The truth behind grains
In honor of National Nutrition Month (March), and National Grain Sampling Day (March 27th), I thought I would highlight a basic grouping of food that's recently received a lot of attention, both good and bad: Grains.
We know grains to be good for our bodies. Yet, at the same time, we are told directly and indirectly through diet trends and fads to avoid them - especially those containing gluten. "Keto this, low carb that..."
Well, I'm here to set the record straight.
Before I begin delving into the health benefits and explain why you may want to include them into your diet, however, it's important to first understand the definition and anatomy of a whole grain.
Whole grains are defined by the American Association of Cereal Chemists International and the FDA as consisting of, "intact, ground, cracked or flaked fruit of the grain whose principal components, the starchy endosperm, germ, and bran, are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain." This includes sorghum, wheat, barley, millet, buckwheat, oats, corn, brown rice, etc.
The bran, which is the multi-outer layer of a whole grain, consists of insoluble fiber, antioxidants, and B vitamins. Similarly, the germ or embryo contains fiber and B vitamins, but it also has some protein, minerals, and healthy fats. The endosperm is the germs supply of energy and is the largest portion of the whole grain. It contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins, and smaller amounts of vitamins and minerals. Refined grains only contain the endosperm, which means they are inferior to whole grains and contain fewer nutrients. During processing, the bran and germ are removed. Some processed products become enriched with the nutrients that were lost in the processing; however, they still remain low in fiber (1).
Existing evidence indicates that whole grains has proven health benefits, largely from observational studies showing an association with whole grain consumption and disease risk reduction. More specifically, studies have shown that whole grains can lower the risk of chronic diseases like CHD, diabetes, and cancer while aiding in weight management and digestive health (2). Most of these studies findings suggest a minimum of 3 servings a day is necessary to achieve optimum benefits.
It's important to note, that, even while whole grains are healthy for some, most even, they may not be good for everyone i.e. for those with food allergies and/or intolerances, some whole grains may not be suitable. When determining if grains should be included in your diet, speak with a registered dietitian (myself included).
If you are excluding foods - and this goes for all food avoidances - it's wise to know what you may be missing out on nutritionally, which is why I highly suggest you work with an expert.
now on to the fun part: cooking with whole grains
I love eating grains in a variety of clever ways. Sometimes, I'll just take classic recipes and swap out the type of grain used within the recipe. For instance, porridge is often made with oats. But who says you can't make porridge with quinoa or rye flakes instead? Take it one step further and try making your porridge a savory one at that. Add an egg or parmesan cheese for extra protein and/or add roasted peppers to sneak in move veggies. We all know the challenges of getting those vegetables, so why not add them to your porridge? Make it fun.
Here are some of my favorites from my recipe vault: Asian grain bowl -or- any DIY grain bowl, Baharat spiced potato kibbeh, porridge, and napa wraps are worth exploring.
What's your favorite way to eat grains? Or are they something you've been avoiding? Leave a comment and share your favorite recipe, or what you've been using as a substitute.
Whole grain Q & A
What's a serving size you may ask?
1 serving of whole grains is equivalent to roughly 1/2 cup cooked grains or 1 slice of bread
How are sprouted grains different from whole grains?
Sprouted grains are grains that straddle the line between a new plant and a seed. When whole grains are sprouted, the amount and bio-availability of some nutrients increases, notably vitamin C, B vitamins, amino acids, and fiber. Interestingly, sprouted grains may also be less allergenic to those with sensitivities.
Which grains are gluten free?
Most! These include, amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, sorghum, oats*, rice, quinoa, and teff. Wheat containing grains include varieties like spelt, kamut, farro, durum, bulgur, semolina, barley, rye, triticale, and oats*.
How do you substitute for whole grains in baking?
When making substitutions, you'll need to consider what role the flour plays in the recipe. For instance, modifying a recipe that originally calls for all-purpose may affect the structure when you start adding a whole grain or whole wheat flour. If you're unsure, experiment. I like to start playing with a ratio of 2 parts all purpose to 1 part whole wheat (i.e. for a recipe that calls for one cup all-purpose flour, I will add 1/3 cup whole wheat + 2/3 cup all-purpose). Each recipe may be different from another, and soon enough you'll begin to develop an affinity for whole-wheat.