Whole grains are the seeds, or kernels, of cereal grains, like wheat, oats, corn, barley, rye, wild rice, buckwheat, millet and popcorn. The seed has three parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. The bran, or outer covering, protects the seed. The endosperm makes up most of the inside of the seed. It serves as the food supply as a plant starts to grow. The germ is the seed’s embryo. It’s located at the base of the seed.
For a food to qualify as a whole grain product, it must contain all three parts of the seed. In many cases, the seed is used intact. However, the FDA allows products with cracked or ground grains to be labeled as whole grain if the bran, endosperm and germ are of the same proportion as that found in the intact grain.
Refined grains are made by removing the bran and germ from the seeds. One of the most commonly used refined grain products is flour. During the early 1900s, refined flour became popular among bakers and food processors because it produces baked products that are softer and have a longer fresh shelf life.
Healthy Whole Grains
When grain is refined, the fiber and most of the seeds’ important nutrients are lost. Many products made with refined grains are enriched with added B vitamins and iron. However, refined grains are still not nutritionally equivalent to whole grains.
Whole grains, on the other hand, are packed with nutrition. The bran provides fiber, B vitamins and some minerals. The endosperm contains carbohydrates, protein and a small amount of B vitamins. The germ contains B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, antioxidants and unsaturated fat.
Eating whole grains versus refined grains is good for overall health. Researchers report people who include whole grains in their diet are less likely to gain excess weight, have a lower percentage of body fat, and are at lower risk for high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease and some types of gastrointestinal cancer.
Getting Whole Grains
Health experts say we should aim to eat at least three one-ounce servings of whole grains every day. However, it’s not always easy to tell what’s what. A product labeled as “multi-grain” isn’t necessarily whole grain. Neither is one that’s labeled as “100% wheat” or “cracked wheat.” Meredith Baum, R.D., Registered Dietitian with Sodexo at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, PA, says, for breads, you can’t go by the color because darker breads can be colored by molasses. In addition, some bread processors are using a new albino wheat, which looks white, even though it is really a “whole wheat” product.
Here are some tips for getting more whole grains in your diet:
Look at the ingredient list. The name of the whole grain should appear first in the list.
Check fiber content. Choose foods that have the higher amount of % Daily Value for fiber.
Look beyond the bread. There are many other products made with whole grains, like crackers, cookies and pasta.
Select long grain or brown rice instead of white rice.
Snack on whole grains. Try eating dry, whole grain cereal, or add it to yogurt for a quick snack. Popcorn is also a good whole grain snack, as long as you omit the butter and don't go overboard on salt.
Baum warns to ease into dietary fiber increases to prevent digestive issues. You also need to drink plenty of water to help your body process the extra fiber.
A Note about Quinoa
Quinoa (KEEN-wah) is a very old grain used by Incas and natives of Peru, Chile and Bolivia. It is fast becoming a popular whole grain choice by many. Quinoa is packed with nutrition and one cup only has 220 calories. It’s a good source of protein, making it a popular choice among vegetarians.
Baum says if quinoa is purchased as a grain, it must be washed thoroughly before use because the hull contains a toxic sap.
AUDIENCE INQUIRYFor information on whole grains: Food and Drug Administration, http://www.fda.gov
International Food Information Council, http://www.foodinsight.org
For information about Quinoa, go to http://www.cookingquinoa.net
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