Despite being able to prevent weight gain, promote weight loss and slash your risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes by up to 40%, a whopping 95% of us don't eat enough of them and nearly a third of us don't eat any at all. So what are they? Whole grains.
Whole grains are simply the seeds of cereal plants such as wheat, rye, barley, oats and rice. They consist of a fibre rich outer layer (the bran), a nutrient packed inner area (the germ) as well as a central starchy part called the endosperm. The bran and the germ hold up to 75% of the goodness and are packed full of B vitamins, folic acid, omega three fats, magnesium, zinc, iron and phosphorous as well as powerful, immune boosting antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium.
Unfortunately, in the quest to create lighter, whiter, more refined foods, it is these parts that tend to be removed during the manufacturing process leaving behind an end product that is sadly lacking in much of its original goodness.
This is particularly bad news for health because apart from reducing our risk of heart disease and diabetes by up to a third, whole grains may also help to protect against some forms of cancer, particularly those of the digestive tracts. This is partly due to the fact that whole grains help to move food through the body at a faster rate but also because they assist the body to to produce more gut friendly bacteria.
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New research indicates that weight for weight, whole grains may be just as rich in immune-boosting, age-defying antioxidants as fruit and vegetables. This may be another reason why they are so effective at lowering our risk of many diseases.
Of course, whole grains are also rich in fibre. High fibre foods are a dieter's best friend as they not only reduce hunger by adding bulk to our meals - helping you to feel full - they also help to keep blood sugars stable which in turn can enhance will power, satiety and reduce cravings.
Because of all these benefits, experts recommend we should aim to eat at least three servings (16 grams each or 48 grams) of whole grains a day. Not a difficult task when you consider that one serving is equal to a medium slice of wholemeal bread, a small wholemeal roll, 2 cereal biscuits, 3tbsp wholegrain cereal, 3 heaped tbsp wholewheat pasta, 2 heaped tbsp boiled brown rice or barley, ½ a wholemeal pita bread, 2 - 3 cups of popcorn, 3-4 small whole grain rice cakes or rye crispbreads or 2 oat cakes.
So, here are 10 easy ways to increase your wholegrain consumption
1. Start your day with a whole grain cereal such as Shredded Wheat (3 whole grain servings per bowl), Shreddies (2 whole grain servings per bowl) or Cheerios (1 whole grain serving per bowl). Alternatively, go for porridge or muesli.
2. Opt for brown rice, wholewheat pasta and noodles instead of the white varieties.
3. Add oat bran to soups, stews and smoothies.
4. Swap white breads for breads labeled as granary, wholemeal, wheat germ, multi grain, rye or seeded.
5. Add barley to casseroles and use instead of rice in risottos.
6. Snack on flapjacks, homemade popcorn, rye crackers and oatcakes.
7. When baking, substitute at least half of the white flour for wholemeal.
8. Tuck into a bulgur wheat or quinoa salad instead of the usual sandwiches.
9. Make crumble toppings with oats instead of white flour.
10 9. Use corn tortillas or whole grain wheat tortillas instead of plain flour tortillas the next time you're serving Mexican food. The use of whole grains or corn makes the dish much healthier.
10. Look for the '100% whole grain stamp' on foods. This means you are guaranteed to get a full 16 grams of whole grains per serving.
Foods displaying the basic Whole Grain Stamp without the 100% will contain at least half a serving of whole grain per labeled serving. For other products, check the ingredients list. If the first ingredient listed contains the word "whole" (such as "whole wheat flour" or "whole oats"), it is likely that the product is predominantly whole grain. Look for words such as whole grain, whole wheat, whole (other grain), stone-ground whole (grain).