This week is all about the G's in our food facts, A-Z - we'll be covering greens, grains and gluten-free, so you are super clear on what they are, why they're important in our diet and what to do if you're part of the gluten-free brigade.
Leafy greens! Dark leafy greens! These are brilliant foods to have as part of our diets. They tend to be low in calories and highly dense in nutrition so are an excellent dietary addition.
And some greens like kale have been highlighted as superfoods.
Leafy greens in general have been names as ‘powerhouse’ vegetables because of the might pack the might nutrient punch considered to be essential to public health.
What do they include?
Leafy greens include vegetables such as kale, spinach, watercress, swiss chard, spring greens, rocket and more.
Why are they so good for us?
They are regarded as having a lot of beneficial nutrients to promote a huge range of health benefits including:
Supporting heart health
Supporting brain health
Protect against some cancers
Promote eye health
Help absorption of Omega. Omega 3s are associated heavily with heart healthy – and leafy greens are said to help the body absorb omega 3s better.
They are super easy and fast to cook and pack a hearty nutritional punch and they’re tasty!
Try and incorporate as many as you can in to your diet. And remember to cook them in as little water as possible to stop them leaching their nutrients.
Quick eats: Simply leafy greens
Spring green heads – Roll up the leaves in to a cigar shape then cut them in to about 1cm wide ribbons. (you don’t need to be too prescriptive about this). Try and cut up just before cooking.
Take a pan on a low to medium heat and add a small amount of olive oil – about a teaspoon. Add your greens a sprinkling of salt and a splash of water. Turn the greens to coat them in the oil and water.
Let the greens slowly start to wilt as they cook. About 3-6 minutes. They will turn a darker shade of green and start to loose their rigidity and become soft.
Keep moving the greens around the pan to ensure they don’t stick or burn.
Just before they’re done, crush some garlic (add as much or as little as you like depending on preference) – make sure this is mixed in with the greens, lightly cook whilst stirring for about a minute, (make sure the garlic doesn’t burn) and then add a squeeze of lemon to the pan.
Stir the greens around and take them off the heat and serve.
Delicious! And super simple.
Grains, also known as cereals, are often spoken about when it comes to our diet an can come in all shapes and size from a corn kernel right down to a grain of quinoa. They make up a huge part of most modern diets and are a staple food in most countries providing more energy from food than any other food group.
Grains can be good sources of complex carbohydrates and provide us with good sources of vitamins and minerals.
Grains are naturally high in fibre which is useful for helping you to feel full to help contribute to a healthy body weight.
What are wholegrains?
These are the healthiest type of grains and are important part of a healthy, balanced diet. They are thought to lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and other health problems. Is it recommended that half of all grains that you consume are wholegrains.
As the word suggest, these contain the grain in its ‘whole’ form which includes the bran, germ and endosperm.
So can either used as whole grains or ground in to a flour using all part of the grain.
They are richer in fibre and also other important nutrients such as B vitamins, iron, folate, selenium, potassium and magnesium compared with refined grains.
They can either be foods in their own right like brown rice and popcorn or they might make part of an ingredient in a product up such as buckwheat in a pancake or whole-wheat flour in pasta or bread.
Examples of wholegrains are barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgar (cracked) wheat, millet, oatmeal, popcorn, whole-wheat bread or pasta.
Occasionally however though things like bread might look like they are made from wholegrains - like brown bread for instance – but it could perhaps just be colouring used in the processing.
Always check the labels on packaging to make sure that wholegrains feature in the first few ingredients in the ingredient list when looking for a wholegrain product.
As the name infers, refined grains have been well, refined. They have been processed to remove their germ and bran. This makes them finer in texture and helps to extend their shelf life. However the refining process also removes a lot of the fibre.
Lots of bread, cakes, baked goods and cereals are made using refined grains.
Refined grains include white flour, white rice and white bread and pasta.
Here are a few ways you can work to get more wholegrains in to your diet:
Eating breakfast cereals that are not refined but instead use whole-grains like oatmeal, whole-wheat bran flakes or shredded wheat for instance.
