We are often asked what constitutes ‘whole grains’, which is a big part of the Mediterranean diet and healthy eating in general.
In the good old days before the globalisation and industrialisation of food, whole grains were more abundant and the go-to ingredient for the basis of a meal. For example, wheat, barley, oats and buckwheat (and other types in the more recent years) were readily available and very economical in their unprocessed form.
In the Mediterranean countries, such as Cyprus, Greece and Italy, these grains are still found in abundance and can be bought in large quantities from local markets and most shops.
In the UK, one may need to go to a ‘health’ shop, or a specialist shop to buy most of these grains in their original form; at a premium price. In general, the standard supermarkets sell products of these grains in their refined, or processed form. Examples are white flour, white couscous, white rice and white pasta. They are easily found and inexpensive, hence why many of us consume these instead of fuelling our bodies with their wholesome, or natural form.
Whole grains are packed with nutrients including protein, B vitamins, antioxidants and trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper and magnesium). Unsurprisingly, a diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer. Lastly, because of their high fibre content, whole grains can aid in weight loss.
Therefore, it is wiser to buy grains in their natural state as much as possible. And nowadays, with people becoming better informed about healthful foods, authentic whole grains are gradually becoming more widespread. One simply has to know where to look for them in the supermarket! Examples of the grains are:
- Wheat in these forms: spelt, durum, farro, emmer
- Wild rice (black, red, etc)
- Barley (not pearl)
How to cook them? Not many things are easier: just boil them in water (according to the instructions on the packet) and then add to salads, stews or curries. And with the government’s latest guidelines to increase our fibre intake, we are well on our way there!