Until the past century, Americans have consumed most of their grains as whole grains. However, with the advent of the modern lifestyle and increasing emphasis on convenience, we are now eating only about 11% of our grains as whole grains. Most of the grain foods that we eat are made with highly processed, refined grain rather than with the whole grain.
Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains
Whole grain foods must contain all three parts of the grain: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.
The outer layer of the seed is full of fiber (both soluble and insoluble), B vitamins (B6, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamin), 50-80% of the grain’s minerals (iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc) and phytochemicals (health-promoting plant substances).
This is the embryo within the seed, from which new plant sprouts. It has the highest concentration of nutrients, including B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals, healthful unsaturated fats, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.
The kernel is full of starch, 70-75% of the grain’s protein, and a small amount of B vitamins.
Refined grain products contain only the endosperm, and they usually have to be enriched with some nutrients because once the bran and germ portions are removed during milling, nutrient content can be reduced by up to 90%.
Types Of Whole Grains
More Common Whole Grains:
o Brown rice
o Whole rye
o Whole wheat
o Wild rice
Less Common Whole Grains:
o Buckwheat (kasha)
o Bulgar (cracked wheat)
Whole Grains Reduce Health Risks
Most people do not know that eating just one, two, or three extra servings of whole grain foods each day can reap many health benefits and reduce the risk of many major chronic diseases in the future. In fact, eating whole grain foods is associated with a 15-25% reduction in premature death from all causes.
o The insoluble fiber in whole grains helps protect against constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulosis (pouches in colon wall).
o It increases stool weight and decreases transit time through the gut, hence, reduces the length of time the bowels are in contact with waste products.
o It improves antioxidant activity and strengthens the surface cells of the colon.
o It increases the immune function of the gut.
o It protects against cancer of the colon, rectum, stomach, pancreas, endometrium (lining of uterus), ovaries, and prostate.
Heart Disease and Stroke
o The soluble fiber in whole grains benefits the heart and circulatory system, and reduces heart disease and stroke rates.
o It decreases cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood coagulation.
o It helps you feel full and delay hunger.
Type 2 Diabetes
o It lowers the risk of getting type 2 diabetes and improves blood sugar control in people who already have diabetes.
o It delays stomach emptying and nutrient absorption, reducing the rise in glucose and insulin.
Shopping For Whole Grain Products
o Look for the words “whole grain” in large letters on the package. On the list of ingredients, the first ingredient listed is the one with the highest quantity by weight. Look for the word “whole” in front of the grain, such as “whole wheat”.
o Look for the Whole Grain Stamp (as shown).
o Foods labeled with the words “multi-grain”, “stone-ground”, “cracked wheat”, “seven-grain”, “bran”, or “pumpernickel” are usually not whole grain products.
o Color is not an indication of whole grain. It may just have molasses or caramel food coloring added to achieve the brown color.
o Whole grains can be an excellent source of fiber; most yield 1-4 grams of fiber per serving. Whole wheat contains the highest fiber content.
o Oats and barley are highest in soluble fiber which helps in lowering cholesterol and reducing risk of heart disease as well as controlling blood sugar in people with diabetes.
Ways To Increase Whole Grain Intake
Whole grains taste and feel different to the mouth – they are fuller and nuttier. Therefore, it takes time to retrain your taste buds and adjust to eating whole grains.
o Start your day with a bowl of oatmeal or ready-to-eat whole grain cereal. Watch out for the sugar content in the cereal; select one that has less than 4 grams of sugar per serving.
o Choose whole grain bread, tortillas, or pita pockets for your sandwich at lunch.
o Make your snacks whole grain. Opt for rye crispbread, whole grain rice cakes, crackers, or oatcakes. Check the ingredient label for excessive fat and sodium.
o Try air-popped popcorn as a snack. Don’t go for the pre-popped ones that are smothered in fat, sugar, or salt.
o For white rice lovers, start by replacing half the amount with brown rice. Gradually increase the portion of brown rice as you become more used to it.
o Likewise, for an easier transition, substitute half the white flour with whole wheat flour in your regular recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads, and pancakes. You can also try replacing the white flour with white whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour is a whole grain made from albino wheat (instead of red wheat), and is less grainy and has a milder flavor and lighter color. Many stores now carry this flour.
o Add oats to your favorite baking recipes. You can even sprinkle some on your yogurt for crunch and added nutrition.
o Add brown rice, wild rice, barley, or whole grain pasta to your vegetable soup.
o Start off young children with a diet of whole grains; for older children, try the white whole wheat flour. Incorporate whole grains into foods that have lots of flavors, such as burgers with whole grain buns, brown rice medley with vegetables, whole grains in stuffing, quinoa in meat loafs, and whole wheat crust for make-your-own individual pizzas.
In conclusion, whole grains are good for your health. Not only do they help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, they are also abundant in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, fiber, and many other healthful substances. Whole grains do taste and feel different. In the beginning, you will find that there is a tradeoff between taste and health benefits, and it takes time to adjust to whole grains’ heartier texture. However, if you can make an effort to replace more of your refined grains with whole grains, your body will definitely thank you for that.