Whole grains are food that seem good on paper and bad on the dinner table. Whole grains retain the entire grain seed, packed with vitamins and dietary fibre which are lost in the refining process.
But most people are quick to dismiss foods made from whole grains as coarse, tasteless and hard to chew. So despite its goodness, whole grain foods have only a handful of fans.
The modern bombardment of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets preached by celebrities and diet gurus alike have pushed this excellent source of energy even further to the back of the food shelf.
The only people who will choose whole grains are those who care about what refining does to the good parts of the grain.
Whole grains include unpolished brown rice, whole wheat, oats, corn, rye, buckwheat and dehulled barley.
"Parents should know what is good for them and their families, nutrition-wise. We may be a society of highly educated people but nutrition knowledge is still lacking," says nutritionist Fatimah Salim, 50, who has been instilling the love for whole grains in her children for more than 20 years.
"Most people think food and nutrition are not something that is important enough to know,"
One way mothers can get their children to eat whole grains is to sneak these into their food without the kids being aware of it.
"I use a lot of oats at home. I used to make oatmeal and kept them refrigerated, so when my children (now aged 20 and 25) wanted a quick snack, they just added milk and fruit to the cold oatmeal," she says.
"Always remember that children love cold food, so chilled oatmeal is a good option. Mothers must also remember that kids want food instantly so there have to be ready-to-eat healthy snacks available," she says, suggesting that mothers stock up on digestive biscuits and oat cookies instead of chocolate and ice-cream.
"Oats can be used as a binder for burger patties and cutlets instead of flour,"
Some people, Fatimah adds, don't even know what whole grains are. "Corn is a whole grain, so you can replace fries with that.
"When buying pasta or noodles, opt for whole grain versions so children are used to the taste from young," She understands that many people complain that unpolished rice is tasteless. "But do you know that brown rice works best for fried rice and chicken rice? The rice doesn't clump and tastes so much better," she says.
Change your habits
CHANGE YOUR HABITS
While children need to slowly be introduced to whole grains, adults, meanwhile, need to make a conscious decision to choose whole grains for their health benefits.
"It makes you full faster, so you eat less. Logically, it is a good option for those wanting to lose some weight,"
It may be daunting for your tastebuds to switch to brown rice from white rice overnight, so Fatimah suggests going slow.
"Add one part brown rice to four parts white rice. You have to make brown rice palatable otherwise, you will not be able to sustain the change. When you are used to the taste, add more brown rice."
Adults, she says, are not brave in trying new foods but if they change their habit, they can improve their health.
She says mothers should also take their children grocery shopping so the young ones know why some products are bought.
"Interactive and informal sessions like these teach kids what they need to know about diet and nutrition," she says.
MAKE THAT MOVE
Fatimah says where there is an alternative to refined grains, pick that option.
"With so many products on the shelves, consumers should read the nutrition information panel to find out what are better options. Don't be swayed by advertisements.
"Sometimes a product claims to be whole grain when the whole grain content is only five per cent, which does not really qualify," she says. Finally, I ask her: Between whole grain and processed foods, how do we choose?
"It is not easy to make lifestyle changes. They have to be made in small steps," she replies. "Like it or not, modern society eats processed food, so what it can do is pick the better choice. Having whole grain (in good quantities) is better than nothing at all."
The Nutrition Society of Malaysia and Nestle Breakfast Cereals have launched a booklet, Wonders Of Whole Grain, to create better awareness on this food type. • Since 2008, Nestle Breakfast Cereals uses whole grain in all its products • The booklet can be downloaded at www.nutriweb.org.my
Take small steps to add whole grains into your diet:
1. Introduce brown rice to your family. Try out brown rice by mixing half of it with your white rice or adding various ingredients to it to make it tastier. You could even use brown rice to make a nice all-in-one dish!
2. Oats are versatile. Besides oat porridge, add oats to dishes, to thicken soup or gravy or add to cakes, muffins and cookies.
3. For a tastier oatmeal, add fruits like apples or dried apricots.
4. If you are in a hurry, take five minutes to make a sandwich using wholegrain bread with healthy fillings such as sardine, tuna or egg. Wholegrain breads add flavour and texture.
5. Kids love biscuits and yummy drinks. Why not try adding wholegrain cereals to these? Blend the cereal with your kid's favourite fruit and turn it into an attractive smoothie or biscuit.
6. As whole grains absorb more water than refined grains, here's a tip: Add more water during cooking. To shorten cooking time, soak whole grains before cooking.