Eighty percent of Americans eat less than one whole grain product per day. Yet, the term “whole grains” comes up often in nutrition recommendations and guidelines. Understanding the parts of a grain and their nutritional benefits will motivate you to incorporate more whole grains in your diet.
A whole grain is one that contains the entire seed of the plant – the starchy interior called the endosperm, the outer bran layers and the germ or sprouting section of the kernel.
Let’s look at a kernel of wheat.
A) The endosperm
It is the source of white flour. The endosperm contains the greatest share of protein, carbohydrate and iron as well as some B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin). The complex carbohydrate found in the endosperm provides an excellent energy source while iron is needed for proper formation of red blood cells.
It’s included in whole-wheat flour and can also be bought separately. The bran contains a small amount of protein, large quantities of B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin and thiamin), trace minerals and dietary fiber, primarily insoluble.
Diets rich in fiber are greater in volume and take longer to eat which aids weight control. The B-vitamins, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin, all play a major role in the production of energy in the body, and are required for healthy skin and vision as well as for the normal functioning of the nervous and digestive systems.
C) The germ
The germ is part of whole-wheat flour and can be bought separately. The germ contains vitamin E, a greater share of B vitamins, including folic acid, and trace minerals including iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese, copper and selenium.
Vitamin E and selenium act as antioxidants and may help prevent cancer. Folic acid helps keep one’s homocysteine level low which lowers the risk of heart disease; it also lowers the risk of spina bifida, a birth defect. Magnesium and potassium may help lower blood pressure; zinc strengthens the immune system and promotes wound healing; manganese is needed for bone formation; copper aids in iron metabolism.
Many researchers believe that other components present in whole grains-such as lignans, phenolic acids and other phytochemicals-may help protect against heart disease and certain cancers.
Of the twenty-two nutrients stripped in the milling process, only five (thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, iron and folate) are put back in enriched white flour. It pays to read the ingredient list.
By Beth Fontenot, MS, RD.
3 Steps to More Whole Grains
#1 Check ingredients
If whole wheat, or another whole grain, is the first ingredient listed, then the food is primarily whole grain. Descriptions like “wheat,” “multi-grain,” “honey wheat,” or “wheatberry” can fool you into thinking you’re buying a whole grain product.
#2 Eat a Variety.
Try to incorporate at least one serving of whole grains each day; more is even better. Eating a
variety of whole grains, such as wheat, rice, oats, corn and barley, will ensure that you get plenty of both soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.
Plan your meals around whole grains.
Breakfast: cooked oatmeal, Cheerios, Total, Shredded Wheat, Wheaties, whole wheat toast.
Lunch: barley vegetable soup, sandwich made with whole wheat bread.
Dinner: whole wheat pasta, stirfry with brown rice, corn, tostada salad made with baked corn tortilla, bulgur salad.