Showcasing the Mediterranean diet and Asian diet  









Refined and Unrefined Grains

When it comes to buying grain-based foods you'll find there are two distinct categories: white and whole grain (also known as "wholemeal"). White pasta or whole grain pasta; white rice or brown (whole grain) rice; and white bread or whole grain bread are some examples.

What's the difference between white and whole grain varieties? Well, whole grains are just that—the whole grain. An unrefined kernel of grain is actually made up of three layers: the germ (innermost layer), the endosperm (central core) and the bran (protective outer layer). Refined (white) grains, on the other hand, have had their bran and germ removed in the refining process.

Although the germ and bran layers make up less than 20 percent of the actual volume of a kernel of grain, two thirds of the fiber, and many of the vitamins and minerals are located in these layers.

So nutritionally speaking, white grain products are inferior to whole grain products. But does this make white grain products unhealthy? Well, think about it this way. If you took an apple and peeled it, would the apple suddenly become unhealthy? Sure, a peeled apple won't be as good for you as an unpeeled apple because lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals are stored in the skin of the apple, but this doesn't make what's left unhealthy.

The same is true with grains. White grain foods may not be as healthy for you as whole grain foods, but they're certainly not an unhealthy food. What is left when the germ and bran has been removed is the endosperm, or central core of the grain, which contains energy-giving carbohydrates as well as protein and B vitamins. And the endosperm still contains a third of the health-promoting fiber found in a grain's kernel.

But what about the rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin-spiking effects of refined grain foods like white pasta and rice? Actually, pasta is made from a special type of wheat that has a dense compact structure and is slowly converted to blood sugar, so it doesn’t have the insulin-spiking effect that many people think. Rice, if it’s eaten by itself, can have an impact on blood sugar and insulin levels, but in Asian cultures rice is eaten with other foods which digest slowly such as fish and poultry, fibrous vegetables and healthy fats such as peanut oil. This means the overall meal doesn’t cause a spike in insulin levels.

So, white grain products aren't bad for you at all (unless they're combined with sugar or bad fats or cooked with unhealthy ingredients). In fact, in most parts of Asia and the Mediterranean white rice and pasta have been more popular than whole grain varieties for many generations.

At the same time, it's clear that whole grains are very important because of the valuable nutrients they provide. The solution? Eat regular pasta and rice, and when it comes to breads and breakfast cereals opt mostly for whole grain varieties. This way you'll ensure you get a rich mix of nutrients.