The Scoop on Whole Grains

The Word is definitely out about whole grains.

Whole grains are emphasized in the dietary guidelines* of many medical associations including:

“The Scoop on Whole Grains” is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. For individual health and medical advice, contact your health care professional.

  • The American Medical Association: “Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains.”
  • The American Diabetes Association: “Choose whole grains over processed grain products.”
  • The American Cancer Society in its “Summary of Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Prevention”: “Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains.”
  • The American Heart Association: “Choose foods such as whole wheat, oats and oatmeal, rye, barley and corn. Also include popcorn, brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa and sorghum. Choose breads and other foods that list whole grains as the first item in the ingredient list.”
  • The Food and Drug Administration: “Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods, and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”

*These guidelines can be viewed in detail on the web sites of the organizations listed.

What exactly are whole grains and why are they so important?

Farmer-Mike-HermanBotanically, whole grains – the cereal grains – are the edible seeds of plants belonging to the grass family (Poaceae).The most important cereal grains in the world – wheat, corn and rice – are grasses. Others include barley, rye, oats, millet and triticale. However, from the culinary and nutritional point of view there are other foods grouped with whole grains that are not grasses, including amaranth (amaranth family, Amaranthaceae), buckwheat (buckwheat family, Polygonaceae) and quinoa (goosefoot family, Chenopodiaceae).

Whole grains, as opposed to processed, “refined” grains, contain all three parts of the grain: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. The bran – the outer layer – is full of fiber, B vitamins, 50 to 80 percent of the grain’s minerals and other nutritious plant substances known as phytochemicals. The endosperm – the starchy part of the seed – contains complex carbohydrates, proteins, and smaller amounts of B vitamins. The germ is full of B vitamins, vitamin E, trace minerals, healthy kinds of fats, and additional phytochemicals and antioxidants. Different grains vary in the types and proportions of all these nutrients.

Refined grain products lack the bran and germ of the grain. The processing reduces the nutrient content of the original whole grain by 25 to 90 percent. Most refined grain foods are “enriched” but with only a fraction of the nutrients lost in processing.

Refined grain products have not only been stripped of valuable nutrients including most if not all the dietary fiber; their predominance in the American diet has given carbohydrates a bad name. Low-carb diets have been the rage, in competition with very low fat diets, but that’s all changing. The human body requires protein, fat and carbohydrates to function properly, and we now know more about what constitutes “healthy fats” and “healthy carbohydrates.” Whole grains are an excellent source of healthy complex carbohydrates.

The difference between “stripped down carbs” and whole grains is the nutrient content and glycemic effect  – the effect on blood glucose (or blood sugar). Protein, fiber and fats all have a modifying effect on the glycemic load of foods. Foods that are highly processed and composed of little more than starch and/or sugar generally tend to cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar, in comparison to whole grains which contain protein, fiber and healthy fats that help keep blood sugar more steady. Overconsumption of mostly refined carbohydrates is associated with obesity and insulin resistance (IR), where the body’s cells become resistant to insulin’s attempts to usher glucose from blood into cells where it is needed. The result is abnormally high blood sugar and insulin levels. IR in turn sets the stage for type 2 diabetes and a host of other health problems.

The dietary fiber in whole grains deserves emphasis. Not only does fiber help to regulate blood sugar; soluble fiber (found especially in oats and barley) helps lower “bad” cholesterol in the blood, and insoluble fiber is essential to digestive health

Years of medical research have confirmed that including at least three servings of whole grains daily reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Few foods offer so many benefits.

How to include whole grains in your diet

It really isn’t difficult to meet the recommended three to five daily servings of whole grains. One serving includes: 1/2 cup cooked whole grains such as brown rice; 1/2 cup cooked whole grain cereal such as oatmeal or 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal; one slice of 100% whole grain bread; one small (one oz.) whole grain muffin; or 1/2 cup cooked 100% whole grain pasta. The easiest way to meet your quota is to include whole grains at every meal and remember whole grains at snack time (popcorn counts!). Start substituting whole grains for processed wherever you can.

Learn more from the Whole Grains Council about the health benefits of whole grains, recipes and more.

Grain Place Foods offers a variety of certified organic whole grains and seeds to choose from.  Why not think outside the cereal box and experiment with grains such as spelt berries or quinoa? Add cooked grains to casseroles, soups, stews, breads, or make a pilaf with one of your own unique combinations of grains and veggies. Create your own breakfast porridge, or try our most popular mix, “Favorite Five™.” Choose Grain Place Foods products from the following certified organic grains, seeds and beans:

  • “Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load,” Micronutrient Information Center, Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University. December, 2005.
  • Higgins, Mary Meck, Ph.D, R.D., L.D., CDE. “Healthful Whole Grains!” Fact Sheet. Kansas State University. September, 2002 (Revised October, 2007).
  • Weil, Andrew. Healthy Aging: A Lifelong Guide to Your Physical and Spiritual WellBeing. New York: Knopf, 2005.
  • Whole Grains Council