alternatives above, check out @FoodFlicker on Twitter or FoodFlicker on Facebook for some great meal ideas