From Snack Foods to Superfoods - Pop Corn and Whole Grain Cereals
By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
New research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society shows that whole grain breakfast cereals and popcorn could be the latest foods to gain super food status.
For the first time, scientists have measured the antioxidant content of popular breakfast cereals and snack foods like popcorn and discovered that when you compare them to an equal quantity of fruit or vegetables, they actually contain a similar amount of antioxidants. In particular, the researchers found that whole grain foods were rich in polyphenols, which have been linked to a lowered risk of heart disease and cancer, and are most famous for being found in foods like red wine, tea and chocolate.
Whole grain cereals based on wheat were found to have the most antioxidants, followed by those based on corn, then oats and rice. “Early researchers thought the fibre was the active ingredient for these benefits in whole grains, the reason why they may reduce the risk of cancer and coronary heart disease,” explains Joe Vinson who headed the study, “But recently, polyphenols emerged as potentially more important.”
WLR says . . .
It’s well known amongst health experts that wholegrains are an important part of a healthy diet – it’s why they recommend we eat at least three servings a day. As the name suggests, wholegrains contain all three parts of the grain – the nutrient-rich germ, the energy-providing endosperm and the fibre-rich bran layer.
What are Wholegrains?
When grains are refined, for example to make white flour, rice or bread, the outer bran layer and germ of the grain are stripped away, with the result that the grain loses much of its fibre and many of its nutrients. However, it’s the whole package – which includes a combination of complex carbohydrates, fibre, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants – that’s thought to give whole grain foods their super food health benefits.
Many scientific studies have shown that when included as part of a balanced diet, whole grains keep our heart healthy and may reduce the risk of some cancers. In fact, this is so well established that the Food and Drug Administration in America allows the following claim on whole grain food packaging:
“Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”
The antioxidants found in wholegrains almost certainly have a role to play in this.
Should We Snack on Whole Grain Superfoods?
It’s important not to stop eating fruit and veg as these foods remain a tasty way to boost our antioxidant intake. This research found that whole grains matched the antioxidant content of fruit and veg when equal amounts were eaten. However, portion sizes of whole grains tend to be smaller than portion sizes for fruit and veg.
A piece of fruit such as an apple, pear, banana, nectarine or orange, for example, weighs around 100-150g. However, a bowl of breakfast cereal is usually around 30-40g. This means when quantity is considered, we probably get more antioxidants from fruit and veg – and that’s why it is so important to eat our 5-a-day.
Nevertheless, wholegrains are an important part of a healthy diet so aim for the recommended three servings daily where a serving is equivalent to:
- 1 medium slice of wholemeal bread
- 1 small wholemeal roll
- 2 Shredded Wheat biscuits
- 3 tablespoons whole grain cereal such as Shreddies or Cheerios
- 3 heaped tablespoons of wholewheat pasta
- 2 heaped tablespoons of boiled brown rice
- ½ wholemeal pitta bread
- 2-3 cups plain popcorn
- 3-4 small whole grain rice cakes or rye crispbreads
To boost your wholegrain intake, take a look at the WLR Food Database for inspiration for a healthy, fad free diet. Try it free for 24 hours.
American Chemical Society - Whole grain cereals, popcorn rich in antioxidants, not just fiber, new research concludes