The Wholefood Approach
Wholegrains are an important part of a highly nutritious diet. This is because they are full of excellent nutrients that our bodies need to function at 100%.
There is a wide range of wholegrains such as brown rice (plus red and black varieties), wild rice, oats, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, pasta, couscous, teff and the list goes on. Wholegrains are the perfect complement to many meals and are super easy to cook.
Wholegrains vs refined grains
The difference between wholegrains and refined grains is that refined grains have gone through a process to remove some part of the food which leaves you with a more processed product and less nutrients. An example would be rice. When rice is harvested it is brown, however when the rice goes through a process in which the bran and germ is removed, which is the most nutritious part of rice, it then becomes white rice. This means that whilst white rice has some nutrients, brown rice has way more as it is unrefined.
Other refined grains include any white version of a grain, such as rice, bread, pasta, crackers, as well as cornmeal and noodles. When selecting grains, it is advised to choose the whole versions of the grain, ie, brown rice, wholemeal couscous, brown basmati rice, brown rice noodles. This will ensure you are consuming the grains with the most nutrients.
Are all grains carbohydrates?
Things can get a little confusing with grains though, because many people think of them as only carbohydrates, which leads to some people avoiding them because of the belief that carbs cause weight gain. This is problematic in two ways – the first is that carbohydrates do not lead to weight gain exclusively and the other is that grains are not only carbohydrates, but also contain protein, fibre and a long list of other amazing nutrients. Therefore if you were to avoid grains because of the fear of carbs, you are forgoing a whole range of incredible nutrients that our bodies thrive off! Lets take quinoa for example, this grain is packed with nutrients as shown in the diagram below:
Misconception of macronutrients
Before we move on, one important point to elaborate on is the common misconception of classifying food as only one macronutrient (carbs, protein or fat). As mentioned above with grains, all food is made up of a complete nutritional profile, therefore when singling food to one macronutrient it is doing a disservice to the food, and over-complicating your diet unnecessarily. For example, if you were to view quinoa as a carb, and therefore avoid it because of the belief that it may cause weight gain, you would be forgoing all the nutrients listed in the diagram, all of which are amazing for your body. A far better approach to food is to view it as nutrients, and focusing your diet on foods that are going to give you the most nutrients.
What about bread?
These days there are dozens of different types of bread on the market, from plain white to grain, wholemeal, sourdough, gluten-free, flatbread, pita, rolls, buns and the list goes on. Just like with selecting grains, the important thing to remember when it comes to bread is to consume a product that is as close to wholefoods as possible. Double check the ingredients and select a bread that has wholemeal flour as the main ingredient and doesn’t contain a long list of ingredients you have never heard of. Ingredients are typically – wholemeal flour, water, yeast, salt and other wholefoods such as seeds and grains. The best types of breads to select are Wholemeal, Rye, Wholemeal Sourdough and Wholemeal Multigrain (just check the ingredient list with multigrain because most of your common brands are made on white flour).
Grains can be consumed for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Have a look at some of the ideas below which ensures you can get in your daily serve of grains and all the benefits they come with:
Apple and Pecan Pie Oats
View recipe here.
Quinoa or Couscous Salad
View recipe here.
Remember, if your goal is to lose weight, you should cut out or limit the oil used.
There are loads of pasta recipes that you could try using wholegrain pasta, some examples include creamy mushroom pasta, tomato-based pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and olives, or even a yummy pesto pasta.
Gluten Free – whether you are celiac, have a gluten-sensitivity or just like to avoid gluten, many grains are gluten-free by default. These include rice, quinoa, buckwheat and depending on where you live there are now many gluten-free pastas on the market made from gluten free flour, or from chickpeas, lentils and buckwheat for example.
Grains are a great food that can be batched cooked, which simply means cooking large quantities early in the week, or whenever you have extra time. This allows you to save time cooking each evening. Grains can generally last in the fridge anywhere from a week to a couple of weeks, depending on the grain.
Beans / Legumes / Pulses
As previously mentioned, for simplicity sake we will use the words Beans/Legumes interchangeably – however technically legumes are the plants and beans are the seeds. You may also see this food group referred to as pulses.
There is no denying that BEANS are incredibly good for us! They may be small in size but are packed with nutrients. They have high amounts of protein and fiber, are low in fat, and they are loaded with a whole range of vitamins and minerals. There is a reason why beans are a staple for many cultures around the world, and in fact some of the longest living cultures on earth eat beans in their daily diet. Ask me about the Blue Zones if you would like to learn more!
There are a huge range of beans that each have a different taste and flavour, and can be used in a variety of dishes. There are chickpeas which most people will know from hummus and falafel, black beans that are great in Mexican dishes like burritos, lentils that are delicious in curries, soy beans for which tofu and tempeh are made – plus is a great plant-based milk, and loads more like adzuki, mung, kidney, fava, etc.
Bean are extremely cost effective, and they are very filling – meaning you can make a simple, cheap meal that is high in nutrients! Buying dry beans is the most cost effective method, you can usually get around 300-400g for a couple of dollars. This is a great option for people who have a little extra time to cook the beans. The other option is to buy ready made beans that come in cans. You can usually buy a can for less than $1.
