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Understanding Grains

The new 2005 American Dietary Guidelines has been promoting the use of whole grains in our daily diet. Understanding their benefits and eating them more often, especially whole grains, can reduced risks and prevent onset of some chronic diseases.

Grains are a staple part of cuisines from every corner of the earth. For thousands of years they have been valued for their simplicity of preparation and nutritional value. Middle Easterners use wheat to make bulgur, Italians use it to make pastas, North Africans to make couscous. Rice is the staple grain throughout the Orient, as is corn in South America and wild rice in North America.

Grains are divided into two groups: whole and refined grains. The key is to use whole grains, not refined. They are a source of long-lasting energy, are low in calories, fat, cholesterol and high in fiber.

Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ, two of the three parts of a whole grain. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are: white flour, white bread and white rice. Those refined grains, you should avoid or limit your intake if you can.

Health benefits of a diet rich in whole grains

Whole Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate), and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium).

Dietary fiber from whole grains, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease. Fiber is important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods such as whole grains help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Whole grains are good sources of dietary fiber; most refined (processed) grains contain little fiber.

B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate) play a key role in metabolism - they help the body release energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates. B vitamins are also essential for a healthy nervous system. Many refined grains are enriched with these B vitamins.

Folate (folic acid), another B vitamin, helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant and those in the first trimester of pregnancy should consume adequate folate, including folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.

Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood. Many teenage girls and women in their childbearing years have iron-deficiency anemia. They should eat foods high in heme-iron (meats) or eat other iron containing foods along with foods rich in vitamin C, which can improve absorption of non-heme iron. Whole and enriched refined grain products are major sources of non-heme iron in American diets.

Whole grains are sources of magnesium and selenium. Magnesium is a mineral used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles. Selenium protects cells from oxidation. It is also important for a healthy immune system.

The bottom line is for you to add more whole grains in your daily meals.


Non-Heme Iron: Thee are two different types of iron-heme and non-heme. Both are found in food. The body absorbs heme iron at three times the rate of non-heme iron. Highly bioavailable, readily absorbed heme iron is found exclusively in meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish, while less bioavailable non-heme iron is significantly present in such plant foods as beans, grains, nuts, and some fruits and vegetables. Experts recommend eating food that enhances iron absorption along with iron-rich food, particularly when consuming non-heme iron. Nutrients that improve non-heme iron absorption include vitamin C, an organic acid called citric acid, and the amino acid cysteine. Citrus fruits are good sources of citric acid and cysteine is plentiful in amaranth, cottage cheese, fish, poultry, shellfish, and soy products.

Source: http://www.wholehealthmd.com

Diverticulosis: Many people have small pouches in their colons that bulge outward through weak spots, like an inner tube that pokes through weak places in a tire. Each pouch is called a diverticulum. Pouches (plural) are called diverticula. The condition of having diverticula is called diverticulosis. About 10 percent of Americans over the age of 40 have diverticulosis. The condition becomes more common as people age. About half of all people over the age of 60 have diverticulosis.

When the pouches become infected or inflamed, the condition is called diverticulitis. This happens in 10 to 25 percent of people with diverticulosis. Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are also called diverticular disease.

Source: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/diverticulosis/

Spina Bifida: Spina bifida (SB) is a neural tube defect (a disorder involving incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or their protective coverings) caused by the failure of the fetus's spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy.

Source: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/spina_bifida/spina_bifida.htm

Folate: Folate is necessary for the production and maintenance of new cells. This is especially important during periods of rapid cell division and growth such as infancy and pregnancy. Folate is needed to make DNA and RNA, the building blocks of cells. It also helps prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. Both adults and children need folate to make normal red blood cells and prevent anemia.

What foods provide folate? Leafy greens such as spinach and turnip greens, dry beans and peas, fortified cereals and grain products, and some fruits and vegetables are rich food sources of folate. Some breakfast cereals (ready-to-eat and others) are fortified with 25% or 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for folic acid. The table of selected food sources of folate and folic acid suggests dietary sources of this vitamin.

Source: http://healthlink.mcw.edu/article/984001430.html

Grain How to Cook (1 cup grain) Characteristics
Amaranth to 2 1/2 cups water for 20 minutes Prized crop of the Aztecs; adds a crunchy texture to breads, cookies & casseroles.
Whole Barley to 3 cups water for 60 minutes. Has a pleasant, chewy texture; can be substituted for brown rice.
Buckwheat in 2 cups water for 10 minutes. Toasted buckwheat (kasha) has a robust, hearty flavor; good cold-weather fare.
Bulgur to 2 cups water for 10 minutes Made by soaking and cooking the whole wheat kernel, then removing 5% of the bran and cracking the remaining kernel into small pieces. It can be used in salads, soups, breads & desserts.
Corn Cook 1 cup coarse yellow or white cornmeal in 4 cups water for 30 minutes to make polenta. Top polenta with yogurt and/or maple syrup for breakfast, layer w/sauce & vegies for lasagna or pizza
Couscous in 2 1/2 cups water for 10 minutes Made from durum wheat, it tastes like pasta. Often served as a pilaf, couscous is a good source of protein.
Millet in 3 cups water for 30 minutes A welcome change to rice; light toasting gives it a pleasing aroma & almost nutty flavor. It adds texture & flavor to breads or can be ground and used like cornmeal.
Oats whole oats in 4 cups water for 60 minutes; rolled oats in 2 cups water for 10 minutes; steel cut oats in 3 cups water for 30 minutes. Oats are rich in protein & minerals. Although they have appeared on the breakfast table for many years, oat flour is a tasty addition to breads and baked goods.
Quinoa to 2 cups water for 15 minutes Although not a true grain, this prize of the Incas is a superior source of protein, as well as calcium, iron, vitamins & potassium. Tasty & quick cooking, it's a welcome addition to almost any dish, from salads to desserts.
Rice in 2 cups water - bring to a boil for 8 minutes, then reduce to low for 35 minutes Many different varieties abound, each with unique flavor and texture characteristics.
Rye in 2 cups water for about 10 minutes With a hearty flavor, it can be eaten like rolled oats or added to bread for chewiness.
Spelt Berries Use in place of wheat in baked goods, cereals & other recipes. Related to wheat but frequently tolerated by those with wheat allergies.
Teff in 3 cups water for 15 minutes The smallest grain in the world, its size prohibits it from being hulled, thus retaining all the whole grain nutrients. It's delicious in combination with other grains.

Adapted by Editorial Staff, January, 2006
Last update, August 2008


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