Grains are an integral part of our diet. They are dry, hard seeds and have different shapes, colors and sizes. Some of the examples of grains include wheat, rice, corn, rye, oat, barley etc. We eat grain products in the form of bread, cereals, pasta, flour, and baked products to name a few. In fact grains are so nutritious that they are included as one of the four food groups in Canada’s Food Guide. The Guide recommends that you eat at least half of your grain products as whole grain each day.
It is important to understand what whole grain means, why you should eat whole grains and what do you need to know so that you are able to choose the whole grain products easily.
A whole grain consists of all three layers of the grain: the bran, the germ, and the inner most part of the kernel (the endosperm). The bran provides most of the fibre, some vitamins and minerals and little bit of protein. The germ is very rich in vitamin E, B vitamins, and minerals. The endosperm is the main source of carbohydrate and some protein and small amount of minerals and vitamins. Some examples of whole grains are whole wheat, whole oat, whole-grain cornmeal, brown rice, whole-grain barley, whole rye, and buckwheat.
The Refined grains are processed to remove the bran and germ of the grain - this also removes many nutrients, including fiber, from the product. Examples are white flour, white rice, white bread and many processed foods.
Enriched grains are when the nutrients lost during processing are added back in the product, such as in enriched white flour. In Canada, while flour is enriched with vitamins and iron, it doesn’t have all the nutrients and fibre that whole grain has.
Why should you choose whole grains?
As you already know now, whole grains are more nutritious than enriched or refined grains. They provide more protein, a lot of vitamins & minerals, phytochemicals and tons of fibre. Therefore, you get the most bang for your buck when you buy whole grain products. Scientists have also found that eating whole grains as part of your daily diet may lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.
Remember some key benefits of eating whole grains:
Eating whole grains lowers total cholesterol, triglycerides, and insulin levels.
The insoluble fiber in whole grains helps prevent constipation. It also helps prevent diverticular disease.
The phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) found in whole grains may protect against some cancers.
Choosing whole grains products
It is very easy find out if the product you want to buy is made from whole grain or not.
Read the food label!
First of all look at the list of ingredients. Make sure that whole grain is listed as the first item in the ingredient list. Foods containing whole grains will have the words "whole grain" or “whole” followed by the name of the grain as one of its first ingredients.
Look for these words:
“whole grain whole wheat”
A word of caution
Firstly, do not get mislead by the word “multigrain”. Multigrain products are not always whole grain. They may include a variety of different grains but it is not necessary that they are whole grains and are not healthier. Secondly foods labeled as “made with whole grain", may only have a small amount of whole grain and the rest could be refined grain. The key in both these situations is to read the ingredient list and look for terms above to find out if it truly contains whole grain.
Are whole wheat flour or 100% whole wheat bread made from whole grain?
NO!! Neither of these items can be consider a whole grain. In Canada, whole wheat flour has much of the germ and some bran removed and therefore is not whole grain flour. And since 100% whole wheat bread is made with this flour, it is not whole grain either.
For flour or bread that is truly whole grain, you will see the words “whole grain whole wheat” or “whole wheat flour with added germ” in the ingredients list. Then you know you are eating the real deal!
Grains such as wheat or rice are an essential part of our diet, and we can gain the most nutrition from them by eating whole grain. You now know a little more about the different ways grains are sold and can select the best type for you and your family. There's the whole story!
To find out more, visit the Health Canada website at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/whole-grain-entiers-eng.php
The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle.