Despite the sometimes confusing or contradictory health news, the value of eating whole grains comes through loud and clear.
Every health expert, from the most moderate to the most radical, tells us to consume our grains whole whenever possible. The revised USDA Food Pyramid recommends eating at least half of our daily intake of grains as whole grains.
What does this mean? What is a whole grain?
Whole Grains Are…
Whole grains contain the germ and the bran of the grain. This means the grain is not as processed as it might be and contains a larger percentage of nutrients.
All grains, from rice and wheat to corn, oats, and quinoa, have a germ, also called an embryo. The embryo is the center of the grain and contains essential oils, vitamins, and minerals. Because of the oil, many manufacturers routinely remove the germ to extend the shelflife of the grain when it’s processed into flour and ground meal.
The bran is the outer, fibrous layer right below the grains hull, or husk. Very often, the bran is removed along with the hull when grains are processed.
Whole-grain flour contains both the germ and the bran. Between the bran and the germ is the endosperm, which comprises most of the grain. This starchy, nutritious part of the grain is what we always eat. In other words, when we consume processed white flour, we are eating the endosperm of the wheat berry.
Whole Grains Are Good For You…
Whole grains are a complex carbohydrate, which our bodies need for energy. We tend to store calories from fat but not from carbohydrates, which we burn efficiently and rapidly.
Complex carbohydrates are rich in vitamins and minerals and leave you feeling sated. Whole grains are also a good source of fiber. A diet high in fiber helps you maintain a healthy weight and blood cholesterol levels, and keeps your body in good balance.
To benefit from whole grains, you do not have to eat them whole! Most of us consume whole grains that have been minimally processed. This means they may have been cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, or ground.
Whole Grains Are Best Eaten…
It’s getting increasingly easy to eat whole grains. Manufacturers have picked up on the public’s demand for healthful foods and are producing a wide array of products made with whole grains.These include breads, pastas, breakfast cereals, English muffins, waffles, crackers, and muffins.
Nutritionists recommend we eat brown rice, which takes a little longer to cook than white rice but packs a big nutritional punch. They also urge home cooks to try grains such as barley, bulgur, kamut, kasha, and qunioa. These can be cooked in boiling water or broth and served as a side dish, just as rice is, salted lightly and perhaps mixed with steamed vegetables or legumes.
However you decide to work whole grains into your diet, your family will reap good rewards. The grains' naturally rich, nutty flavors enhance a good number of dishes, and their nutritiousness can’t be beat.