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Up your grain game!

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It’s time to look at intact grains and incorporate them into your diet.

Photo by Mike from Pexels

These grains are nutrient dense and bring along many health benefits such as lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes and weight gain. These grains are less processed and that’s a good thing. So here’s what you need to know.

Refined grains, such as rice or wheat when the husk is removed, are processed grains. Only the endosperm is left, or the kernel. Intact grains are when there is no processing, all parts are left “intact” hence the name. These are the grains that have all the nutrients left in them and thus bring the best benefit. Many refined grains, such as flour, have added nutrients because that is government mandated. But they’re overall less nutritious for us.

Says Dr. Thomas Wolever in the department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, “The fibre in whole grains offers beneficial effects for the composition of the colonic microbiome (the bacteria and other microorganisms living in our large intestine).” In other words, they’re good for your gut health.

What are Intact Grains?

Intact grains have a much lower glycemic index, so they won’t spike your blood sugar if you’re diabetic and which is also good for workouts that need slower sugar uptake. Processed oats will spike your sugars and that’s not just bad for diabetics, but also can impact diabetes, inflammation in the body and may impact cancer development. Thick or whole oats are an intact grain that won’t spike sugars and are better for digestion and higher in fibre as well. Hey, some of us could use a little more fibre right?

Intact grains are lso better with helping our moods because our blood sugars aren’t spiked. When you’re energy levels are more consistent, you’re also less tired and mood spikes are levelled off as well. This can also impact pain levels and anxiety.

Researchers in New Zealand have evaluated the effects of whole-grain wheat, brown rice and oats and found even when the caloric intake was the same as processed grains, blood-sugars were much more improved and remained low. Not only is this good for diabetics, it also impacts people with severe arthritis. The research was published in the Diabetes Care journal.

Where to find intact grains

The best breads to look for are stone-ground, not finely-milled. So tone-ground, whole wheat bread is ideal. Breads with whole seeds such as flax seed or whole oats are good too. Best is less processed consumer brands which may still contain a mix of highly processed flour and not be as beneficial as you want. Check out local bakeries, especially ones that carry gluten-free breads as they’ll likely have other, healthy options as well.

The best Intact Grains

You’ll want to look for wheat berries, barley, quinoa, buckwheat groats and kasha. Steel cut and stone ground oats are good too. You want to be able to see the kernel or seed. Whole flax seed is another. Flax seed is also high in omega oil, which is also good for you!

They can take a little longer to cook though, so preparation is key. If you have a pressure cooker that’s great for brown rice and oats. One great way is to toss them into soups and stews or cook them in larger batches and whip them into the freezer for later. Combined with pulses like beans or lentils can be great too!

So go on and up your grain game!

You may also enjoy this article on how to refresh your healthy eating.


  • Alex Hurst is a writer for HUM@Nmedia covering Optimyz and Silver magazines in print and digital editions and is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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