Whole grains for a healthy diet Print

Grains have played a historical role in human survival and have hence been labelled as the “staff of life.” They remain an essential part of a healthy diet. Grains which are also called cereals are the widely varied seeds of grass, which are cultivated for food. They appear in various shapes and sizes, from large kernels of popcorn to little quinoa seeds.

All types of grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, various vitamins and minerals and are naturally low in fat. However, grains that have not been refined are even healthier. These grains, called, “whole grains” are better sources of fibre and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. Thus for a healthier diet one should choose whole grains over refined grains.

Whole grains vs. refined grains

Whole grains do not have their bran and germ removed by milling. They are therefore better sources of fibre — the part of plant-based foods the body does not digest. Among many health benefits, a high-fibre diet also tends to make a meal feel more filling and remain longer, so you stay full for a greater amount of time.

Refined grains, such as white rice or white flour, have both the bran and germ removed from the grain. Although vitamins and minerals are added back into refined grains after the milling process, they neither have as many nutrients as whole grains do, nor do they provide as much fibre.

Rice, bread, cereal, flour and pasta are all grains or grain products. Whole-grain versions should be eaten more than refined grains.

Whole grains include: barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, oatmeal, popcorn, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta and wild rice.

Refined grains include: corn flakes, couscous, enriched macaroni or spaghetti, grits, pretzels, white bread (refined) and white rice.

How to add more whole grains to your diet

Many foods made from whole grains come ready to eat. These include a variety of breads, pasta products and ready-to-eat cereals. Look for the word "whole" on the package and in the ingredient list. Make sure whole grains appear among the first items listed. Try to choose items with at least 3 grams of dietary fibre per serving.

New white whole-wheat bread makes it even easier to add whole grains to your diet. White whole-wheat bread looks and tastes like white bread but has the same nutritional benefits as regular whole-wheat or whole-grain bread. The difference between white whole wheat and regular whole wheat is in the type of wheat used. Regular whole-wheat bread is made with red wheat, which is dark in colour and has a slightly bitter taste. White whole-wheat bread is made with an albino variety of wheat, which is lighter in colour and has a sweeter, milder flavour. To get a softer texture, the whole grains of albino wheat go through an extra processing procedure.

Other easy ways to add whole grains to your meals and snacks include:

  • Breakfast on high-fibre cereals, such as bran flakes, shredded wheat or oatmeal.
  • Substitute whole-wheat toast or whole-grain bagels for plain bagels. Substitute low-fat, multigrain muffins for pastries.
  • Make sandwiches using whole-grain breads or rolls.
  • Expand your grain menu with whole-grain complements, such as kasha, brown rice, wild rice, bulgur or whole-wheat tortillas.
  • Feature wild rice or barley in soups, stews, casseroles and salads.
  • Add whole grains, such as cooked brown rice or whole-grain bread crumbs, to ground meat or poultry for extra body.
  • Use rolled oats or crushed bran cereal in recipes instead of dry bread crumbs.
  • Toast grains to bring out their nutty flavour before adding them to recipes.

Grains remain a basis for many healthy meals and snacks as they have been for centuries. A diet consisting of a variety of whole grains not only ensures more nutrients, but also helps makes meals and snacks more exciting.


Concerning bread one should note that commercially sold bread is quite raw. A simple experiment will demonstrate this. Take a small piece of bread. Squeeze it between two fingers a mere three times. Notice how closely it now resembles raw dough. Imagine that bread you eat being stuck in your stomach and causing digestion problems! Therefore as far as possible one should always toast bread a bit before eating it. This greatly improves digestion.

Closer to the Sunnah

Whilst Rasulullah sallallâhu ‘alayhi wa sallam certainly did not have access to the various grains mentioned above we can safely say that his frugal diet had more fibre than our refined foods of today. In that sense eating whole grains is closer to acting upon the Sunnah than consuming refined, less-healthy foods. Observing the rights of the body is in itself a command of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.

Abu Haazim narrated:
Someone asked Sahl bin Sa‘d radiyallahu ‘anhuma, “Did Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam eat bread of refined flour (white bread)?”

Sahl radiyallahu ‘anhuma replied, “Rasulullaah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not even see white bread until he met Allah.”

He was then asked, “Did you have sieves during the time of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam?”

“We did not possess sieves,” he replied.

“How then did you prepare the barley?” they asked.

He replied, “We would blow into the flour. Particles would then fall out. We would make dough of the remainder.”

[Ash-Shamaail lit-Tirmizii, Chapter on the bread of Rasulullah sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.]

Mawlana Zakariya Kandalwi commented on the above Hadith as follows:

Allaah! Allaah is eternal. Today it is difficult for us to eat even unsifted wheat flour. Unsifted flour is good for digestion. Bread of fine flour although being heavy and difficult to digest has become common. Many homes, because of luxury have maintained this wasteful practise. Some ‘Ulamaa have written that the first bid‘ah that crept into Islaam was the use of the sieve. This bid‘ah should not be confused with the Shar‘ii bid‘ah, which is against the Sunnah. It is called Bid‘ah in the literal sense of a new trend. It is nevertheless permissible.

We ask Allah to grant us good health, a healthy lifestyle and ability to follow the Sunnah of His Beloved Nabi sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.

sk/2007-11-07 11:24:05

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