Grains come from a family of grasses (Gramineae) that are also called cereals. A grain is the seed part of these grasses. All grains start out as “Whole Grains”.
“Pseudo-cereals” are seeds from grasses that are not in the Gramineae family but are still considered a cereal. Some examples are Amaranth, Buckwheat, and Quinoa. Another non-cereal that is considered a grain by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is Flaxseed.
A Grain is comprised of three parts:
Bran—the multi-layered fibrous coat that protects the grain from the sun, insects, and diseases.
Endosperm—the energy supply for the germ and plant.
Germ—the embryo of the plant.
Grains can be prepared whole, cracked, split, ground/pulverized (a.k.a Flour), boiled, pearled or cooked.
For a product in a store to be considered a “whole grain” product, all the parts of the grain (Bran, Endosperm, Germ) must be present in the same proportion as they are naturally found.
It should be noted that terms such as “whole wheat” or “multi-grain” are not regulated and can be confusing. To make sure products labeled as whole grains (“Whole Wheat”, “Whole Grain”…) will provide larger amounts of whole grains, it must be the first ingredient on the label, meaning it makes up 51% of the product by weight.
Whole grains are high in complex carbohydrates in comparison with refined grains. Complex carbohydrates are polysaccharides, which are made up of long chains of sugar molecules. These long chains in bread are also known as starch. Complex carbs take longer to break down in the body and keep your blood sugar levels stable especially in the presence of fiber. Refined grains in food products are listed in the ingredients section with terms like white flour, bleached flour, or enriched flour. When grains are processed, the Bran and Germ are removed leaving only the Endosperm behind.
In the body refined grains are broken down and absorbed quickly. This happens because refined grains are grains that have been ground/pulverized, which exposes more of the grain’s surface, allowing your digestive enzymes to break down more of the grain. Whole grains on the other hand contain more complex carbohydrates and are not completely pulverized. They have less of their surface are exposed and that makes it difficult for your body to break down all the carbohydrates. This allows the grain to take longer to digest and the body absorbs it gradually, which keeps your insulin and blood glucose levels from spiking.
A diet high in whole grains along with a healthy lifestyle is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Whole grains that have high soluble fiber (fiber that gets absorbed by the body) like Oats and pearled Barley can help decrease LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, help lower your blood pressure, and help improve your blood glucose levels. Grains that are high in insoluble fiber (fiber that does not get digested and absorbed by the body) can moderate your blood sugar levels and even act like a prebiotic.
Another benefit of Whole Grains are the bioflavanoids found in them. These flavanoids also help dilate your lymphs. Your lymph system is responsible for clearing toxins from your body and can help boost your immune system. When your lymphs are dilated they can flush out even more toxins from your body so eating these fruits can be very beneficial for you even when you’re not sick. This is a great example of preventive medicine; you’re helping to fortify your body against many diseases including cancer.
Wheat starts out as a very nutritious raw material but usually ends up as a final product that isn’t so nutritious as it once was. When wheat (and other grains) is processed about 60% of the grain itself is removed (the Germ and Bran). About ½ of the B vitamins, folic acid, zinc, copper, phosphorus, calcium, and iron are removed in the process. The remaining wheat is “enriched” with some of the nutrients that were lost and this final product is known as “Enriched wheat flour”. This type of white flour is high on the glycemic index, meaning, it can cause your blood glucose levels to go up quickly.
Whole wheat on the other hand contains all of the vitamins and minerals including a good amount of vitamin E. This form of wheat is also known as “Whole Wheat” or “100 percent Whole wheat” as an ingredient in food products. Whole Wheat products can help reduce the incidence of colon cancer, reduce the risk of breast cancer by decreasing the amount of estrogen on the blood, and it can help improve your bowel function.
The downside to Whole wheat or whole grain flour is that is has a shorter shelf life. Whole grains contain more oils than the non-whole grains and oils go rancid (breakdown) in light so when the bread or flour is exposed to light it can speed up the bread’s decaying process or make the product less desirable to the pallet. The best way to slow this process down in your home is to store bread either in the fridge or in a cool area. Keeping the bread covered in a dark area may help as well.
A second and very important thing to note is that the FDA allows bread manufacturers to put a seal or label on their breads that says “Whole Grain”.
When in doubt, look for these stamps on the packaging of your bread from the Whole Grains Council.
There are two different varieties of Stamp, the Basic Stamp and the 100% Stamp.
- If a product bears the 100% Stamp, then all its grain ingredients are whole grains. There is a minimum requirement of 16g (16 grams) – a full serving – of whole grain per labeled serving, for products using the 100% Stamp.
- If a product bears the Basic Stamp, it contains at least 8g (8 grams) – a half serving – of whole grain, but may also contain some refined grain. Even if a product contains large amounts of whole grain (23g, 37g, 41g, etc.), it will use the Basic Stamp if it also contains extra bran, germ, or refined flour.
Each Stamp also shows a number, telling you how many grams of whole grain ingredients are in a serving of the product.
|THE BASIC STAMP||THE 100% STAMP|
|Product may contain some
extra bran, germ, or refined flour.
|For products where ALL
of the grain is whole grain.
|Minimum requirement: 8g (8 grams)
whole grain per serving.
(one half serving of whole grain)
|Minimum requirement: 16g (16 grams)
whole grain per serving.
(a full serving of whole grain)
In my opinion many of the Whole Wheat breads that are sold in stores are not truly Whole Wheat breads because the grains are all pulverized. A truly a Whole Wheat bread would have little chunks of grains or intact grains all throughout the bread and not just along the crust. These grains would keep the bread from digesting too quickly and keep your blood sugar levels from rising as quickly as bread made solely with flour.
Whole and Cracked Grains (3-5 servings a day, 1 serving = ½ cup of cooked grain)
In this type of grain product, you can see the grain as large chunks. Because grain in this form is not ground or pulverized like Enriched flour, less of the grain is exposed to digestive enzymes in your gut meaning less of it is broken down and absorbed. Therefore, it won’t raise your blood sugar nearly as much as enriched flours.
Steel Cut Oats – An example of a Cracked Grain.
Whole Grains are packed with fiber, which is an important part of our diets. Americans on average do not get nearly enough fiber per day. Some examples of Whole grains with high amounts of fiber are: Bulgur wheat (8 grams of fiber per cup), Quinoa (5 grams per cup), and Brown rice (4 grams per cup).
What’s great about Whole Grains is that they are very good prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods that contain an ingredient that can increase the number or activity of the good bacteria in your gut.
Click Here to learn more about Grains.