December 2010 newsletter feature: Grains of truth! A serious look at cereals and grains

A study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association in 1997 found that women whose diets were rich in starchy foods such as potatoes and refined starches such as white bread, white rice and regular pasta had twice the risk of developing diabetes compared to women eating a diet rich in whole grains, such as wholewheat pasta. Those wanting to prevent diabetes – as well as those who already have it — need to know that many starchy foods are simply bad for blood sugar control.

A better diet is one based on moderate amounts of unrefined starch, along with other foods that can release their sugars relatively slowly into the bloodstream. These includes fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses as there is evidence that a diet rich in high-fibre, slower sugar-releasing foods such as these can lower the risk of diabetes for those who do not already have it. For those that do, then slow-release foods work best with keeping blood sugars stable.

Chef Ainsley Harriott has his own-brand range of foods for sale in most supermarkets and has kept an eye on keeping the key ingredients to the fore.

“Spelt is a relatively low GI food and it’s also a really good source of zinc.  Both these things make spelt a good choice as part of a diabetic diet. When the Desang newsletter contacted me to make a comment, I chatted things through with my nutritionist team at Symingtons (who produce this great product for me). They suggest that it is served with some fish or meat to provide a balanced meal.  I love the texture of spelt, and I love the warmth and homeliness of my Creamy Vegetable recipe, so do please give it a go.”

Colin Hopkins, who works to develop products at Merchant Gourmet, says: “Quinoa is a grain-like product native to South America.  Its fluffy texture means it is an extremely good alternative to rice, pasta or couscous and also very healthy due to it’s high protein and fibre content, low fat and importantly, it is gluten-free with a low GI value. Quinoa is perfect in cold salads, served hot with mixed vegetables and cheese or with spicy grilled chicken.”

According to market research organization Mintel, 2010 was the biggest year ever for wholegrain product launches. Prof Jennie Brand-Miller* takes a closer look at the definition of ‘wholegrains’ for product labelling.

The idea that we should consume more wholegrains is enshrined in dietary guidelines around the globe and has become something of a mantra by doctors, dietitians and nutritionists. But does the science stack up to scrutiny?

Professor Jennie Miller takes a good look at labels to ask that we take things even further in the future – can they state their GI as well as boasting that they are wholegrain? She says, “When you see ‘wholegrains’ (or ‘whole grains’) on front of pack, do you assume it’s the real McCoy? Has it got everything that the original whole grain had – all the micronutrients and characteristics that make whole grains into health foods? Well, I think we are being hoodwinked. Wholegrain products might have started with the germ, the endosperm and the bran of the grain, but in many cases, the finished product has been cooked, flaked, toasted, puffed and popped beyond recognition. It’s a long, long way from the grain that came in nature’s packaging.”

She continues, “The reality is that for most cereal products today, both the ‘white’ version and the ‘brown’ version have a high GI. Nor is it correct to imply that low GI carbohydrates are less processed and refined. Nearly all kinds of white pasta have a low GI, as do some varieties of white rice, canned legumes, fruit juices, dairy products (sweetened or otherwise), and many confectionery items containing refined sugars.

“Thus even some low GI foods are ‘processed’ products. Nonetheless, low GI and low glycemic load diets have been associated with good health outcomes in scores of observational studies and clinical trials. What’s more, the “health bias” that accompanies diet rich in wholegrain foods is absent because the GI is still a term that means little to many.

For all these reasons, I’d like to suggest that we re-define wholegrains as “’foods that not only contain the germ, the endosperm and the bran, but also the GI characteristics of the original grain’. At least then, we might see some real benefits of eating wholegrains.”

Quotes from Prof Jennie Miller originally appeared in an article published by  The Glycaemic Index Foundation.


In most cases it’s not a case of swapping out the starches you normally use for slightly more healthy versions of the same. If you eat rice, try to get into brown rice. Hunt around a bit – not all brown rice is the same, for example, and it no longer takes an hour to boil up! Tilda’s brown Basmati rice in a packet is done in the microwave in just two minutes and it’s lovely – fab with chilli. The Merchant Gourmet range includes a Ready to Eat Red and White Quinoa, a Wholewheat Giant Couscous, and an intriguing one called ‘Wholesome grains’ which is a mix of wholewheat, red quinoa, toasted soya flakes and lentils.

Further reading:

The Glycaemic Index Foundation

Ainsley Herriott

Merchant Gourmet:

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