Swap out white bread, bagels, tortillas or and bread-style foods for whole-grain versions.
Change highly refined pastries for things like muffins made with oatmeal or wholegrain flours.
Swap white rice and pasta for quinoa, brown rice, wild rice or barley.
Add things like bulgar wheat or brown rice to meals like soups or rolled oats ground up as a substitute for breadcrumbs etc.
Fun fact – grains like quinoa and buckwheat are known as pseudograins – as they’re not actually grains but are prepared and consumed like grains.
Quick eats: A quick and easy wholegrain meal: Quinoa Salad
Try this quick and easy quinoa salad for lunch or supper. Just using a few ingredients including quinoa, chickpeas, cucumber, red pepper, red onion, parsley, lemon and oil. You could add in tomato and avocado if you had some too.
To finish you could always top with some crumbled feta cheese too or serve with some meat or fish.
Gluten-free – what does it mean and why should I follow a gluten free diet?
Some people have to steer clear of gluten for life and for others it’s a choice – whether self- diagnosed or advised by a medical Gluten-free – what does it mean and why should I follow a gluten free diet?
Some people have to steer clear of gluten for life and for others it’s a choice – whether self- diagnosed or advised by a medical practitioner.
Firstly – I might just add that a ‘gluten-free diet’ isn’t a diet like you would conventionally be led to believe. It’s not a diet so you can loose weight but more so that you can heal your body and gut so that it can then work in the way it is supposed to.
Those who have to avoid it for dietary reasons is often due to a condition called coeliac disease.
What is coeliac disease?
Coeliac disease is simply where your immune system had been reacting in a negative way to gluten which has caused damage to your gut. It is to do with damaging the lining of your small intestine which over time, stops your body absorbing nutrients.
After being properly diagnosed by your doctor, people can feel much better within just a few days of cutting gluten out but for others it might take a little time before they start to feel better.
The time for your gut to heal properly from the damage caused by eating gluten depends on the person. It can take anywhere from six months to five years or even longer to fully heal. This can depend on how badly the gut has been damaged and the age of the patient.
How do I treat coeliac disease?
There is only one way to treat coeliac disease and that is by removing all gluten-containing foods from your diet.
Where is gluten found?
Gluten is found in grains of wheat barley and rye and in some cases oat.
While oats are naturally gluten-free, they can become contaminated whilst in the production process with wheat, barley or rye – so when choosing oats – it can be sensible to purchase oat products labelled gluten-free as it means that they wont have been cross-contaminated in production. However some people who suffer from coeliac disease are not able to even eat oats.
What foods will I find gluten in?
Bread – all white bread and any bread not labelled as gluten-free.
Baked goods such as cakes, biscuits, pastries.
Pasta – all white pasta goods and anything not labelled as gluten-free
Does this mean I have to cut out bread, pasta and cakes completely?
The simple answer is no. There are a huge number of companies who now cater for the gluten-free market making all the things you could once not eat if diagnosed as gluten intolerant.
Look for the free-from aisle in your supermarket.
What should I eat if I am a coeliac?
You can eat any foods that naturally don’t contain gluten.
Fruit and vegetables
Lentils and pulses
You can also eat ready meals and processed foods like soup that don’t contain gluten.
Just always check the label first.
Are there any grains, starches or flours that I can eat if I am gluten-free?
Yes – not all grains contain gluten so you can eat any of the following
· Corn — cornmeal, grits and polenta labelled gluten-free
· Gluten-free flours — rice, soy, corn, potato and bean flours
· Rice, including wild rice
· Tapioca (cassava root)
What happens if I’m gluten-free but accidentally eat some gluten?
When starting out, it is inevitable both friends and family and even you might make mistakes. You would usually feel symptoms a few hours after eating and they can last from a few hours to a few days depending on how much gluten you’ve eaten and how sensitive you are to it.
The Coeliac UK is a great website for information if you want to know more. They have a gluten-free food checker app and also a checklist of gluten free foods. Visit them here.