Have you for some reason been off grains for several days and felt incomplete and somehow lacking? That is because a grain based meal makes us feel full and energetic. In some form or the other, grains have been an integral part of human diet for thousands of years. While people in the West primarily ate wheat, rice has been the staple diet for most in the Orient.
A grain is most often the seed of a member of the grass family and is often referred to as a "cereal" grain. The word "cereal" is derived from Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture.
The list of grains is not limited to wheat and rice and includes oats, cornmeal, barley, rye and millet among others. Grains are actually seeds of various grasses. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.
Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, whole grains and refined grains.
 What are Whole Grains?
A grain kernel has three parts to it -- the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran encompasses 15 percent, the germ comprises about 3 percent and the endosperm, or the core forms about 80 percent of the kernel. Whole grains are cereals that contain all three parts, while refined grains are those in which the bran has been polished off. It is important to note that if the kernel has been cracked, crushed or flaked, then the whole grain product must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, germ and endosperm as the original grain to qualify as a whole grain.
 Common Types of Whole Grains
There are other, not so common varieties of Whole Grains --
Common whole grain food include whole grain breads and rolls, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, cooked oatmeal, popcorn, whole grain pastas, brown rice and crackers.
 Composition of Whole Grain
Whole grains are almost complete meals in themselves. They contain carbohydrates, fiber, fats, protein, vitamins such as B and E complexes, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, selenium, and zinc. Most of the nutrients in the grain such as the dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins are present in the bran and the germ of the grain.
Besides soluble and insoluble fiber, there are several other naturally occurring substances such as tocopherols, beta-carotene, vitamin C, folate, glutamine, phytoestrogens, lignans, flavonoids, oligosaccharides, inositol, phenolics, saponins, lectins, and protease and amylase inhibitors.
 What Are Refined Grains?
When grains are milled to give them a finer texture and improve their shelf life, they are referred to as refined grains. Unfortunately, the milling process removes the bran and germ and therefore the dietary fiber, iron, and many vitamins and minerals that were a part of the grain. Some examples of refined grain products are:
- White flour
- Degermed cornmeal
- White bread
- White rice
While buying grain/wheat products in the supermarket we often come across labels saying –“60% extraction”. This is also the standard for most wheat products in the United States, including breads, noodles and pastas, baked goods like rolls or biscuits, and cookies. This means that 40% of the original wheat grain was removed, and only 60% is left. It also means that while removing 40% of the original wheat grain, over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber has been lost.
 Health benefits of Whole Grain
Whole grains have a positive impact on our overall health. It is important to note that though each individual part of the grain has health benefits, maximum benefit can be reaped by eating the entire grain. Eating a diet high in whole grains and other fiber-rich foods can drastically lower a person's risk of pancreatic cancer, according to a 2008 study conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Francisco and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
- Whole grains contain protective antioxidants in amounts near or exceeding those in fruits and vegetables. They also provide some unique antioxidants not found in other foods. Corn, for example, has almost twice the antioxidants present in apples. Wheat and oats almost equal broccoli and spinach in antioxidant activity.
- Whole Grains provide energy, prevent diseases from developing, lower blood cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar and improve immune function. They also help in maintaining healthy bones and relaxing muscle tension. In addition, they have a diuretic effect on the body's tissues and helps reduce bloating.
- Whole Grains reduce risk of the following diseases --
Whole grains can be added to each meal without spending a lot of time or money to do so.
 Organic Whole Grain
Having whole grain flour and whole grain products is not enough. Take the example of whole wheat. The whole wheat product on our table has many harmful substances thanks to modern farming practices.
- Seed -- Seed companies often use a mixture of fungicides and insecticide to control a broad range of seed pests.
- Pesticides and fertlizers --These contain chemicals such as disulfoton (Di-syston), methyl parathion, chlorpyrifos, dimethoate, diamba and glyphosate. Though these are approved chemicals, excess exposure to these chemicals can increase our susceptibility to neurotoxic diseases as well as to certain kinds of cancer.
- Hormones --Farmers use either natural hormones (extracted from other plants) or synthetic hormones such as Cycocel to regulate the growth of their crop i.e. time of germination of the seed and strength of the stalk. Though there are evidences which show that increased exposures to such hormones might have an adverse impact on our health, no studies have yet been done that isolate the health risks of eating hormone-manipulated whole grain such as whole wheat.
- Chemicals used during storage -- During long storage, wheat grains become vulnerable to critters. Even before the grain is stored for comercial purposes, the collection bins are sprayed with insecticide both on their outer and their inner surface.
- Artificial drying -- Artificial drying of damp grain at high temperatures results in reducing the nutritionla value of the grain and partially cooking its protein. If the grain is dried at temperatures not higher than 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, then its proteins and other nutritive properties are retained.
- Processing and milling -- Whole Wheat grain looses most of its nutrients during this process.
The best option is to buy organic 100 percent organically grown whole grain or stone-ground whole-grain flour at a natural food store. These stores use slow-speed, steel hammer-mills in place of stone but the result is as effective.
