September Is Whole Grains Month: Here Is What You Need To Know About Grains

What is a "whole" grain? A whole grain retains all three nutrient-dense parts of the grain: bran, germ and endosperm. Refining a grain, as in the production of white flour or rice, removes the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm. This manufacturing process results in 25 percent less protein, 50 percent less B vitamins, 90 percent less vitamin E, and a loss of essentially all of the digestive fiber. Although some nutrients may be added back through fortification, other healthy components of whole grains such as phytochemicals cannot be replaced.

  • Bran is the outermost layer of the seed that contains the majority of the fiber, phytochemicals, B vitamins (niacin, thiamin and riboflavin) and 50 to 80 percent of minerals including iron, copper, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium and selenium.
  • Endosperm is the middle layer, which is the largest part of the seed and is also called the kernel. It contains most of the protein and carbohydrates, and small amounts of some B vitamins and minerals.
  • Germ is the inner component containing healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E and some protein. It is also a concentrated source of phytochemicals, phytosterols, antioxidants, B vitamins and minerals.
  • Fiber regulates blood sugar, lowers cholesterol and moves waste through the digestive tract. Fiber may also help prevent the formation of small blood clots that can trigger heart attacks or strokes.
  • Phytochemicals, antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium, selenium and copper found in whole grains may protect against some cancers.
  • Phytosterols lower cholesterol.

What is a "grain"?  Grains are the harvested seeds of grasses including wheat, oats, rice, barley, rye, corn, wild rice, teff, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, triticale and sorghum. Grains are also referred to as cereals and are the staple food for billions of people around the globe. People obtain almost half of their calories from grains. Worldwide, rice, corn and wheat are the most common grains.

Grainy truths:

  • Buckwheat is related to rhubarb and sorrel; and is not wheat. Buckwheat is a complete protein.
  • Japanese soba noodles are traditionally made with buckwheat but may also contain refined wheat.
  • Kasha refers to roasted buckwheat, also called buckwheat groats.
  • Due to thousands of years of hybridization, there are more varieties of wheat than any other crop. There are strains with two sets of chromosomes (diploid), four sets of chromosomes (tetraploid) with the common name of durum or pasta wheat, and six sets of chromosomes (hexaploid) with the common name of bread wheat.
  • In the U.S. there are six classifications of wheat: Hard Red Winter (HRW), Hard Red Spring (HRS), Hard White (HW), Durum, Soft White (SW), and Soft Red Winter (SRW). Each class of wheat has different end use functions. For example soft white is used to make cookies, cakes and pastries.
  • Wheat encompasses spelt, emmer, Kamut®, farro, graham, semolina, freekeh, bulgur, farro and durum.
  • Durum is the hardest class of wheat and is used to make pasta, couscous and certain Mediterranean breads. It is high in protein and gluten. When milled, the endosperm is ground into a granular product called semolina. Semolina is traditionally used for pasta making.
  • Graham is not a variety of wheat, rather a type of processing developed by Sylvester Graham in the early 1800s. The three parts of the wheat grain are separated. The endosperm is finely ground while the germ and bran are coarsely ground. Then the parts are put back together resulting in graham flour. Today, some commercial granaries remove a large part of the wheat germ to prolong the shelf life of the flour. Here is the whole story about graham flour:
  • Bulgur is cracked wheat that is parboiled or precooked.
  • Wheat berries are the whole uncooked seed or uncracked wheat
  • Freekeh is unripened wheat (also called young green wheat) that has been roasted and typically crushed into small pieces.
  • Triticale is a hybrid cross between wheat and rye.
  • Gluten is the composite of naturally occurring proteins in wheat, barley, rye and triticale.
  • Oats do not naturally contain gluten. Oats are often grown with wheat or processed in a plant that also processes wheat and thereby contain gluten via association with these other products.
  • Farro is an Italian word that refers to three varieties of ancient wheat: einkorn, spelt and/or emmer.
  • Ancient grains include einkorn (wheat), emmer (wheat), spelt (wheat), sorghum, teff, Khorasan, millet and amaranth.
  • Quinoa, an ancient seed crop harvested from a species of a plant called goosefoot is a complete protein source, containing all essential amino acids. It is officially a seed and part of a group of pseudocereals, making it neither a cereal nor a grain, and more closely related to spinach and beets than to cereals or grains.
  • Einkorn is the oldest and purest wheat known to scientists, and is considered man’s first wheat. It has only two sets of chromosomes. It is grown in Italy, Canada and the U.S. There is evidence that the gliadin protein (gluten) of einkorn may not be as toxic to sufferers of celiac disease.
  • Khorasan, is an ancient Egyptian variety of wheat that has been grown in Montana for over sixty years, trademarked with the name Kamut®.
  • Ancient wheat varieties tend to be higher in nutritional value as compared to modern wheat.
  • There are many varieties of heirloom (or heritage) wheat around the world depending on geographical location. These date back a few centuries compared to ancient wheat like einkorn that dates back millions of years.

So with all this talk about grains --- what are the recommended servings of grains and starchy vegetables per day? 4 to 11 servings per day of mostly whole grains versus processed or refined grains. For example one serving equals 1 slice bread or 1/2 cup cooked pasta.

Talk to a registered dietitian to learn more about serving sizes and exactly how many servings are right for you!

For healthy recipes and dietary facts, pick up a copy of the award winning diet-lifestyle cookbook: Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy.

Other references:

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