Whole Grains 102

Welcome back, class, to Whole Grains 102! We will be continuing that exciting topic of making sure you’re getting what you want regarding whole grains. (And I’m really hoping that you WANT those whole grains, and opposed to refined “glorified sugar” versions on foods!)

I want to start off with the simple way to make sure that you ARE getting a good product – and then I’ll touch on the tricky ways companies market around it.

First, and easiest – with rice, you want brown rice (or Black Rice.) Simple! It’s brown (or black) because of that outer bran layer. The white rice has had that removed, and so reveals its naked white self. Scandalous! Put your bran on, little rice! You’re better that way!

Oats I will get in to next time.

For other items like pasta, tortillas, breads, and buns, the simple way to make sure your product is a whole grain is to check the ingredient list. The first product listed should include the word “whole.” “Whole grain flour,” “whole wheat flour,” “whole oat,” etc. Makes sense, doesn’t it? You want Whole Grains, make sure it says is HAS Whole Grains!  If the first ingredient is “wheat flour,” do you notice what’s missing?  The word “Whole.”  Even if it’s “enriched wheat flour,” you’re missing that wholeness.

The second thing to check is the fiber content. Look at the little nutrition label and make sure you’re getting at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.

Getting enough fiber is very important. Studies see a connection between high fiber diets and decreases in colon cancer, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases. Fiber is also critical for your natural cleansing process! It’ll push the junk on out of ya! And on the way out, it is helping prevent constipation, hemorrhoids (don’t strain!), diverticulosis, and it can even sweep out some cholesterol, helping to keep those numbers in check.

That’s pretty simple! Just look for “whole” ingredients, and 3g fiber.

I could stop there, but I want to point out a few marketing trickeries, so you are aware.

A wheat product isn’t the same as Whole Wheat or Whole Grain. As shown in the 101 posting, that entire kernel was a WHEAT kernel! So, even when that kernel is processed down and the good parts are removed, they can still call it Wheat Bread. But you’re smart enough to not be fooled by that now, aren’t you! You want the WHOLE grain – bran, germ, and all.

For those types of products, the ingredient list will often show “enriched” in the first ingredient. Enriched white flour, enriched wheat flour, etc. And again, that enriching processes means that after refining the grain and stripping it of its natural health, they added back synthetic nutrients to replace the goodness that was lost, and usually in smaller amounts than originally present. Avoid these items.

Those products usually contain little in the way of fiber – maybe having none at all. Usually I see a whopping 1 gram listed on those.

For you over-achievers out there, here’s a little side topic about a newer wheat product: What about those “white wheat” breads?

The Mayo Clinic says these are actually made with a different type of wheat. Traditional wheat products are made from Red wheat. But there is a strain of Albino wheat, and “white whole-wheat bread – like regular whole-wheat bread – is made with the whole grain” and retains the fiber and nutrients. It is a softer version, more like white bread, marketing to those who are not ready to adjust to the heartier, nuttier flavors and textures of traditional whole wheat breads

Sound too good to be true, oh White-bread lovers out there? It just may be.

In a USA Today article about this new type of bread, Marion Nestle (a favorite author of mine) is quoted as saying:

“Bread is flour, water, yeast, salt. Period. This [white wheat bread] has something like 20 other ingredients…. Why not buy your kids real bread?”

Evidentially, albino wheat is still treated with a long list of conditioners and chemicals to make sure it replicates that doughy, soft texture of white bread. If so, that would be a far step from natural.

I’ll have to check out albino wheat bread at the store sometime to see the ingredient list for sure, but for now, since it doesn’t seem to be available in Saipan anyway, I’ll pass on the “white wheat.” Personally, I like sprouted bread, but that’s for the advanced Whole Grains 201 class in the future.

Your homework: check the ingredients and fiber on your breads, pastas, wraps, buns, and cereals. See what you’re getting!

*bell rings*

That’s all for today!

Whole Grains 101

Welcome, dear students, to the Whole Grains 101 class! You’ve heard the terms, you’ve seen the marketing, you’ve heard the media rant about WHOLE GRAINS and their benefits… but what does it mean, and why should you care?

