Grains: Get the Whole Story

Wednesday, 29 September 2010 09:16 AM

If you unwrapped a hamburger and found only a bun, you might well ask, “Where’s the meat?” Yet when we eat grains, most of the time they’re missing their natural “meat,” in a nutritional sense.

Despite the fact that whole grains are gaining popularity, refined ones are still the American staple. If you doubt that, check out the nearest vending machine. Unless you work in an exceptionally health-conscious company, the baked stuff in the little bags is made with refined grain.

Grain Anatomy

Before human hands alter them, grains contain three parts: In the center, there is a germ or embryo which, if fertilized, will grow into a new plant. The germ is surrounded by a starchy substance, the endosperm, which makes up the bulk of each grain. On the outside, there is the bran, a skin made of multiple layers, to protect the interior.

When grains are refined, the outer skin and the germ inside are removed, leaving only the starchy endosperm. Unfortunately, the process eliminates the most nutritious portions and turns grains from foods that promote health to those that breed sickness.

The combination of their high starch and low nutrient content makes refined grains a food that isn’t very filling. And, they turn very rapidly into blood sugar, creating a burst of energy followed by a crash, and cravings for more starchy food. That phenomenon, in turn, triggers overeating and contributes to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Whole Grain Benefits

In contrast, whole grains lead to better health, because they contain a whole array of nutrients. Both the outer bran and germ contain B vitamins that are necessary to efficiently turn carbohydrates into energy, rather than storing them as fat. The bran also contains healthy fiber and antioxidants, and the germ contains some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.

The starchy endosperm also contains some protein and vitamins and minerals. However, the quantities are much smaller than those in the other two parts.

Here are some examples of differences, based on data in the USDA National Nutrient Database:

• Compared to whole wheat, the refined version contains approximately 15 percent as much magnesium and one-quarter of the potassium. Both minerals are necessary for maintaining healthy blood pressure.
• Refined wheat contains about one-quarter of the zinc in whole wheat. The mineral is necessary for healthy levels of testosterone in men and for normal thyroid function in both men and women.

Many studies have shown that whole grains protect against heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, and obesity. Those that have also looked at the effects of refined grains show that they promote these diseases.

Finding Tasty Whole Grains

Until the last few years, whole grain breads were typically heavier and didn�t appeal to most people who were used to light, fluffy versions. However, there are now many whole grain breads that have the appearance, taste, and texture of the classic but unhealthy white breads � without being refined.

Here is another easy substitution: Instead of white rice, try wild or brown rice. There are so many varieties, chances are you can discover new foods that become favorites. For ideas and recipes, check out the Whole Grains Council at www.wholegrainscouncil.org.

© HealthDay

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Wednesday, 29 September 2010 09:16 AM
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