Whole grains – or foods made from them – contain the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (cracked, crushed, rolled or cooked), the product not provide the same benefits as nutrients that found in the original, natural grain seed. 100% of the original kernel (bran, germ and endosperm) must be present to qualify as a whole grain.
You can use whole grains SO many ways – In breads, muffins, cereal, salads, soups and even pizza crust! Here are some good reasons why we should:
Grains are important sources of dietary fiber, B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).
Dietary fiber from whole grains may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Fiber is important for proper bowel function, reducing constipation and diverticulosis.
Whole grains help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories, so it can be helpful for weight loss.
The B vitamins play an important role in metabolism, helping the body utilize protein, fat, and carbohydrates. They’re also essential for a healthy nervous system.
Folate (folic acid), another B vitamin, helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should consume adequate folate from foods, and in addition to synthetic folic acid from supplements.
Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood. Many teenage girls and women of childbearing age have anemia.
Whole grains are sources of magnesium and selenium. Magnesium is a mineral used in building bones and protecting cells from oxidation. It’s also important for a healthy immune system.
Tips for buying: Whole grains are easy to find on food labels. It should be listed first as one of the following:
brown rice buckwheat bulgur millet oatmeal popcorn quinoa
rolled oats whole-grain barley whole-grain corn whole-grain sorghum
whole-grain triticale whole oats whole rye wild rice
whole wheat (including varieties such as spelt, emmer, farro & wheatberries)
Foods labeled with the words multi-grain, stone-ground, 100% wheat, cracked wheat, seven-grain or bran are usually NOT whole-grain products.
Dark color is not always an indication of a whole grain. Bread can be brown because of molasses, for example. Many, but not all, whole grain products are good or excellent sources of fiber. Look for higher percent Daily Values for fiber.
Look for added sugars, also known as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, or raw sugar. These add calories!
Most of the sodium we consume comes from packaged foods, including breads. Foods with less than 140 mg sodium per serving qualify as low sodium and can be labeled as such.
For the more adventurous – A not so well known grain! Want to broaden your whole grain horizons? Amaranth – or amaranthus – are very tall plants with broad green leaves and bright purple, red, or gold flowers, commonly grown for their edible seeds. It isn’t a true cereal grain in the sense that oats and wheat are. It’s nutrient profile is similar to that of cereal and it has been utilized in traditional diets spanning thousands of years. Amaranth grain has a long history in Mexico and is a native crop in Peru. It was a major crop of the Aztecs, and some between 8,000 years ago. But, the Aztecs didn’t just grow and eat amaranth. It was also used in religious practices. Many ceremonies would include the creation of a deity’s image that had been made from a combination of amaranth and honey. These images were worshipped before being broken into pieces and distributed among the people, to eat.
Amaranth contains more than three times the average amount of calcium and is also high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. It’s also the only grain documented to contain Vitamin C. It’s also packed with protein – among the highest of vegetable origin and close to those of animal products. More recently, molecular biologists in Mexico were the first to report the presence of a lunasin-like peptide that was previously identified in soybeans. It is widely thought to have cancer-preventing benefits, as well as blocking inflammation in chronic illness such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. And, it’s good for your heart: Amaranth has potential as a cholesterol-lowing whole grain. Last, but not least, it’s gluten- free!
Cooking amaranth is easy peasy – Just boil water (at least 6 cups of water for every cup of amaranth) add grains, simmer, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes then drain and rinse. It stays crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside. Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills both sell amaranth and can recommend some interesting recipes, like this one:
Amaranth Banana Walnut Bread
1 cup cooked amaranth
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 3)
1/2 cup honey
3 Tbsp melted butter or olive oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Lightly grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
3. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and walnuts. Mix well.
4. In a separate bowl, beat bananas, honey, eggs, butter, and vanilla until blended. Add amaranth and mix well.
5. Pour mixture over dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
6. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
7. Let cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on rack.
[Recipe courtesy of Judith Finlayson, from The Complete Whole Grains Cookbook.]
Nutrition facts per 1/16 loaf: Calories: 170, Total Fat: 6g, Sodium: 75mg, Total Carbs: 27g, Dietary Fiber: 3g, Protein: 4g