3 Practical Tips to Swap to Wholegrains at Ease

Rice is the main staple that is deeply rooted in our culture, right in the heart of Singapore. However, often, we see refined white grains over brown, wild, red rice and other ‘wholegrains’ that you can name, which are easily found in the local supermarkets these days.

So the golden question is, “Why still choose wholegrains when it is so tough to chew?”

What is a wholegrain?
To break it down simply, a WHOLE grain as the name suggests, comprises of the entire seed of the plant – whereby the bran, germ, and endosperm are intact. On the other hand, white rice has been polished where the germ and bran are removed.  Compared with unenriched white rice, wholegrains have more nutrients – including dietary fibre, protein, B-group vitamins, iron, magnesium as well as copper, that are mostly being stripped during the milling process of the grain.

What does science say?
According to evidence-based studies1, switching to wholegrains can improve total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, blood sugar control and inflammation. Also, in a recent large study of almost 200,000 adults from the United States that took place over 30 years, those who frequently included wholegrains in their diets are found that they are of lower risk in developing type 2 diabetes, compared with those who rarely did so2.

How do we Singapore fare?
According to the National Health Population Survey 2019, the proportions of Singaporeans with self-reported chronic diseases continued to rise gradually. For instance, the self-reported type 2 diabetes percentage grew from 4.9% in 2007 to 6.9% in 2019. Also, it is well noted that the prevalence of chronic diseases related to poor intake of wholegrain foods in Singaporean adults (18 to 64 years old) rose for type 2 diabetes and obesity from 1998 to 20103.

So, what can I do to accept the taste and texture of wholegrains?

#1. Introduce small amounts over time
Remember that any change should be gradual. The sudden switch from refined grains to wholegrain rice might be frowned upon. Saying so, we are aiming for gradual acceptance and adaptability. Try replacing 10% of white rice to brown rice and additional 10% after a couple of weeks, repeat! Before you have realised, you might be so used to brown rice in a long run.

#2. Barley and corn are wholegrains too
Especially in Southeast Asia, when we think of grains, rice will probably just come to mind. Readily available food ingredients like barley and corn are actually wholegrains as well. Yes, the bran, germ, and endosperm are all still intact! Incorporating both barley and corn into a mixture of brown and white rice would provide some crunch, sweetness and colour that even kids might be open to it.  

#3. Pair wholegrains with pulses and dried figs
Like barley and corn, mixing beans like adzuki beans (Japanese red beans), mung beans and even dried figs would not only add flavour but also increasing the profile of protein, dietary fibre and calcium content from the figs!

What if I choose to eat out?
Look out for Food Canopy outlets in your area where wholegrain options are available. Alternatively, pick an eatery that participates in the Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Dining Programme. At these outlets, there are higher in wholegrains options to choose from.


  1. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2020 Nov;120(11):1859-1883.e31. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2020.06.021. (Marshall S et al.)
  2. BMJ. 2020 Jul 8;370:m2206. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2206. (Hu Y et al.)
  3. Neo, J. E., & Brownlee, I. A. (2017). Wholegrain food acceptance in young Singaporean adults. Nutrients9(4), 371.

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