Unique Facts to get started:

  • Wheat and grains were once considered the “Staff of Life”
  • They are still considered sacred in some parts of China
  • It is estimated that roughly 33% of the world’s population depends on wheat for food.

And now, onward!

The bottom line: a whole grain product is one that is made with all the edible parts of a kernel of grain – the whole sha-bang! The more processed the grain is, the more nutritional value lost, the more dead the food becomes.

Here’s a picture that shows the various parts of the grain:

Grain Parts
from WholeGrainsCouncil.org

That is a wheat kernel, but the concepts of whole grain will carry through the other varieties as well. The three edible parts of the grain are the Bran, the Germ, and the Endosperm.

Bran: The outer layer
This contains a lot of nutritional value. In this little shell, you can get protein, thiamine, riboflavin, potassium, niacin, vitamin B6, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Zinc, Copper, and Fiber. In fact, this is where the majority of the fiber of “whole grain” products will be found. Yes, lovely fiber – helpful for keeping your system regular, helping with cholesterol, and cleansing your intestinal tract. Good stuff! You can find Wheat Bran sold at some stores – just the rough, fibrous parts of the wheat. I still say go for the WHOLE grain, but if you need some extra fiber, that’s a viable option.

Germ: The baby seed
This is what would sprout a new plant if you were growing or sprouting your wheat. It is a concentrated source of nutrients – that little power house would have to fuel a whole new plant someday if it was planted! It is a complete protein source, and also carries other nutrients such as Thamine, Phosphorous, Zinc, Manganese, Selenium, Vitamin B6, Folate, magnesium, Copper, and Fiber. The germ is a good source of vitamin E, and wonderful antioxidant to protect your body from toxic derivatives created from damaged cells. Why would you want to give up all of that?!  And, like Wheat Bran, you can find Wheat Germ sold in stores.

Endosperm: Also the “kernel”
This is the bulk of the seed’s volume, and it contains relatively little in the way of vitamins and minerals. 

A wheat field in Dorset, England. Photo courtesy of Joe D.

So when you buy white grains – white pasta, white bread/buns/tortillas, white rice… it has had the bran removed, and probably the germ as well. What then, class, does that leave us?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

The Endosperm! That low-nutrient left over part, where over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber are lost. That is why the government began requiring grain companies to “enrich” their products in 1941 – they are adding back synthetic (man-made) versions of the natural health that used to be there, but often in smaller amounts that what was in the original germ and bran. Is this as natural and bioavailable? The jury is still out…

So why would anyone want to process the beautiful, nutritional, lovely whole grain??  When you use just the endosperm, what you’re left with to get the soft white breads and pastas.  It may be pretty; it may be soft; but I call it GLORIFIED SUGAR because it’s about as nutritionally depleted and can have a similar effect on your blood sugars.

Centuries ago, white flour was for royalty and more expensive because of its soft delicacy.  Whole grains were coarse and for the poorer classes.  Funny how these days, you now have to pay more for the whole grain because it’s an “added value” marketing perk! 

Whole grains are a whole package. In addition to the multiple vitamin, minerals, and fiber stated above, studies are finding more health components: within the whole grain, antioxidants, lignans, phenolic acids, phytoestrogens, and other phytochemicals may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

The Whole Grains Counsel lists some of the commonly used whole grains. If you’re bored with wheat and rice, or are gluten-sensitive, you may see some fun alternatives to try:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah)
  • Rice
  • Rye
  • Sorghum/Milo
  • Teff
  • Triticale
  • Wheat (spelt, emmer, farro, einkorn, Kamut, durum, bulgur, cracked wheat, wheat berries)
  • Wild Rice

So that sums up the basics of Whole Grains 101!

Whole Grains 102 will cover how to tell if you’re getting a real whole grain. “Wheat bread” may not be all that you think it is! And in 103, I’ll get to that topic of oats – different types, and why I think oat groats and steel-cut oats are worth looking into. And if you’re looking for an advanced class, I’ll be bringing you Whole Grains 201: Sprouting!

Any questions?

“Hallelujah, Amen, Class Dismissed!”