06/08/2015 12:14 BST | Updated 05/08/2016 06:59 BST

Wholegrains for Your Whole Health

What if I was to tell you that you might be missing out on a really easy way to cut your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, a spare tyre and even some cancers?

What's more, you don't have to give anything up, change your lifestyle or run around the park for two hours a day to do it - in fact this is actually about eating more! What could be better than that?

If you heard all the news recently about how the Government's advisor's SACN recommended we all need to eat less sugar, you'd be forgiven for not hearing that the same report said that we all need to eat more fibre. This recommendation received very little media attention probably because it's a good news story!

Fibre comes in a range of foods like fruits and veg, pulses as well as nuts and seeds. But it's the fibre in grains like wheat, oats, barley and quinoa that so many of us are missing out on. Either because we don't eat enough of the grains full stop, or when we do eat them we choose refined versions.

Fibre from wholegrains is one of nature's true super foods- As the name suggests, wholegrains are less refined than processed grains. They contain the entire grain rather than having parts of the grain removed in processing. Most of the goodness in grains is found in the outer bran and in the germ. When these parts of the grain are removed, so too is about 75% of the nutrition.

Wholegrains provide:

  • Fibre - both soluble (the type that dissolves in water) and insoluble (the type that doesn't)
  • B vitamins and folic acid
  • Essential fatty acids (omega 3)
  • Protein
  • Antioxidants including vitamin E, selenium
  • Micronutrients like copper
  • Other parts of the plant which may have health benefits

What are the health benefits?

Evidence shows that eating wholegrains regularly can reduce the risk of many common diseases. It is not only the fibre that has health-promoting properties and it seems to be the 'complete package' of nutrients working together that offers protection.

Research suggests that:

The risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes may be up to 30% lower in people who regularly eat wholegrains as part of a low-fat diet and healthy lifestyle

The risk of developing some forms of cancer of the digestive system like bowel cancer may be reduced with higher intakes of wholegrains. The insoluble fibre in wholegrains moves food along more quickly and easily, reducing the time that damaging substances are in contact with the gut wall.

The soluble fibre provides a food source for 'friendly' gut bacteria, helping them to increase and produce substances which are thought to protect the gut wall, such as short-chain fatty acids.

Wholegrains may help in maintaining a healthy weight in turn reduces the risk of diabetes and obesity related cancers.

Now it's going to be pretty tough to reach the recommended 30g of fibre you need each day without eating more whole grains- you'd need to eat a lot of more than 5 a day of fruit and veg to do it and you'd be wading through a mountain of nuts and seeds too- and as for beans and pulses? Well let's not even go there!

By far the easiest way to get the full benefit of fibre is to increase your intake of wholegrains. Having three good wholegrain servings a day should do the trick and these tips will give you loads of scope for change:

When choosing bread and baked products choose wholemeal over white varieties.

  • Choose brown rice and wholegrain pasta more often
  • Barley, oats, rye, quinoa and buckwheat are all widely available - use these grains in baking, at breakfast or as side dishes more often
  • Choose breakfast cereals containing wholegrains like Shredded Wheat, Cheerios, Weetabix, Shreddies and Ready Brek.

A serving of wholegrain is:

  • 1 tablespoon of uncooked oats or 3 tablespoons wholegrain cereals
  • 1 medium slice bread
  • ½ wholemeal tortilla
  • ½ wholemeal pitta
  • 2 rye crisp bread
  • 2 oatcakes
  • 2 heaped tablespoons cooked brown rice
  • 3 tablespoons of wholegrain pasta

So if you want to take one simple step towards a better diet, what could be simpler? Just make a few swaps to some everyday foods, build up your fibre intake slowly. Soon you'll be in better shape on the inside and the outside.