By Cheryl Bell, MS, RD, LDN, CHE
Whole grains, also called cereal grains, are the seeds and fruits of cereal grasses. Examples of cereal grains that are seeds of cultivated grasses are wheat, corn, rice, rye, barley and oats. Examples of fruits of cereal grasses are buckwheat or grain amaranth. Whole-cereal grains contain the bran, endosperm and the germ, requiring a longer cooking time and having a shorter shelf life. While few of us venture beyond whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, whole grains are easier to incorporate into the diet than you may think.
To begin, rinse grains thoroughly in cold water until the water turns clear. Strain and examine grains for dirt, small stones or debris. Boil according to directions. For additional flavor, add cinnamon, ginger or vanilla to the boiling water. For savory grains, add spices and substitute soup stock for some or all the water called for in a recipe. To further enhance the flavor of whole grains, dry roast or sauté grains prior to cooking.
Some tasty uses of prepared whole grains:
- Add several tablespoons of cooked grains to stews, soups and vegetable salads.
- Eat as hot breakfast cereal with warm milk, chopped fresh seasonal fruits and flavorings like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and maple extract.
- Create a side dish pilaf by sautéing vegetables in a small amount of olive oil and adding cooked whole grains.
- Marinate cooked grains with salad dressings and sprinkle or toss into main course salads.
Nutritional Benefits of Whole Grains
By Lisa Hark, PhD, RD, and Darwin Deen, MD, MS
Numerous studies document the relationship between whole grain intake and reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Research shows women who consume more whole grains consistently weigh less than women who consume fewer whole grains, and people who eat whole grains for breakfast also tend to eat less in general at lunch and dinner. There is also evidence that diets high in fiber and whole grains help protect against heart disease. Conversely, some studies indicate a high intake of refined grains may increase risk for heart disease.
Other studies conclude adding fiber to the diet is an important way to improve the health of people who have diabetes. Numerous studies have demonstrated people who eat whole grains have lower insulin levels and greater insulin sensitivity than those who do not eat whole grains.
Literature suggests the less refined the grain, the longer it takes to digest and the slower the increase in blood glucose levels after the grain is eaten. Grains high in soluble fiber, such as oats, rye and barley, are more effective at improving insulin sensitivity than grains high in insoluble fiber, such bulgur, wheat and buckwheat. In addition to being high in fiber, whole grains are excellent sources of magnesium. A number of researchers believe this mineral may also play a role in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.
Studies report a link between the intake of whole grains and the risk of specific types of cancer. Research indicates increased fiber intake could lower the risk of colon or rectal cancer, pancreatic cancer and stomach cancer by 20 percent to 40 percent. Another study finds whole grain intake provides some level of protection from cancers that develop anywhere along the GI tract and from endometrial cancers as well.
Using Whole Grains in Food Service
By Michelle Dudash, RD
As consumers get the message that whole grains are healthy, nutritious and tasty, the demand for whole-grain fare in foodservice is on the rise. Whether you’re creating a menu for a cafeteria, restaurant or an entire hospital, whole grains are an easy and interesting way to make any meal more healthful.
Many products help integrate whole grains into your menu, from whole-wheat tortillas and breads to brown rice and whole-wheat pastas for entrees, salads and soups. You’ll discover all sorts of menu items that lend themselves to a whole-wheat upgrade, like whole-grain pizza, corndogs and chicken nuggets.
If you cook and bake from scratch, substitute up to half the white flour with whole-grain flour in breads and cookies. For a lighter texture, use faster-acting leavening agents like baking powder or baking soda.
Grains require purchasing considerations. Packages come in sizes ranging from two-pound bags to 25-pound boxes, so buy in bulk as needed. However, order the smallest quantity you think you will use before the product’s expiration date. The less a grain has been processed, the more shelf-stable it is, ranging from six months to 15 months. Store in sealed containers in a dry, cool place out of direct sunlight.