See FoodFit tips for buying whole grains.
Learn more about the wonders of grains with our Glorious Grains Guide.
Get your fill of whole grains with these delicious recipes.
Make It Whole
In the 19th century, sailors returned from the East Indies suffering from memory loss, delusions and, eventually, congestive heart failureall symptoms of the disease beriberi. Doctors blamed the illness on toxins or infectious agents in wayfarers' diet of predominantly white rice.
By the next century, scientists discovered that the cause of beriberi actually lay in the process of refining and polishing the grains, removingalong with other nutrientsthe crucial vitamin B1.
Of course, beriberi isn't much of a worry nowadays and manufacturers "enrich" processed grains to replace at least some of the lost nutrients. But they can't replace all the vitamins and minerals lost to processing and they can't restore any of the fiber.
According to Professor George Blackburn, associate director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School and a member of FoodFit's Advisory Board, we expect whole grains to provide up to 25 percent of our daily fiber intake. In reality, once the polishing and refining process is done, most grains actually give you less than 10 percent of the daily requirement.
So What Makes a Grain Whole?
The physical components of all grains are essentially the same: the outer layer of a kernel is bran; the seed is the germ; and the endosperm is the largest part, made up mostly from protein and carbohydrates. When you see the term "whole" on a grain, it means that all three parts of the kernel remain. During processing or "polishing," however, the germ and the bran are removed, leaving only the endosperm, the least nutritious part of the grain.
The most common grains are barley, corn, oats, rice and wheat (check out our Glorious Grains Guide and our Rice Guide for recipes and more information.) As the appetite for grains has grown, so has the availability of less common but tasty alternatives, like couscous and quinoa.
Whole-Y Good for You
Whole grains are an important source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, minerals, and B-vitamins. In many of the world's cultures, they provide the bulk of the protein in peoples' diets.
Unfortunately, a substantial amount of that protein content is lost in the refining process, along with other health-giving compounds, including some phytochemicals, which scientists are now discovering to be crucial components in the body's ability to repair or rebuild damaged cells and to fight disease, including cancer and heart disease.
Eating whole grain foods doesn't have to be hard work. Take it slowly and change your diet one step at a time; fill up on oatmeal for breakfast; try a low-fat whole grain cracker for a snack; use at least half whole wheat flour when baking. Get started with these recipes:
Aztecan Quinoa Salad
Golden Grain Griddle Cakes
Susan Spicer's Jambalaya
Wild Rice with Dried Cranberries and Walnuts
Tips for Buying Whole Grains
- Check the label. "Bleached," "enriched," or "refined" all mean that the grain has been processed.
- Beware of labels that list "wheat flour." It sounds good, but wheat flour actually means it's 75 percent white flour and only 25 percent whole wheat flour.
- As a rule of thumb, look for the whole grain label. If it doesn't say whole grain, then it probably isn't.
Click herefor more information about whole grain food labeling.
Read what the American Dietetic Associationone of FoodFit's Resource Associationssays about whole grains.
was contributed by Ruth Prince.