Cooking dry beans is simple – its best to soak the beans overnight to reduce the cooking time. However, if you forget or just didn’t get round to it, you can cook them as normal, but it will just take a little longer on the stovetop. To cook beans, rinse them before adding to a big pot of water and boil. Soaked beans usually take around an hour, with unsoaked beans taking a couple of hours, this is dependent on the bean. Simply taste test a bean to see whether its cooked. A good idea is to batch cook a large quantity of beans and keep extra stock in the fridge and/or freezer. Beans will last up to a week in the fridge and months in the freezer. You can add all types of herbs and spices to your beans when you are cooking them to enhance the flavour – ingredients such as garlic, bay leaves, oregano, paprika etc.
Canned beans are just as good in terms of nutritional value, however with anything made from scratch – dry beans tend to taste better. When buying canned beans double check there is not a long list of additives, typically the only ingredients should be beans, water, sometimes salt. It is best to rinse canned beans thoroughly before cooking with them, just to ensure you remove any excess sodium.
Beans – the musical fruit! If you don’t know what this is referring to, do a quick google search! Similar to fruit though, in recent times beans has become a food that some people avoid. This is because beans are high in fibre, which is actually very important for our digestive system. However for the majority of the population they are not getting the amount of fiber our bodies need, therefore when they start adding beans to their diet, or adding more beans, some may experience digestive issues simply because their bodies are not use to the amount of fibre. They may even experience being extra ‘gassy’. But beans are WAY too nutritious to avoid all together, and fiber is too beneficial for us to pass up, the key is to transition our bodies to beans, and this can be done by adding beans into our diet slowly. Try a serving of beans in one meal, and slowly increase from there. You should also increase your water intake so your body can manage the extra fibre it is getting. Lastly, try to always soak dry beans before cooking and discard this water before adding beans to a big pot of fresh water. If you experience digestive issues, don’t simply cut beans from the diet, keep adding them slowly and after a week or so, your body will no longer have issues processing the added fibre. Then you will start to experience all the benefits that come with eating this incredible wholefood.
Sprouting – beans are not only great in cooked dishes, but can be eaten raw when they have been sprouted. Sprouted beans are even more nutritious and can be eaten as is, in salads or in a variety of other dishes. Sprouting is super easy too, see the video below. This is a great activity to do with kids so they can see the bean start to sprout and grow each day! Alternatively, sprouted beans can also be purchased at the supermarket in the fridge section.
Tip – sprouted beans are much easier to digest, so its a great way to add beans to your diet while you are transitioning your body to the increase in fiber intake.
Nuts and Seeds
Not only are nuts delicious, but they are also super nutritious. Nuts contain a combination of protein, carbohydrates and fat, but typically have higher amounts of protein and fat.
Good fats and bad fats
The word ‘fat’ comes with a certain stigma and it was widely believed that ‘fats’ – quite simply make people fat. In recent times though, additional information about fats became available and we then started hearing about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats. This information promoted good fat as something that should be consumed and bad fats as something that should be avoided. Whilst this is true, the information about what is a ‘good’ fat and what is a ‘bad’ fat is not always correct. In simple terms, a good fat is any type of wholefoods that contain a high amount of fat, this includes food such as nuts and seeds, avocados, olives, coconuts (and coconut based products). However as mentioned previously, it is important to not think of food as one macronutrient. Nuts may contain fats, but they are also loaded with other nutrients that is so beneficial to us.
The only thing we should be mindful of when it comes to nuts is not to overeat, as they do contain a high amount of calories and due to their size, they can easily be eaten quickly and in large quantities without realising. Generally a handful a day (or equivalent to 30g) of raw, unsalted nuts is recommended.
Mix it up each day as there are loads of different types of nuts including cashews, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, macadamias and peanuts. You can even get the recommended daily amount through peanut or almond butter (2 tablespoons), but ensure it is 100% peanuts/almonds with no additives. You can also cook with nuts, by making nut based sauces and adding nuts to dishes such as stir fries and salads.
Nuts make a great snack and are satiating meaning they help you feel full for longer. Therefore instead of avoiding nuts if trying to lose weight, its better to eat a small amount as they make you feel full for longer so you are less likely to snack unnecessary or overeat in your next meal.
Seeds are also highly nutritious. They can be added to many dishes to enhance both flavour and nutrients. There are a range of edible seeds and like nuts, some seeds can also be turned into a thick liquid/paste, the most common is tahini which is made by grinding sesame seeds. This makes a delicious dressing and topping to many dishes. You will see this ingredient in some of my recipes, it can be bought from the supermarket in the health food aisle.
Seeds can also be easily added to breakfast bowls, smoothies or salads to boost your nutrient intake – for example put some chia and flax in your breakfast, or pumpkin and sunflower seeds into a salad, or hemp seeds into your smoothie.
A little note about flax seeds – flax seeds are full of amazing nutrients but in order for them to be absorbed by the body they need to be ground, however flax can also go bad and lose their nutritional value so its best to not buy pre-ground flax. Instead buy whole flax (any variety is good) and ground them yourself in batches.
Here is an additional challenge for the week:
As mentioned above, beans and grains are fantastic for us! And they all have a very long shelf life, so your challenge this week is next time you are in the supermarket head down the bean and grain aisle and select 3 different beans or grains (or a combination). Once home put it in your cupboard and the aim is to incorporate these into your meals. You may find some of my recipes call for these ingredients so you can add them in, or send me a message with the specific ingredient you bought and I will share my favourite recipe with that wholefood!
Shopping Tip – each week in the supermarket there is always a different bean/grain on special – therefore I encourage you to stock up on this specific one! Then next week it will be another bean/grain on special so again you can stock up therefore you will always have a stock of beans/grains to use in your meals.