 Disadvantages of Having Too Much Whole Grain
- A diet with a high proportion of improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss. Antinutrients, such as phytic acid in combination with certain minerals causes absorption problem in the intestine, leading to these health problems.
- Avoid consuming large amounts of unprocessed bran. Though a good laxative, it might lead to irritable bowel syndrome.
- Some antinutrients present in whole grains include enzyme inhibitors that stress the pancreas as they make digestion difficult.
Does this mean that you think twice before you include whole grains? Certainly not! If your whole grain intake is accompanied by at least two, if not three of these food groups -- lentils, vegetables, fruits, dairy and meat products, then the effects are minimised and the merits of whole grain consumption far outweighs the disadvantages...
 How much Whole Grain Should One Consume?
The 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends that whole grains should account for at least half of a person’s daily grain consumption. Studies show that our actual whole grain consumption is very low, with people on average consuming less than one serving of whole grains per day and only 9 percent of children are consuming the recommended three servings of whole grains every day. A look at most supermarket shelves shows that only about 10% of the grains in supermarkets are whole grains.
Just having half your meals in the form of any whole grain is not enough. Studies have shown that more than 70 percent of the grains we consume are wheat-based. Since wheat contains gluten, it can harm the intestine.
The awareness about whole grains is growing. The consumption of whole grain products in the US grew by 18% in 2005, as against 1% annual growth between 2001-2004. A 2007 Food and Health Survey by the International Food Information Council found that 71% of Americans are trying to increase their consumption of whole grains.
 Easy tips to increase the intake of whole grains
- Have whole grain bread instead of white bread
- Indian Rotis and Parathas made of whole grain flour are good for your health.
- Go for whole grain cereals
- While making cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes, substitute half the white flour with whole wheat flour.
- An easy way to increase whole grain intake is to replace some of your refined-grain products with whole grain products.
- Add brown rice, wild rice or barley to your vegetable soups.
- Have popcorn instead of chips as snacks.
- Introduce whole grain food items in school meals.
 Preparing Whole Grains
- Whole grains should be soaked for a few hours in warm, acidulated water (Water to which a small amount of vinegar, lemon or lime juice has been added). The dough can also be fermented either overnight or for long hours as in the case of making bread or idli in dosa in the Indian subcontinent. These processes neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors and enhance vitamin content particularly B vitamins.
- Do not use milled flour that has been stored for a long time or has not been stored in an air tight container.
- Read the label carefully to check if the flour has been milled using cold stone presses.
 Facts You Should Know About Whole Grain
- Wheat intake (the presence of gluten has a harmful effect on the intestine) should be limited to small quantities, with other alternative grains emphasized instead.
- Vary your whole grain diet by including nongluten grains such as corn and rice in the diet. Pasta and noodles made of corn and rice are available and so are corn tortillas.
- If you like hot cereals, go for cream of rye, cream of buckwheat and whole grain oatmeal.
- If you prefer cold cereals, look for puffed rice, corn, millet, and unsweetened granola.
- Look for products labeled "whole grain" while buying your groceries.
- While choosing your cereal, read the labels carefully to make sure there is no added sugar.
- Many of the "natural cereals" from the large companies are highly refined or highly sugared, so read labels carefully.
- A meal that combines whole grains and legumes is an excellent source of complete protein. Good examples of grain/legume meals include whole grain bread with a bowl of bean soup, or pasta salad with kidney beans or garbanzos.
- Foods labeled with the words "multi-grain," "stone-ground," "100% wheat," "cracked wheat," "seven-grain," or "bran" are usually not whole-grain products.
- Before cooking whole grains, soak them for several hours or overnight to aid digestion.
- While making whole grain products, most grains are milled at high temperatures which might make their fatty acids rancid.
- If whole grain flours are stored for a very long time rancidity increases. If the milled whole grains are stored in open bins the process hastens.
- As whole grains contain the germ, they have a shorter shelflife than standard refined flours. They require alternative inventory, storage, delivery and sanitation systems management considerations.
- Hydration or pre-cooking to soften some grains prior to use in dough mixers might be needed.
- In existing kitchen electronic items, standard formulations, mix times and procedures need to be altered.
- Consumers generally do not like the texture changes resuting from switching to whole grains.
- Whole grain sometimes imparts a bitter flavor notes and the use condiments such as salt and sugar increase to mask this bitterness.
 The less known foodgrains
We need to have more food grains and we need to mix food grains. Ever thought of trying barley and rye, the two underutilized whole grains. Though they are generally ‘afterthoughts” when we talk of whole grains, they have major health benefits. Traditionally, barley has been used in beer, teas and soup, while rye has primarily been used for breads, crackers and alcoholic drinks. They can also be used in breakfast foods, cereals, tortillas, vegetarian patties and smoothies.
Advantages enjoyed by barley and rye.
- They are more tolerant of adverse conditions, such as dry or cold atmosphere.
- They deliver key nutrients -- three servings of whole grain rye per day can provide 28 percent of recommended daily amounts of fiber, 15 percent magnesium, 4 percent potassium, 25 percent selenium and 60 percent manganese. It would also provide up to 10 percent of the recommended daily values of copper, iron, thiamin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6 and riboflavin.
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