Grain foods are mostly made from wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, millet, quinoa and corn. The different grains can be cooked and eaten whole, ground into flour to make a variety of cereal foods like bread, pasta and noodles, or made into ready-to-eat breakfast cereals.
Grains (cereal) foods can be broken up into four main groups. The main sub-groups are:
- Breads – Wholemeal, wholegrain, white, rye, pita, lavash, naan, focaccia, crispbreads, damper
- Breakfast Cereals – Ready to eat, high fibre (wholegrain) oats, porridge, muesli, wholewheat biscuits
- Grains – Rice, barley, corn, polenta, buckwheat, spelt, millet, sorghum, triticale, rye, quinoa, semolina
- Other products – Pasta, noodles, English muffin, crumpet, rice cakes, couscous, bulgur, popcorn, flour.
What exactly is a wholegrain cereal?
Wholegrain cereals contain the three layers of the grain. Wholegrain cereals contain more fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than refined cereal foods such as white bread, because many of the important nutrients occur in the outer layer of the grain which is lost during processing. Wholegrain foods are particularly important in vegetarian diets as a source of iron and zinc. Wholemeal foods are made from wholegrains which have been crushed to a finer texture. Nutritionally, wholegrain and wholemeal foods are very similar. Choosing wholegrain varieties is best.
Tips for choosing wholegrain (cereals) include:
- Look for words like ‘wholegrain’ or ‘wholemeal’.
- Some ‘multigrain’ breads are made with white flour and various whole grains added.
- ‘Wholemeal wholegrain’ bread is made with wholemeal flour plus whole grains and has more fibre and nutrients than wholemeal, wholegrain or white breads.
What exactly is a refined grain cereal?
Refined grains (for example, white flour), have had the bran and germ layers removed. In doing this most of the fibre and many of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are lost. Some fibre and vitamins and minerals can be added back (such as in white bread) but these are not necessarily grain derived and the full benefit may be lost. More importantly, the phytochemicals (which are linked to significant health benefits) which have been removed in refined grains cannot be added back.
Refined grains, such as white flour are nearly always used in processed foods, such as cakes and biscuits. These types of grain foods are not recommended as they are considered a discretionary food choice because of their relatively large amounts of added fats and added sugars and/or added salt.
How much should I eat from the Grain ( cereal ) group?
Consuming at least 4-6 serves of grain (cereal) foods per day is recommended for Australian adults, while the amount recommended for children and adolescents depends on their age and sex. Follow the links below to find out how many serves you need to eat per day.
Additional serves of grains can be added depending on individual energy needs, these are provided in the tables above. Grain foods, especially wholegrain, are an ideal choice for extra energy needs and should be consumed in preference to discretionary food and alternate drink choices.
A serve of grain (cereal) foods is 500kJ which is:
- 1 slice (40g) bread
- ½ medium (40g) roll or flat bread
- ½ cup (75-120g) cooked rice, pasta, noodles, barley, buckwheat, semolina, polenta, bulgur or quinoa
- ½ cup (120g) cooked porridge
- ²/³ cup (30g) wheat cereal flakes
- ¼ cup (30g) muesli
- 3 (35g) crispbreads
- 1 (60g) crumpet
- 1 small (35g) English muffin or scone
*Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
Health benefits of grain foods
The nutrients provided by grains include carbohydrates/starch (energy), protein, fibre and a wide range of vitamins and minerals including the B vitamins folate, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, iron, vitamin E, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus.
Cereals and wholegrain foods can reduce the risk of developing certain diseases including coronary heart disease, colon cancer, diabetes and diverticular disease. The high fibre in wholegrain cereals also assist in the maintenance of the digestive system and can help prevent constipation.
High fibre foods, such as wholegrain breads and cereals, can also be an effective part of any weight loss program. They take longer to digest and create a feeling of fullness, which discourages overeating. Whole grains are also naturally low in saturated fat and contain beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acids.