Grain based products like these are staple foods right around the world and are in actual fact our most important source of energy from food, so are grains ‘healthy’? In short the answer is a resounding YES, but as with everything it’s the type and how much of it that is the key.
So, what is a grain?
Grains are small hard seeds, typically from grasses, that are harvested for consumption as food. We’re all familiar with grains such as wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, rye and spelt as well as new comers like teff. These are all members of the “cereal” family and are what we tend to associate the most with the word “grain”.
There is also a subcategory of grains – pseudocereal grains – which include quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and chia, or as I like to think of them “health food store” grains. These four foods are very much in vogue these days and can be found in abundance in health food gurus’ blogs and social media feeds, with these bloggers typically describing them as “healthier” alternatives to the more common grains like wheat and corn.
So what is good for you and what might be less so?
First and foremost, the most important thing to know about grains is whether they are whole grains or refined grains.
Whole grains – oats, brown or rye bread, wild rice, and foods marked “whole grain” – are much better nutritionally for your body because they have retained their fibre and nutrients. This is what makes them a nourishing food source. A whole grain is just that – it has all the parts of the grain as it would occur in nature.
Refined grains on the other hand – white bread, breakfast cereals, white rice, biscuits, crackers – are what we would term as processed. These have been stripped down, having gone through many procedures intended to lengthen their shelf life. Refined grains are often seen as empty calories.
Those pseudocereal grains mentioned earlier (quinoa, chia, buckwheat, amaranth) are whole grains, so they are definitely nutritious and high on the “good for you” scale.
The secret to living healthily (read: great skin, healthy and stable weight and feeling generally good about yourself) is eating a diet that is based on foods that have not been processed. If you have a biscuit here and there that is fine and even healthy too. Becoming obsessed by food is what is not healthy.
The most sensible way to approach grains is to eat whole grains – think brown over white and go for “health food store style” where possible. Make sure they are just one part of your diet. Don’t overdo it with grains and don’t under do it either. Plus, lots of vegetables and water at all times.
It’s a cliché, but balance truly is the key.
Jessica is the founder of healthy eating restaurant, ETHOS, located in central London.