Sure, we've all heard that we're supposed to eat whole grains-and lots of them. But what exactly is a "whole" grain? Are there "partial" grains? "Half-hearted" grains? And just which part of the "amber waves of grain" do they come from?
To find out, I recently took a tour of Bob's Red Mill in Portland, Ore., where they opened my eyes to all sorts of new information-although it's really old information since the milling of grains has been going on for millennia. As far back as the Greek and Roman civilizations, water-powered mills were grinding whole grains to make an array of tasty and healthful foodstuffs.
Back to Basics
We know how beneficial whole grains can be; that they can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases; that they provide fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein all in one tiny little package. And the most recent Dietary Guidelines published by the USDA recommend that more than half of our grain intake consist of whole grains, while noting that 95 percent of Americans currently fail to do so.
So how do we reach that lofty goal? To start with, it helps to know exactly what we're talking about. A "whole" grain consists of the bran (outer coating), germ (inner heart), and endosperm (central portion). To be labeled "whole," a grain must contain all three components, in the exact proportions in which they are found in nature.
Sounds simple, right? Well, not necessarily. Because technically, it's permissible for manufacturers to separate the components of the grain and recombine them, as long as the amounts and proportions remain the same. And that's just the beginning of the confusion for consumers trying to find whole-grain products on the shelves of their favorite markets.
"Whole wheat," for instance, doesn't necessarily mean "whole grain." Neither do "nine grain" or "multi-grain," for that matter. So here are a few tips to clear away the uncertainty:
- For breads: Just because bread isn't white doesn't mean that it's made from whole grains-molasses is often used to give bread that "whole wheat" look. So read that label carefully. If the first ingredient isn't specifically listed as a whole grain, pass it by.
- For cereals: Again, make sure that the first ingredient is designated "whole"-whole corn, whole rice, etc. Oh, and watch out for the sugar content.
- For flour, cornmeal, and the like: Look for "whole grain" on the label, and avoid anything that includes the words "refined," "enriched," "bleached," and/or "bromated."
- Buy and cook products that are, by their nature, whole grains: These include brown rice, rolled oats, quinoa, and popcorn-yes, popcorn!
And that's all there is to it. With just a little basic information and some creative meal ideas, it's really not that difficult to reach that daily requirement of three servings of whole grains. Just try oatmeal for breakfast (or our Blueberry-Corn Muffins, p. 60), Boosted Tabbouleh for lunch (visit betternutrition.com to get recipe), and a satisfying brown rice pilaf with dinner-and give your family the amazing whole-grain health you deserve.
Basic Blueberry Corn Muffins Makes 12 muffins
Instead of cereal and fruit, start your day with these yummy treats and a little Greek yogurt.
1 cup white whole-wheat flour (organic, if possible)
1 cup whole-grain cornmeal (organic, if possible)
1½ Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 large organic egg
¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. honey
¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. organic brown sugar
1 stick organic unsalted butter, divided and melted
1 cup 2% organic milk
2 cups fresh organic blueberries
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Moisten 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
- Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl, and set aside. Whisk egg in small bowl, then whisk in ¼ cup honey, ¼ cup brown sugar, 6 Tbs. melted butter, and milk. Pour egg mixture over dry ingredients, and stir until just combined. Fold in blueberries. Divide batter equally in muffin tins, and bake 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool briefly, and turn out onto cooling rack.
- Combine remaining butter, honey, and brown sugar in saucepan, and heat until bubbling. Spoon over muffin tops, and serve.
PER SERVING: 227 CAL; 4 G PROT; 9 G TOTAL FAT (5 G SAT FAT); 36 G CARB; 37 MG CHOL; 353 MG SOD; 2 G FIBER; 19 G SUGARS