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Why Whole Grains?

Posted April 21st, 2011 by cws_mcqu

In the recent release of the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines , Americans are encouraged to eat more whole grains and eat at least half of your grains from whole grain sources. This encouragement is reinforced in the marketplace where you can find statements and health claims on products containing whole grains such as “contains 16 g whole grains per serving; eat 48 grams or more per day” or “a diet rich in fiber may reduced the risk of heart disease”.  What does all of this mean?  Why the emphasis on whole grains? First, let’s begin with some definitions and facts.

A whole grain is a grain that has been minimally processed and contains the bran, endosperm and germ.  The protective outer coating of the whole grain is the bran and is a rich source of fiber and vitamin B.  The bran envelops the endosperm which is the primary a source of carbohydrate and protein.  Just between the bran and the endosperm lies the germ which is made up of healthy oils, vitamins and protein.

Examples of whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, 100% whole wheat bread, buckwheat, oatmeal and popcorn.  A refined grain is processed and generally has the bran and/or germ removed. Examples of refined grain include white flour, (degermed) corn meal, white rice, semolina flour (used to make pasta, cous cous) and farina (cream of wheat).

In ancient Roman times, only the very wealthy had access to refined white flour that was preferred because of it’s neutral flavor and light texture.  It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that milling refined grains became automated and increased the supply and decreased the price.  Prior to that time in our history, refined grains and flours were expensive because of the laborious process it took to remove the bran and germ. Once access to refined grains became abundant, refined grains were preferred for many reasons. The shift in supply and demand made refined grains less expensive than their whole counterparts. Additionally, refined grains were found to be much more shelf stable than whole grains because the germ, which contains volatile oils that can spoil, is removed.  Lastly, refined grains were preferred for their taste and for culinary applications.  Refined grains have a softer texture and neutral flavor that is preferred in many cooking applications, especially breads and desserts.

However, even in ancient Roman times, the culture understood the nutritional benefits of whole grains.  There are reports that gladiators ate a diet rich in whole grains because of the nutritional benefits.  As mentioned above, whole grains are a great source of vitamin B, fiber, healthy oils over the refined version, but they also contain phytochemicals, compounds that benefit our health. A diet rich in whole grains (3 servings/day) is correlated  with decreased risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and may decrease one’s risk for colon cancer.

What is 3 servings of whole grains?  What does “make half your grains whole” mean?   For an average 2000 calorie daily diet, the recommendation is to eat a minimum of 6 servings (equivalent to 6 ounces) of breads or grains and make at least three of those six servings whole grain based.  The amount of whole grains per serving can vary from product to product, but, in general, foods that are made from 100% whole grain contain a minimum of 16 grams of whole grain per serving. Therefore, the goal is to eat a minimum of 48 grams of whole grains per day.

The dining centers offer an ever growing variety of whole grain options —oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat wraps, bread, ciabatta, hamburger buns, pizza crust and exotic ancient whole grain salads are just a few of the daily options available.  Consider giving these options a try…you won’t be disappointed (and your body will thank you)!

Be Well!

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