We eat too many refined foods. By refined we mean processed. Processing removes many of the beneficial nutrients in our food. Our ancestors didn’t eat refined foods, and while they may not have enjoyed our longevity due to factors such as injury or disease, it’s a good bet that most of them didn’t die from heart attacks caused by cholesterol or high blood pressure.
On average, Americans consume only 1 serving of whole grains daily. The recently released USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage Americans to increase their intake of whole grain foods to at least three ounces per day.
Whole grain foods give nutritional benefits of the entire grain -- vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and other natural plant compounds called phytochemicals. Scientists believe phytochemicals in whole grains, together with the vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, may contribute to whole grains’ health benefits.
What is a Whole Grain?
Whole grains are made up of all parts of the grain--the bran (or fiber-rich outer layer), the endosperm (middle part) and the germ (the nutrient-rich inner part). Whole grains are essentially living seeds with the potential to sprout and grow.
When grains are milled, or refined, the bran and germ portions are removed, leaving only the endosperm. By contrast, whole grain foods contain all three layers of the grain. When you eat a variety of whole grain foods, you get the nutritional benefits of the entire grain.
Eating a variety of whole grains each day will help ensure that you get the nutrients needed to stay healthy. All types of grain foods are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates. Nutrition experts recommend that we eat most of our daily calories as carbohydrates, especially complex ones. They supply energy for daily activities. Whole grains are low in fat, and because they are from plants they have no cholesterol. They are high in fiber, plant protein, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, resistant starch, phytate and many other healthful substances.
Whole grains provide many of the nutrients that are low in America’s diet, including fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, and the minerals selenium, zinc, copper and magnesium.
There is a long list of other naturally occurring substances in whole grains, besides soluble and insoluble fiber. These healthful factors may help prevent diseases from developing, lower blood cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar or improve immune function.
What are Some Whole Grain Foods?
Barley is an excellent source of iron and fiber. Add barley to soups or steam and serve with vegetables, in salads or as a side dish.
Bran is an excellent source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-6. Bran is at its best when used in baking.
Buckwheat is an excellent source of magnesium, and a good source of copper and fiber. Buckwheat is the seed of a plant related to rhubarb. The whole form minus the hull is called groats. When dry roasted, groats become kasha. Kasha can be steamed or it can be used a breakfast cereal and has a hearty, earthy flavor. Buckwheat can also be made into flour.
Bulgar is a good source of iron and magnesium and is best served like rice in soups or as a side dish.
Corn (Cornmeal, Grits, Hominy and Polenta)
Corn is an excellent source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B-6. Whole grain cornmeal can be used in pancakes, bread and muffins and grits, hominy and polenta can be used as side dish for breakfast or dinner.
Couscous is a good source of fiber and is best used as a rice-type dish with vegetables, meat or fish.
Millet looks like birdseed but it has a mild flavor and crunchy texture. Cook millet for breakfast and serve with butter, honey and milk, use as a side dish with savory herbs, add to meatloaf or use in stir-fry.
Oats and oatmeal are an excellent source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, thiamin and folate. Oats are outstanding as cereal, for baking and as a gravy or soup thickener.
Quinoa is an excellent source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, thiamin and riboflavin. When cooked it has a mild taste, light fluffy texture and pleasing crunch. Makes unique side dishes and is great with salads and soups.
Rice (Brown, Red, Black and Wild)
White rice has all the nutrients refined out of it so choose one of the other varieties. It can be used as a side dish, for stuffing, stir fry, or any way that you would normally eat white rice.
Wheat Germ is a good source of vitamin C and fiber. It can be eaten raw and is great sprinkled over yogurt or hot cereal or mixed with breads or muffins.
Ways to Add Whole Grains to Your Daily Diet
• Choose a quick and easy ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook whole grain cereal for breakfast. (More than 30 whole grain breakfast cereals are distributed nationally.)
• Pour some dry, bite-size cereals into a bag, or grab a whole grain cereal bar to take along with you as a snack during your busy day.
• Choose whole grain breads, tortillas, bagels, pita pockets and rolls.
• Try whole grain muffins or cornbread made with whole grain corn meal.
• Pop popcorn.
• Enjoy low fat whole grain crackers, baked tortilla chips or a brown rice cake as a snack.
• Add whole grains to mixed dishes. Try adding some pearl barley, wild or brown rice to your favorite soup, stew or casserole.
• Add oats to cookies or other desserts.
• Try substituting whole grain flour for one-fourth to one-half of the white flour called for in recipes.
• Choose whole grain pasta (macaroni, spaghetti, noodles), pancakes or waffles for a change of pace.
• Try a hot or cold whole grain side dish (such as pilaf or stuffing) using brown or wild rice, kasha, bulgur or pearl barley.