I’ve read the back of cereal boxes since I was a kid. They kept me entertained with games or puzzles while I chewed at breakfast. Last week my cereal box got me thinking of whole grains.
Researchers report that not only are whole grains crunchy, but they can also reduce the risk of certain types of cancer (especially colon cancer) and help reduce our risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, foods made from different types of grain such as oats, wheat, rice and corn are considered “whole grains” if they contain three components – bran, germ and endosperm – in the same proportions as the original grain. Why all three parts? Each offers unique nutritional benefits. And the sum of all three factors is responsible for the health benefits of whole grain products, according to experts.
Think of a popcorn kernel. The bran is the outer layer that easily gets stuck in the teeth in the cinema. It’s also a major source of fiber, antioxidants, and B vitamins.
The germ is a tiny embryo in the seed that can sprout into a new plant. It contains protein, heart-healthy fats, minerals, and a variety of B vitamins.
The fluffy white part that pops out of a popcorn core is the endosperm. It provides nutrients for seed growth – carbohydrates, proteins, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.
How do we identify a “whole” grain? Look for it in the list of ingredients at the top. Or, find the Whole Grains Council’s voluntary “whole grain” stamp (www.wholegrainscouncil.org) now on many products.
So-called “old grains” may or may not be whole grain products. The whole grain council loosely defines them as grains that have remained largely unchanged over several hundred years. However, grains don’t have to be exotic to be healthy. Common foods like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, popcorn, and whole wheat bread offer whole grain goodness, often at a lower price.
Modern wheat varieties have been developed through wheat breeding since the 1920s, says wheat research geneticist Brett Carver, Ph.D. at Oklahoma State University.
“We’re trying to produce more food – more grain – than we did 100 years ago … with less land,” says Carver. “That is the challenge we face when our population grows and our land area for crop production decreases.
“Today’s wheat plant is stronger to withstand the winds. It has greater resilience; It can endure heat, cold and drought. And it can endure stress from illness much better than the wheat we had 100 years ago. “
The best way to make sure we are getting the full spectrum of nutrients available in nature? Eat a variety of grain foods, experts say. Each type offers a unique benefit. Now back to my cereal box …
Barbara Quinn-Intermill is a Registered Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Advisor affiliated with the Monterey Peninsula Community Hospital. She is the author of Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Simple Science Of Eating. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.