The new Food Guide Pyramid encourages consumers to “get half from whole” by consuming whole grains for half of their daily grain intake. Research shows whole-grain foods are associated with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers and may help with better weight control.
Despite these well-documented health benefits, Americans average less than one serving of whole grains per day. Maybe it is because they are not sure what a whole grain food is.
Whole grains are made up of all parts of the grain — the bran (or fiber-rich outer layer), the endosperm (middle part) and the germ (the nutrient-rich inner part). When grains are milled, or refined, the bran and germ portions are removed, leaving only the endosperm. By contrast, whole grain foods contain all three layers of the grain. When one eats a variety of whole grain foods, one gets the nutritional benefits of the entire grain. Whole grains contain many other natural plant compounds called phytochemicals.
Scientists believe phytochemicals in whole grains, together with the vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, may contribute to whole grains’ health benefits.
The white bread traditionally eaten is made from refined wheat flour, which only contains the endosperm. Most wheat and grain breads are also made from refined flour. The only way to make sure a food is made from a whole grain is to read the ingredients label on the package and look for the word “whole” in front of the first grain listed.
One good piece of news is that oats are always whole grain. This is why oatmeal is being encouraged for heart health.
Corn and popcorn are also whole grains. Cornmeal, however, might not be whole grain. If the cornmeal says degerminated, then the germ of the corn kernel has been removed.
Many bread and cereal products have been enriched. This means the major vitamins and minerals removed from the grain when it was processed are added back in. However, the food still does not have the nutritional impact of a whole grain, because many of the trace nutrients that were in the grain have not been added back. There is also a fiber loss, which is known to keep our bowels healthy and help with weight control.
Fortified foods have vitamins and minerals added that were not originally in the grain product, such as breakfast cereal with added iron. These still are not as good as a whole grain, because the trace phytochemicals and antioxidants work to help the body absorb and use the vitamins and minerals better. Some phytochemicals and antioxidants have not even been identified yet.
There are whole grain choices other than wheat to help get three whole grain servings a day. Brown rice can be used in the same dishes as white rice. Brown rice does take longer to cook than white, but there is a quick-cook version. Whole grain pastas are more widely available and have a slightly nutty flavor. Be careful not to overcook them as they get sticky.
Undercooked is actually better. Popcorn is always a choice, but watch the butter. More cereals and snack products are switching to whole grain, so read the labels, but watch the sugar and fat content.
Barley is a great grain to use for soups, stews and casseroles. It is very filling, but does take awhile to cook. Pearled barley has the husk and germ removed, so it cooks faster. The best nutritional bet is to purchase hulled barley.
Both bulgur and cracked wheat are excellent sources of fiber, minerals and vitamins. Cracked wheat is raw whole wheat berries that are crushed. They can be used in a variety of recipes, but are hard. Whole wheat kernels that are steamed, dried and then crushed is bulgur. Bulgur makes a chewy cereal that can be eaten as a side dish or put into casseroles.
There are many other whole grain foods to choose from, including wild rice, flax and triticale. Many can be found at health food stores or on the Web.
Start today with whole grain by making a switch in bread cereal and rice choices. Don’t forget oatmeal. It is great to add to cookies and meatloaf.
-Contributed by Quay Extension Home Economist Brenda Bishop
Baked barley with mushrooms and carrots
1 tbsp. butter
3 large carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
10-12 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 cups water
1 cup pearl barley (cook longer if using hulled barley)
1 tsp. dried thyme, crushed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter in an ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onion and 1 tbsp. broth. Cook, stirring frequently, for eight minutes, or until tender. Add another 1 tbsp. broth halfway through cooking. Add the mushrooms and 2 tbsp. broth and cook, stirring frequently, for four minutes, or until tender. Stir in the remaining broth, water, barley, thyme, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil
over high heat. Cover the pot and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the barley is tender and the liquid is absorbed.
Source: Quay County Extension Service